On Tuesday 18 May, Palestinian workers and businesses in Gaza and the West Bank, along with Palestinian citizens of Israel, participated in a general strike, in protest at Israel’s bombing of Gaza and ongoing suppression of Palestinian rights. The strike involved workers withdrawing their labour, and shopkeepers and businesses closing up for the day.
The call for the strike, which quickly went viral across Palestinian society, seems to have originated with the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, a cross-party body which has semi-official status in Israel. Former Hadash leader and MK Mohammad Barakeh has been cited as a key organiser. Most major Palestinian political forces formally backed the strike, as did Palestinian unions.
Some sectors of the Israeli economy, such as construction, are dominated by Palestinian workers. The Israel Builders’ Association said the strike cost $40 million in lost revenue, and estimated that only 150 out of 65,000 Palestinian construction workers went to work. Protests and rallies were held in towns and cities throughout Israel-Palestine.
Workers at Cellcom, a major Israeli telecoms firm, held a one-hour work stoppage to mark the strike. A statement, issued by the company’s works committee but with the backing of management, supported peaceful co-existence between Arabs and Jews. Although a small-scale action, it is nonetheless notable, especially as the Cellcom workers’ union is affiliated to the Histadrut, Israel’s mainstream trade union federation, which excluded Arab workers until 1959 and is not known for its radicalism. The Cellcom workers’ action is a small glimpse of the potential for a movement against occupation and for Palestinian rights which also mobilises Jewish workers.
The publication of the Cellcom statement provoked a right-wing backlash, with political figures in Jewish settlements calling for a boycott of the company. Following the backlash, Cellcom management rowed back, saying the “timing” of the statement had been poor and that it had nothing to do with the Palestinian strike.
But Ayman Odeh MK tweeted: “I heard settlers are disconnecting from Cellcom. I never thought I’d be jealous of a cellular company.”
Solidarity has also seen reports of Jewish bus drivers in Tiberias, organised by Koach L’Ovdim (Power To Workers, a radical union centre independent of Histadrut), organising private transport for their Palestinian workmates, who were afraid to travel home due to far-right Jewish gangs attacking Arabs in the street.
Rula Daood, a Palestinian socialist who is the co-director of Standing Together, supported the strike, saying: “Years of institutionalised discrimination, oppression, occupation, and racism have given rise to protests by all Palestinian society in Israel. Today we are on strike [...] Join us, support the just struggle for a life of peace, equality, liberty, and justice for all of us.”