Solidarity across borders: May Day in Jerusalem

Submitted by AWL on 17 May, 2017 - 8:41 Author: Janet Burstall

“Music without borders mingled with an encounter of solidarity among humans” in a special May Day celebration, with Palestinian garage and carpentry workers, art teachers, musicians, agricultural workers and cleaners, Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians.

The WAC MAAN Workers Advice Centre organised this gathering in Jerusalem, and WAC backs all the campaigns and projects presented there. At the centre were to be Palestinian workers from the Zarfati Garage, who were held up for an hour at a checkpoint into Israel, a daily experience for thousands of Palestinian workers. Finally they arrived and the evening began.

Hatem Abu Ziadeh, head of the workers’ committee at Zarfati Garage, thanked the workers who stood by him during the struggle to organise with WAC. Four years ago the Zarfati workers were employed at low wages, with no social benefits. The struggle and their membership in WAC brought real change. Hatem also expressed his hope that other workers in Mishor Adumim would join WAC and unionize.

Amir Basha, the labour lawyer who advocated for the Zarfati Garage workers, told how he had “never seen a case in which the employer began with such a negative attitude — firing the workers’ committee head, accusing him of criminal acts, submitting complaints with the police about WAC and its lawyer” before understanding they must reach an agreement.

The event was led in Hebrew and Arabic by the theatre writer and director Guy Elhanan and by Hanan Manadreh Zoabi, WAC’s Chairwoman, who invited various musicians and speakers onto the stage. Hanan Zoabi explained that this Labor Day celebrates solidarity between Palestinian and Israeli workers, and also solidarity with human beings in their struggle for democracy, freedom and human rights.” She was the first of many to support “the struggle of the Syrian people against the bloodthirsty regime of Bashar Assad.”

Elhanan’s current play “Above and Below the Scaffolding” in Arabic is about accidents in the construction industry. Ala Khatib spoke on the struggle against work accidents in construction, after a particularly bad year. Khatib noted that the government refuses to invest in supervision and training to reduce accidents.

Rania Salah, WAC’s woman coordinator from East Jerusalem, spoke of her daily work in the struggle against poverty and the exploitation of workers and the unemployed in the city. Wafa Tiara, WAC coordinator for working women, came to the event together with a big group of women agricultural labourers and cleaners from a region of Arab Towns and Villages inside Israel. She spoke about the struggle to increase employment opportunities for Arab women. “We women will not stand aside. We demand an equal place in all areas of life” she said.

Artist Galia Uri spoke about her work in the NGO “Wings” guiding artists with special needs. Her colleagues had joined WAC, because many among them do not get social benefits” and because “WAC works for solidarity in many ways, both inside and outside the Green Line, between women and men, between workers in various fields.”

Kiki Keren Hos, a music teacher at Jerusalem’s Musrara College, is a workers’ committee activist there. She described how administrative staff joined WAC, with the full support of the teachers. Musical performances included a Turkish piece, a song from the Threepenny Opera performed by Jewish classical musicians; and a well-known song of the Lebanese fishermen “Shidu al-Hima” performed by Palestinian musicians from East Jerusalem. The song has become a hymn of workers’ struggles throughout the Arab world. Improvisations expressed the empathy between musicians, ending the night with jazz sounds of flute, saxophone and darbuka.

Erez Wagner, director of WAC’s Jerusalem office, said “On 24 May 2017, Jerusalem will mark 50 years to the occupation that was imposed on its Palestinian residents and on the entire West Bank.” Breaking down the walls through joint struggle for workers’ rights, workers’ and an end to poverty is “the way to overcome the violence in which we live, and to finally move from a reality of occupation to a reality of peace, progress and freedom.” He noted the need to recreate the concept of “left” which is often associated these days with support for dictators like Putin or Assad.

WAC director Assaf Adiv closed the event emphasising WAC’s unique character as an organisation which crosses borders and walls, and said he is proud of the fact that it was the only workers’ organization in Israel that unequivocally stands by Palestinian workers against the occupation. “We don’t buy empty slogans. The creation of a popular workers’ movement, both on the Palestinian side and on the Israeli side, is our answer to anyone who says peace cannot be made between the nations.

“The democratic vision to which we are committed in Israel in Palestine and the Arab world, is linked to the need to redefine the workers’ movement and the left around the world, where unfortunately today many workers vote for nationalist and racist leaders like Trump, Le Pen and Netanyahu. Many workers in Israeli society are xenophobic and nationalist. We are not prepared to trail behind those regressive trends.

“On the other hand we also reject dogmatic leftism. Our effort is part wherever possible of the effort to create of a new democratic left, struggling against savage capitalism, and aspiring to build an equal, pluralistic society that embraces difference.”

• Based on a report on the WAC-MAAN website 9 May 2017

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