Life coach, Andi Saitowitz, shares her thoughts and feeling about what life is like under bombardment of rockets and how ordinary people are the heroes of Israel.
Today I gave an intensive workshop and presentation to a team in a nearby city. Just before I left, Code Red alarms were still blaring on the app on my phone as our brothers and sisters in the south continued to be bombarded with rockets. As I picked up my phone to check the address I was going to, I suddenly realized that I was going to street called גיבורי ישראל (“Giborei Israel”) – translated into the “Heroes of Israel”.
I couldn’t help but pause and think about all those families who are living within such a close radius to the line of fire. I couldn’t help but think about our armed forces, who risk their lives daily to protect our nation and homeland. I couldn’t help but think about the heroes who have fallen – and the injured and the hurt and the scared. I couldn’t help but think of the past heroes who in their merit and honor, we have a state and a home. I couldn’t help but think about the first-responders and the defenders of Israel around the world who with such pride, courage and resilience, stand for Israel against all odds. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who choose to make Israel their home. I couldn’t help but think of all the people who pray for Israel, from near and far. I couldn’t help but think of the friends of Israel who want to see her grow and blossom. I couldn’t help but think of the unity we manage to hold together, even when everything around us seems to be falling apart.
So as I drove to The Heroes of Israel Street for a jam-packed day of personal development, growth, team building, training and leadership – I thought of the real heroes of Israel:
Every person who prays for peace.
Every person who fights for peace.
Every person who finds the resilience to keep the faith when times are tough.
Every person who holds Hatikva in their heart when all hope sometimes seems lost.
Every person who lives the values and ideals that we hold so dear.
Every parent who has a few seconds to run for shelter with small children.
If you are already here, you are a Hero of Israel.
If you love and protect us, you are a Hero of Israel.
If you dream of being here; you are a Hero of Israel.
If you pray for us wherever you are, you are a Hero of Israel.
If you represent us with integrity, you are a Hero of Israel.
If you spread truth about us, you are a Hero of Israel.
If you want us to thrive, you are a Hero of Israel.
If you stand with us, you are a Hero of Israel.
If you want to live with us and beside us and close to us and in peace with us: you are a Hero of Israel.
And it doesn’t matter who you are.
Andi Saitowitz, a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, published author and lover of inspiration. Also a Personal Development Strategist, Life Coach, Mentor and Transformation Leader.
No matter the opposing odds and tough terrain, Aussies charge ahead. They did it over a 100 years ago in 1917 in Beersheba in helping to boot the Ottoman Turks out of Palestine and they will be doing it again in July 2020 when Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave and his band, The Bad Seeds, will be returning to Tel Aviv.
“Bad Seeds” is a misnomer if ever there was one. We need more of these ‘seeds’!
And may they flourish.
The show will take place at Bloomfield Stadium, as part of a world tour promoting Cave’s album Ghosteen, which deals in part with the tragic death of his 15-year-old son in 2015; after a fall from a cliff.
When he takes to the stage in Tel Aviv – he will again be giving the finger to BDS.
When last appearing in Israel to a packed Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv in 2017, Cave defied pressure from the BDS movement and said he came to Israel “not despite of” but “because of BDS.”
What did he mean?
Calling a press conference, the rocker said “After a lot of thought and consideration, I rang up my people and said, ‘We’re doing a European tour and Israel.’ Because it suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people who are trying to shut down musicians; to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians.”
He went on to say that he “loves Israel,” and that he wanted to take “a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians.” He concluded by inferring the BDS Movement’s strategy is backfiring.
“So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
On his website last year, Cave slammed ongoing efforts to impose a boycott on Israel, calling them “cowardly and shameful.”
And this is not to say that he is a supporter of the government of Israel. He is clearly not.
“I do not support the current government in Israel, yet do not accept that my decision to play in the country is any kind of tacit support for that government’s policies. I am aware of the injustices suffered by the Palestinian population, and wish, with all people of good conscience, that their suffering is ended via a comprehensive and just solution, one that involves enormous political will on both sides of the equation.”
