This year TUFI took its delegation of 2016 to Israel and Palestine, with Community Union, the Prison Officer trade union, the Musicians’ Union as well as colleagues from Australia.
Our delegations aim to meet with sister trade unionists in Israel and Palestine, as well a Labor Party representatives, social action groups and peace activists. This gives trade union delegates a flavour of TUFI’s support for progressives in the region.
Monday 28 November
We were joined by the Australian group and travelled to the Histadrut headquarters.
Where we met Yakov Triptou, Director General of the Histadrut who discussed the role of the trade unions in the lives of Israeli and Palestinian workers.
The delegates also learned that union busting techniques were against the law and companies would be fined heavily if found to be in breach of this law; the fines are then given to the Histadrut.
The International Director, Avital Shabirow-Shapira gave an overview of her role and the conferences she attends worldwide on behalf of the Histadrut.
We the travelled to Jerusalem and visited the Knesset to have a lunch meeting with MK Hilik Bar, General Secretary of the Labor party – we had a tour of the Knesset and a fascinating meeting with Hilik which covered a large range of topics including Israeli settlements in the
West Bank, the Histadrut and the Labor Party and also the two-state solution.
We travelled on to visit the workers at Partner, a telecommunications company which has recently given union recognition to its workers. They fought a long battle to get union recognition after some hard union busting tactics used by the management. This included the establishment of a “employee’s committee” by the management, to stop unionisation.
We were the first international delegation to visit Partner since an independent union was established in 2016 and they were so delighted to tell of the struggle but now the success which they hope will be followed in other companies.
Dinner this evening was with Avital Shapira-Shabirow and David Galanos, General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union in Israel.
Tuesday 29 November
Histadrut Jewish-Arab Institute, Beit Berl
Our first visit of the day was to Beit Berl College which is a multidisciplinary academic institution that is active in education, society, art, culture and sport.
Jews work side by side and education is considered a means for promoting social change and advancing social justice between Jews and Arabs.
Our delegates met with the chairman Faruk Amrur and Silvana Garaisy, projects manager.
Our delegates learned that this college has a multi-cultural atmosphere in which Jews and Arabs learn, teach, research and work together in a climate of equality and respect.
We then travelled on to Nablus which is one of Palestine’s major cities and home to the headquarters of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).
The group had a useful meeting with the leadership of the PGFTU at their offices
Late afternoon was a meeting with the British ambassador to Israel, H.E. David Quarrey at his residence.
Dinner was in Tel Aviv and we met with Ishmail Khaldi, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Wednesday 30 November
An early start for our day in Jerusalem.
We drove to Jerusalem and first drove through the east of the city to visit the magnificent views from the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City. We then visited the Church of Gethsemane.
Our guide took the group around the Old City in Jerusalem. Visiting one of the most historical places in the world. We visited the Jewish, Arab, Armenian and Christian quarters and visited many churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall.
A falafel lunch followed and then we travelled to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial centre in Jerusalem. This is a significant point in the delegation, where the full scale of the Holocaust has been recorded within an extensive exhibition.
The museum was established in 1953 and documents the history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. The new Holocaust history museum was opened in 2005 and makes Yad Vashem the largest Holocaust museum in the world.
Thursday 1 November
We set of for Ramla to meet with Palestinian construction workers who work in Israel.
The workers come into Israel each day and work on a union organised building site.
They spoke about the terms and conditions, site safety, working conditions and union membership. This was a very informative session for the delegates.
Sderot, Kibbutz Nir Am and Mekorot
We then drove in the sunshine to Kibbutz Nir Am which is on the border with Gaza – and met with the Mekorot water workers, who explained how difficult it was to live in this area during the 2014 war and they showed us a tunnel entrance where there was an attempted attack on the kibbutz.
The water workers also made the water pipes in Gaza secure during this conflict despite the threat of rocket attacks.
We then visited Sderot which is a working-class development town and were given a short briefing on the life the residents have had to endure over many years. We also toured around the town and were shown all the bomb shelters that have had to be built on schools, day centres, homes, every bus shelter has a bomb shelter attached.
“This was an excellent chance to see what the reality on the ground is in Israel and Palestine. These trips are so important for trade unionists to get a “balanced” view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict but also offer practical help” Dave Todd, POA Executive
“I would like to thank TUFI for taking us on a very informative mission. Whilst we should all be helping our trade union brothers and sisters in their pursuit for peace; we also have to acknowledge that they have get on with their day to day lives as well in difficult circumstances” Tom Butler, National Executive, Community Union
The delegation included:
TUFI would like to thank the Histadrut, their Director of the International Department Avital Shapira-Shabirow and International Officer Hila Karmi for co-ordinating the delegation; and all the unions for their hospitality.
We would also like to thank all the participating unions for their help and support.
TUFI takes British trade union delegations to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories to gain a first-hand understanding of the region and help develop stronger bonds between British, Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists.