Delegation to Israel and Palestine
Sunday 10 November – Saturday 16th November 2019
BITUD took its delegation of 2019 to Israel and Palestine, with Community Union, the Prison Officers’ Association trade union, the First Division Association (FDA), shop workers union Usdaw, as well as colleagues from Australia Israel Labor Dialogue (AILD).
Our delegations aim is to meet with sister trade unionists in Israel and Palestine, as well a Labor Party representative, social action groups and peace activists. This gives trade union delegates a flavour of BITUD’s support for progressives in the region.
Monday 11 November
The Histadrut Headquarters, Tel Aviv
The first morning of the delegation, we travelled to the impressive headquarters of the Histadrut (Israeli TUC) for a morning of briefings with our colleagues, hosted by the Director General of the Histadrut’s International Department, Peter Lerner. We discussed organising in Israel and compared how we both work at recruitment in Israel, the UK and Australia and we discussed the big issues currently affecting workers. This included pension provisions as well as health and safety in construction.
We were briefed by our long-term friend, Avital Shapira on the international work of the Histadrut and in particular the relationship with the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). It was interesting to learn that their agreement to represent Palestinian workers in Israel, while also paying their unions subscriptions back to the PGFTU is continuing and thriving.
Later the delegation met with the CEO of the Histadrut, Ofir Elkalai who outlined the plans ahead for the Histadrut, but spoke about the political uncertainty at the moment with a failure to have a functioning government and the difficulties having spending commitments.
The group later had dinner with the Ucapse and IUGE public sector trade unions.
Tuesday 12 November
Haifa and Acre
Unfortunately, because of security issues in the south if the country, the group was unable to go to Kibbutz Nir Am and meet our friends from the Mekorot national water company on the Gaza border.
In fact, the delegates experienced an air raid warning and we stayed in our shelter until the all clear was given. We even experienced the Iron Dome missile defence system intercept a rocket fired from Gaza near Tel Aviv.
However, for safety reasons, we made our way north and visited the beautiful city of Haifa and visited one of the wonders of the middle east, the Baha’i gardens. It is a truly spectacular work of construction and an example of Israel’s multicultural society.
Later on, we visited the ancient city of Acre and walked the ottoman ramparts and old souk.
Wednesday 13 November
Ramallah and the PGFTU
An early start to drive into the West Bank to meet our sister organisation, the PGFTU in the city of Ramallah.
The discussion began with a list of statistics in Palestine from our hosts. There are 1.2 million workers in Palestine and 180 thousand of them are PGFTU members, split at 70 pc men and 30 pc women. Unemployment is around 35 pc for the West Bank whilst 60 pc in Gaza. They spoke about the checkpoints and other obstacles they face and how a peace agreement would solve a lot of their problems, especially around access and movement.
They are also facing a brain drain, with a highly educated youth looking abroad for work and career opportunities. The issue of the relationship with the Histadrut was raised and they wished the Histadrut well and said that they do work with them on representation of Palestinian workers in Israel as per their agreement.
On leaving we met with workers from the Palestinian ambulance service who were in dispute over pay and staffing levels and we all sent them our best in solidarity.
The group then travelled to a large construction site in Tel Aviv to meet with Palestinian construction workers. We had a discussion about the difficulties in accessing Israel through checkpoints and pay and conditions in the construction industry. Also, to note that they are represented by the Histadrut and pay subs through their pay to them and in return receive trade union benefits, including collective bargained pay.
There has been over 30 fatalities in the industry over 2019 which is an increase on the 2018 numbers and action was needed to improve site safety and stop the deaths. The Histadrut had made several demands that they had received concessions from the government, especially on the issue of scaffolding, which they want to bring up to European standards.
From our experience, and it was pointed out by our delegates, the health and safety standards on the site was very poor and there are still a lot of improvements to do in order to reach European standards.
Michaeli Merav MK
Back the Histadrut we were fortunate enough to meet with Labor MK Michaeli Merav. She gave the delegates a fantastic tonic on her progressive take on equality, peace and the prospects of a new government.
Later that evening we had a briefing from James McDonald, an OneVoice representative, the organisation that works so hard to create the conditions for a two-state solution, especially among young people. Our speaker was enthusiastic about the chances of peace between Israeli and Palestinians and we should always work for the two-state solution and get over any obstacles. His contribution was one of the highlights of the week for many of our delegates.
Thursday 14 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.
After 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.
“This was a truly a fantastic experience. I didn’t know quite what to expect but it was certainly different from what I had read or heard about on the news and other sources”
Andrea Watts, National Executive Member, Usdaw Union
The delegation included:
BITUD would like to thank the Histadrut, their Director General of the International Department Peter Lerner and International Officer Gary Kaplan 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.
BITUD 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.
Telephone: 020 7222 4323
“I’m so glad that my Union sent me on this informative and enjoyable trip. I learnt so much about the region and the variety of meetings really got me to grips on the reality on the ground in Israel and Palestine. I can only recommend this to anyone trade unionists who want to know more about this fascinating region”
Gary Keogh, National Executive, Community Union