This kind of balanced understanding is a far cry from the venomous position of Roger Waters the most visibly public advocate and roving ambassador of BDS that openly promotes – not the “Two State Solution” – but the dissolution of the state of Israel. Cave would have none of it from the Pink Floyd cofounder with his giant-size inflated pig-shaped balloons emblazoned with a Star of David alongside fascist symbols customarily released during concerts.
If his ancestors took on the Ottoman Turks over a 100 years earlier, Roger Waters and hid BDS cohorts prove they are no match for this principled rocker.
Prior to his 2017 concert, Cave had previously performed in Israel ’93, ’95 and ’98 and enjoys reflecting that when “we came to Israel 20 years ago or so, did a couple tours of Israel, I felt a huge connection. Not just ‘people-talk’ of loving a country, but I just felt on some sort of level, a connection that I can’t actually really describe.”
“At the end of the day,” explained Cave in Tel Aviv in 2017, ‘there are two reasons why I’m here: one is that I love Israel and I love Israeli people, and two is to make a principled stand against anyone who tries to censor and silence musicians. So really, you could say, in a way, that the BDS made me play Israel.”
Waters can remain at the ‘Dark Side of his Moon’ as there has been no letup of artists touring Israel from pop queen Jennifer Lopez, to the 2019 Eurovision Song Competition held in Tel Aviv.
In keeping with the lyrics of Rhianna who has performed numerous times in Israel:’:
“Don’t Stop The Music”
*Feature picture: Australian musician and writer Nick Cave has elaborated on his stance regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. https://www.irishtimes.com/ (Photograph: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images).
On November 5, 2019, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling, rejecting the appeal of Human Rights Watch (HRW) “Israel and Palestine Country Director” Omar Shakir. Shakir and his employer asked the courts to overturn a decision of the Israeli Ministry of Interior not to renew Shakir’s work visa due to his BDS activities. The Supreme Court, like the district court, referenced NGO Monitor’s amicus brief.
The judges did not relate to the constitutionality of legislation that denies entry to major BDS activists. (The constitutionality of the law is being challenged in a separate case, Prof. Alon Harel v. the Knesset; a hearing in this case is scheduled for November 11, 2019.)
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court decision makes important contributions to the factual record regarding Shakir’s BDS activism and helps clarify the distinction between BDS and human rights advocacy.
Why HRW Director , Omar Shakir has been expelled?
Like the lower court, the Supreme Court paints a clear picture of Shakir’s BDS activism, from when he founded a pro-BDS student group in 2006 through his present employment at HRW. During this time, he has been a consistent and ardent supporter of BDS (see NGO Monitor’s extensive material submitted in its filings and which was cited in the courts’ decisions). In the words of Justice Yael Wilner (in a short addendum to the main decision), “The statements [made by Omar Shakir and presented] above are definitely calls to boycott entities that operate in Israel and Judea and Samaria, only because of their connection to Israel or an area under its control — each one (statement) individually, all the more so when taken together. It seems to me that there cannot be a substantive argument about this.”
Pro-BDS activists often use the rhetoric of “human rights” and “international law” to justify their discriminatory campaigns, but such rhetoric does not legitimize the boycotts. The Entry into Israel Law, Amendment 28 (2017) applies specifically to boycott calls that are based on a company’s connections to Israel or an area under its control, not to circumstances when the company in question has undertaken problematic activities.
Even though the judges recognize there can be gray areas, Shakir’s activity unquestionably falls within the criteria of the law. Shakir rejects in total the presence of Israeli entities in the West Bank, and his calls for BDS are in opposition to their identity as Israelis, not because of any specific human rights violation.
Contrary to claims from Shakir’s lawyers and Amnesty International (which joined the case in an amicus capacity), denying Shakir’s work visa will not adversely affect human rights NGOs that want to send representatives to Israel to criticize Israel’s policies. This is because Shakir’s involvement in BDS is so egregious.
The Court firmly rejected a key argument from Shakir’s lawyers. They tried to argue that Shakir’s personal BDS activity ended upon his employment at HRW, at which point all his expressions should be attributed to HRW as an organization. Since HRW is not on the Israeli government’s list of “BDS organizations,” Shakir’s activity as an HRW employee should be granted “immunity” from the Entry into Israel Law. In sharp contradiction, the Court determined that he is responsible for his public statements, especially those on his private Twitter account.
Shakir’s BDS is insufficient to trigger a listing of HRW as a “BDS organization” because HRW is a large international NGO with myriad activities having nothing to do with Israel. This is not a reflection on Shakir’s status as a BDS activist or HRW’s anti-Israel advocacy.
Click Here for Resource Page on Omar Shakir (HRW) Court Case:
The BDS (Boycott, Divestment and sanctions) movement sure is noisy. While lacking cerebral substance, they understand the veracity of symbolism and language that is provocative, emotive and emotional. They understand that gratuitous use of the word Apartheid is guaranteed to get an emotional reaction from people.
I use the word gratuitous intentionally because BDS have no respect or understanding of the crime that was Apartheid and the trauma of its victims. To them it is simply evocative, sexy packaging that can be used to market their agenda and make it appealing to the masses who maintain they are concerned about human rights.
If you wrap up hatred and sell it in an emotional package, then surely you must be on the side of good, right?
Wrong. There is a more nefarious agenda at play here and it needs to be exposed again and again.
A wolfish agenda in sheep’s clothing
Why is BDS so hell-bent on the accusation of Apartheid?
The motivation is simple. They want to paint Israel with the same colours as that of Apartheid South Africa in order to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as a State in the hope that global opprobrium will lead to isolation of the Jewish State. In fact, the stated end-goal of BDS is the complete eradication of the Jewish nation state – they have been so bold as to announce this on their website. It’s not going to happen because Israel is not Apartheid South Africa, like BDS advocates want people to believe.
BDS would have you believe that boycotts and sanctions contributed to the downfall of Apartheid in South Africa and that the same kind of well strategized campaign can do the same to change Israeli policies. There are very clear differences – in Apartheid South Africa, the minority white population had dominion over the majority black population and eventually, it was the citizens of the country who spoke out overwhelmingly in a referendum that the time had long passed to do away with this heinous regime.
The situation between Israelis and Palestinians is far more complicated. Rather than a loveless marriage, the parties prefer an amicably divorce in best enjoying their national aspirations. It is extremely presumptuous for South Africans to impose their “one-solution-fits-all” to one of the most complex political conflicts in modern history.
Destruction rather than Construction
Did boycotts and sanctions contribute to the fall of Apartheid?
The idea of boycotts and sanctions was debated in the 1960’s but only really gained traction in the 1980’s. In November 1962, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 1761, a non-binding resolution establishing the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and called for imposing economic and other sanctions on South Africa. All Western nations were unhappy with the call for sanctions and as a result boycotted the committee.
Fast forward to the 1980’s and the height of the regime and it can be said that while sanctions did effect the economy, the credit for ending Apartheid once and for all was the sterling efforts of Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk who took great – sometimes unpopular risks – to ensure a better future for South Africans based of the democratic principles of equality and justice for all.
In South Africa, nobody ever questioned the country’s right to exist as a nation state which is precisely BDS’s endgame. It says so openly and unashamedly – “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. This means that Israel is dealing with a malevolent movement that aims – contrary to the democratic principles that played a part in the South African process – to destroy of one of the main players, namely – Israel.
The German Bundestag voted earlier this year to declare BDS and antisemitic movement and Austria is poised to do the same.
Who stands to lose the most?
It is easy for activists on both sides to play armchair politicians but there are lives at stake and for the most part, Palestinians have more to lose. With an Israeli economy that is booming, the impact of boycotts on the lives on Israelis is minimal – mostly psychological.
For Palestinians on the other hand, boycotts are likely to affect their livelihoods.
One such casualty was SodaStream. SodaStream, an Israeli company manufacturing soda company shut its West Bank factory and moved it to southern Israel. This cut hundreds of jobs for Palestinians that reportedly paid between three and five times the local prevailing wage.
SodaStream’s CEO Daniel Birnbaum denied the move was BDS-related, though its profits plunged after BDS activists got involved.
“It has nothing to do with politics; we’re relocating to a modern facility that is three times the size,” Birnbaum told The Independent. “But if it was up to me, I would have stayed. We showed the world Arabs and Jews can work together.”
Soda Stream had the last laugh though when it was bought by Pepsico for $3.2 billion, proving that Israel is a hot investment destination – and even more so when there is possibility to create jobs for Palestinians.
Should the boycott be successful – who are the beneficiaries and who are the losers? The losers invariably are the Palestinians while the beneficiaries are BDS and their ilk who by their actions, demonstrate that they are anti-normalisation between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours – and anti-peace.
Does BDS really care that their strategies may affect the very people they purport to help?
Of course not; nothing must get in the way of destroying Israel.
Palestinian lives are the sacrificial lambs in a BDS campaign that is about demolishing bridges rather than building bridges.
See how esteemed human rights Palestinian activist explains how the BDS movement and their boycott campaigns impacts ordinary Palestinians in this video clip:
If BDS truly cared about the lives of Palestinians, they would champion for a second Singapore or Start-Up Nation like their neighbour Israel, rather than promote murderous and genocidal incitement. They would engage in dialogue, not deception.
Peace will be built from the ground up. It will start with spirited, committed people – individuals and communities, business people and investors. Boycotts create barriers and discourage positive discourse.
While the situation in the Middle East is a challenge, let us promote positive tracks of building and promoting commerce that will create a thriving economy rather than the destructive path of boycotts!
I saw him from across the road, his eyes darting towards the entrance to the Aden Jewish heritage museum in Tel-Aviv . I could tell he was thinking about coming in for a visit even before he stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking; and crossed the street.
From his unhurried gait he didn’t appear like a tourist, but neither did he look like a local. He greeted me in accented English – Australian, as it turned out to be. He told me that he is posted here for a year, working for an international organization. But I could tell his origins weren’t from Australia, as he confirmed, while I answered his questions about the history of the Jewish community in the region of Aden and Yemen; and he told me his family was from around that region.
“From Yemen?”, I asked.
“Nearby. My father is from Sudan and my mother from Egypt.”, he replied.
He grew up in Australia. One foot in the west, the other in the east – retaining something of the heritage and Islamic faith of his family, and speaking both English and Arabic. But he also surprised me with a few sentences in Hebrew which he’d learnt at university in Melbourne.
I took him around the museum, telling him about the exhibits. And I pointed out a couple of pictures that I thought would be of particular interest.
“That was the synagogue in Port Said, Egypt. There was once a large community there, many of whom came originally from Aden.”
‘What happened to them, did they eventually integrate into the rest of the population?’ he asked.
‘No,’ I whispered. ‘They were all forced to leave in 1956 – along with most of the Jews living in Egypt.’
The shock was evident on his face. And so he came to learn something of the history of the vanished communities all around the Middle East.
As we continued, he asked if he, as a Muslim, was allowed to visit a shul (synagogue). In all his time in Israel, he hasn’t yet done so. I told him of course he could and took him up to visit ours. He donned a kippa, and he gazed around in wonder, admiring everything. I explained the various features to him. For example, that the person who leads the services faces the same direction as the community.
‘Just like in a mosque,’ he replied.
The reason why you won’t find any depictions of our prophets or pictures of Rabbis there.
‘Just like in a mosque,’ he said.
We talked about how the problem isn’t all the different religions, but those who come and turn it to their advantage – and as something to use against others. There was no dispute, just agreement.
I pointed out the Aron Kodesh (the ark in a synagogue that contains the Torah scrolls) and explained to him, ‘Every synagogue around the whole world faces in the direction of Jerusalem. Just like every mosque faces Mecca.’
‘I never knew that,’ he replied.
He gazed up at the stained glass windows and to my surprise he then said a Hebrew phrase about God. Contemplating, we stood in silence for a few moments. Two people from different worlds, backgrounds, religions but who pray to the same God.
We stood there, facing Jerusalem.
