Histadrut response to flotilla tragedy - calls for strengthening of trade union ties between Israelis and Palestinians

The following is the full text of the statement issued by the Histadrut on 31 May 2010.

The Histadrut, as part of its ideology and strategy to attain solidarity with the Palestinian employees, has vigorously strived to promote the relationship with the Palestinian people in general, and the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), in particular as well as the rights of the Palestinian employees.

The Histadrut is a standard bearer for the promotion of peace through continuous peaceful dialogue and understanding and empathy for the needs of the Palestinian workers. The Histadrut strongly believes that this is the sole way to attain a just and viable peace between the two peoples, which guarantees two states for two peoples and a comprehensive settlement to all the outstanding issues of the conflict.

The ideology of the Histadrut has not focused solely on the declaration phase but also translated this into practical deeds.

In 1995 our two organisations signed an unprecedented agreement in which fifty percent of all dues from Palestinians employed by Israeli employers would be remitted to the PGFTU.  Unfortunately, the agreement was not fully implemented due to security conditions.  However, under the auspices of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), headed by Guy Ryder, we successfully finalised and implemented the agreement in June 2008.  As a result, €3.1 million has been transferred to the PGFTU, both in arrears and in ongoing payments.

The Histadrut and PGFTU are now co-operating not only on the confederation level, but also at the union level and representatives of both sides meet on a regular basis.  In the transport sector, under the auspices of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) and the Canadian Auto Workers’ Union (CAW), we implemented a telephone “Hotline” project to facilitate communication between Israeli checkpoint guards, Palestinian truck drivers, and the PGFTU.  And in July 2009 in the framework of deepening the relationship, our two unions have put in place a joint vocational training seminar for drivers from both Israel and Palestine.

In the construction area, we have agreed joint vocational training courses, with the help of the Builders and Woodworkers International (BWI), for young Palestinians to gain vocational training and work experience in Israel.

Over 50,000 Palestinians are currently employed by Israeli companies.  And while we support an independent Palestinian state with a viable economy, we continue to work hard to help protect Palestinians trying to earn a decent living.

We also provide legal support for Palestinian workers and encourage participation in educational and vocational training workshops and distribute brochures printed in Arabic to outline their rights.

We also lobby the Israeli government on key issues.  In 2009, the Israeli government sought to impose a €250 tax on all Palestinian employees employed by Israeli employers. Shaher Sa’ed, the General Secretary of the PGFTU, asked the Chairman of the Histadrut, Ofer Eini, to help get this plan cancelled.  Chairman Eini agreed and took a public stand against the proposal, successfully negotiating to exclude it from draft legislation.

We are very much aware of the ongoing suffering of the inhabitants of Gaza. We are also aware that the inhabitants of Gaza are held hostage by the terror regime of Hamas which violently took over the Gaza Strip in 2007 and uninhibited, has exerted any means to harm peace, human rights and workers supporters (including PGFTU leaders and representatives who were forced to flee to the West Bank in order to save their lives and the lives of their families) and persecute them in a brutal manner. This terror organization, whose main objective is the extinction of the Israeli State, has harmed Israeli innocent civilians and workers by firing missiles in the past ten years which intensified after the withdrawal of  Israel from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

The Histadrut, whose value of solidarity is its top priority, supports the humanitarian assistance for the residents of Gaza, coordinates the access for different Confederations and unions to Gaza and ensures the success of their activity through coordination with the Israeli security forces.

This activity of the Histadrut proves that it is possible to offer humanitarian assistance to the residents of Gaza via peaceful means whose positive results yield assistance and aid that are meaningful.

The conduct of the flotilla’s organizers and their methods of action utterly contradict the cooperation and the responsibility to achieve the goal we all aspire to attain — effective humanitarian assistance for the residents of Gaza.

As already broadcast in the media throughout the world, Israel notified the organizers of the present flotilla that its six ships would not be allowed to enter Gaza for security reasons. Israel invited the flotilla to travel to the Israeli port of Ashdod, unload their supplies and pass them overland after Israeli security inspection. This would have been the sole effective way to ensure the required assistance as well as preventing the unnecessary violence.

The Histadrut clearly states that if the organizers of the flotilla would have complied with this fair and legitimate offer to travel to Ashdod port and participate at the inspection of the supplies, the Histadrut would have assisted to ensure that the humanitarian aid would have been transferred to Gaza while cooperating with our colleagues from the PGFTU, ITUC and all the trade unions throughout the world.

We are saddened by the fact that an action whose goal is apparently humanitarian assistance deteriorated to the violence that lead to loss of life. Unfortunately, the conduct of the flotilla organizers, through the rejection of the Israeli proposal, was to attain provocation to strengthen Hamas, agitate the real peace efforts in the region (such as Histadrut and PGFTU) and create an incident which now threatens to unravel the delicate diplomacy which had successfully in recent weeks brought about a renewal of peace negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.

Despite the harsh events of the day, the Histadrut will continue firmly in the belief in the implementation of the solidarity between Israelis and the Palestinians, to act vigorously to strengthen the relationship and the cooperation between the Histadrut and the PGFTU.

The Histadrut will continue to assist in providing humanitarian assistance as much as required to the residents of Gaza and calls on our friends throughout the world to continue to work jointly to promote the solidarity of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, for living in peace, mutual respect and prosperity through unlimited support in the relationship between the Israeli and the Palestinian trade unions in the vision that this is the sole way to attain a just and viable peace in our region.