Palestinian Freedom Conference closes MayFest
This weekend Liberty Hall was host to a number of events expressing SIPTU’s solidarity with the Palestinian People.
A cultural event was held on Friday night called ‘Sendiana’ which was a collaboration between Irish and Palestinian artists.
The event celebrated through dance, music, spoken word and theatre the unquenchable spirt of Palestine past and present.
A warm Irish welcome was given for a Palestinian Grandmother to mark the 70 years since the 1948 Nakba. This 1948 Palestinian exodus occurred when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Palestine war.
Saturday saw the beginning of an important. two day Palestinian Freedom Conference organised by the Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Trade Union Friends of Palestine and BADIL -Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights.
The conference was an inspiring and action-focused weekend of talks from important voices in the Palestinian struggle for Freedom, Justice and Equality.
The conference, held as part of the union’s MayFest celebrations, discussed how Palestinians and their international allies could overcome the ongoing seven decade Nakba, and build the strongest and more effective international solidarity movement possible to help Palestinians in their right for freedom given that they are still denied their right to return to their homes and the ongoing occupation, apartheid and cruel siege continues apace, with no intervention from the international community.
Here readers can get a first hand account of what life is like on the ground in Palestine.
70 years after the catastrophe of dispossession and expulsion the blood of Palestine is still being shed
The continuing abuse of the human rights of the people of Palestine, under occupation by Israeli military forces since 1948, is a direct consequence of the interference by the US and the same former colonial powers, Britain and France, in their country and their lives for many decades. As the key strategic ally and regional policeman for the US in the Middle East, as well as one of the largest recipients of its military aid, Israel can ignore countless UN resolutions and calls for an end to its illegal occupation as long as Washington turns a blind eye, and even encourages, its behaviour.
Six million Palestinians have been forced to flee to neighbouring countries and many further afield, beginning with the first invasion following the creation of the state of Israel with the blessing of the major powers in 1948 and the violent and bloody seizure of their lands. Six million remain scattered across the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in a country pockmarked
by Israeli-built walls and illegal settlements, constant checkpoints and multiple methods of humiliation.
The 70th anniversary of that ‘catastrophe’, or ‘Nakba’ takes place on the 15th of May when Israelis will celebrate their national day and the US will endorse the occupation with a ceremony to mark the recent controversial decision by the Trump administration to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Controversial because most members of the United Nations believe that the status of Jerusalem, which Palestinians believe should be the location of their capital, can only be determined following a negotiated two-state solution.
As the Israelis prepare to celebrate, the people of the besieged Gaza strip have engaged in unarmed protests on recent Fridays over their ‘Right to Return’ to the lands from which they were
forcibly removed during the Nakba of 1948, and in every decade since.
Forced to work for a pittance building homes for illegal settlers on stolen land
The exploitation of Palestinian domestic, construction and agricultural workers in the illegal settlements that are expanding across the West Bank and Jerusalem is a key concern of trade unions and women’s organisations in the occupied territories.
Thousands of Palestinian workers join lengthy queues to cross through Israeli military checkpoints in the early hours of the morning in order to find work in the settlements, building houses and other infrastructure, cleaning homes, and picking crops on lands that have been illegally seized from their original owners.
Manawel Issa Abdelall, a member of the executive committee of the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) describes how many of these workers are abused by their employers, paid less than the accepted minimum wage and often forced to work in dangerous and unhealth conditions.
Up to 100,000 Palestinians work in settlement projects, many rising at 3.00 a.m. to queue for up to two hours to cross the checkpoint and start work at 7.00 a.m. or 8.00 a.m., he explains. “They treat people like cattle trying to get to work. When they get to work they are abused and exploited by their employers or agencies that contract them and take up to half their wages.
They are doubly abused as they are building homes on lands belonging to the Palestinian people,” he said of construction workers employed in the illegal settlements.
“There are now 700,000 illegal settlers on our land and their plan is to reach one million by 2030. There is no peace agenda…”
Women working in the homes of illegal settlers are often physically abused and sexually harassed by the settlers who exploit their labour while they are also forced to suffer daily humiliation at the hands of Israeli soldiers at the multiple checkpoints they must navigate to and from their employment.
As with the 800 kilometre wall, on which construction commenced in 2002, that snakes through Palestinian land and properties, there is no obvious security logic to the checkpoints that appear with such frequency across the West Bank and inside and around Jerusalem. They are hardly designed to protect the Israeli population from attack given that Palestinians live on both sides of the wall and the checkpoints that separate them from their neighbours and often from their own land.
Palestinians see the wall as a method of dividing their communities, obstructing them from their traditional places of work and social activity and, most importantly, as a means of grabbing more land for illegal settlements.
“Many Palestinians who used to come into Jerusalem to work cannot do so now because of the wall,” Issa Abdelall explained. “Teachers, hospitality workers, health workers are among those almost affected. It is more difficult to get work permits. The occupation prevents growth of the Palestinian economy and prevents people and their families from developing. “As a trade union we are not allowed represent workers in the illegal settlements. Instead those with complaints about their employers have to go to lawyers, who charge money for advice. ‘
We try to make workers aware of their rights but we have to meet with them at workshops we organise where they live because Israeli security does not allow us to organise events where they work.
“Many are working in desperate conditions in the settlements. Women picking olives in the fields suffer injuries including insect bites and intolerable conditions but they have no one to represent their needs. Workers in chemical factories suffer health risks as well as low wages. There is no such thing as severance pay or social security rights.”
Another issue highlighted by the PGFTU is the use of agencies to employ Palestinian labour on construction sites in the illegal settlements. Agents typically take a large slice of a worker’s wages as commission.
Construction workers are exploited by unscrupulous agents and employers as they build homes for illegal settlers on land stolen from their compatriots.