Sarah Ansbacher is a writer and storyteller. She also works at the Aden Jewish Heritage Museum in Tel Aviv.
*Feature picture: Two faiths, one prayer: Muslims and Jews come together to pray. (Photo:Jewish Journal)
South Africa has been an active participant in the Israel-Palestine conflict debate where its activists and academics suggest solutions. There are constantly calls led by Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to boycott or sanction Israel. South Africa’s government took a difficult decision early in 2019 to downgrade its embassy to a liaison department in Israel to appease the Palestinians.
As South Africans, we acknowledge that all is not well in that region, but we want our government to be an active player in trying to break the impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians. South Africa has always respected the sovereignty of other nations and therefore should resist taking sides but set its sights on striving for meaningful peace for both paries.
Too quick to label Israel with apartheid, that South African abomination and the current Israel-Palestine situation differ significantly. They differ in their divergent histories, people, the time period, collective traumas, international and domestic narratives and security. Rather than being patently partisan, South Africa – if it is to contribute – should suggest fair, just and workable solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and a prominent anti-Israel activist, was recently in South Africa and was interviewed (see article below or link to the article) in which he made several comments accusing Israel of practicing Apartheid and several other untruths.
Mustafa Barghouti’s understanding about the history of Apartheid is wrong. Apartheid was unique to South Africa. A political and social system introduced by the white Afrikaner Nationalist government, Apartheid enforced racial discrimination – the word apartheid means “separateness” in the Afrikaans language.
And yet, after 25 years of democracy, blacks only own 4% of private land, and only 8 percent of farmland has been transferred to black hands, well short of a target of 30% that was meant to have been reached in 2014.
Barghouti should know that South Africans were given an inferior education system which only fulfilled the economic interests of the “master” (oppressor), and that this education tragedy still haunts us today, 25 years after democracy. Our people were not only dispossessed of their land, but they were also exploited by the multinational conglomerates which are still taking advantage of us today.
In 1960, South African police massacred 69 peaceful protesters in Sharpeville – mostly shot in the back while fleeing – and this system of state barbarity persisted towards the twilight years of Apartheid. A brutal and pivotal milestone occurred on the June 16, 1976, when police massacred over 100 proteststing schoolchildren who were resisting a new law that forced them to learn Afrikaans in schools. While not undermining the plight of the victims of the Israel-Palestine conflict, we cannot afford to erroneously compare the two tragedies.
Who are we helping and who are we hurting?
Can South Africa really afford to boycott Israel? What is the cost of this position? We have an economy which is dramatically declining and that may result in many companies closing down and ultimately people being retrenched. We always hear economists suggesting that we desperately need abundant foreign investment. Why then, should we obstruct Israeli companies from investing here that will benefit South African workers?
Our foreign policy should be determined by the interests of our own citizens. People want be part of the economy and that can be better achieved when foreign companies invest their expertise and capital in South Africa. This will benefit all our people – empowering them whether as employees or partners. South Africa is a peace-oriented nation – and should not take sides in complex foreign disputes that could rebound negatively on the welfare of South Africa’s citizens.
Afterall, look at our behaviour with our northern neighbour – Zimbabwe. There, despite the former president, Robert Mugabe killing the very freedoms he originally fought for, South Africa chose not to interfere. It was silent in the face of patent abuse of its people. While the West (UK and USA) imposed economic sanctions against Zimbabwe, South Africa maintained being its most important trade partner. There was no talk of boycotts and sanctions!
When the opposition in Zimbabwe, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) – recently called on Pretoria to intervene in a political impasse, we were reluctant as our politicians made the case that it not in our nature to do so unless both parties wanted us to perform the role of mediator.
We fail to show such sensitivities when it comes to Israel!
Downgrading relations with Israel as advocated by Mr. Mustafa Barghouti will never resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict which dates back over a century. It is misguided for South Africa to believe it has the insights and expertise to play a role by being exclusively partisan.
This is not diplomacy but arrogance.
South Africa is a still a developing country – not powerful as Africa’s former colonial masters – Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Portugal – and therefore should be cautious as how it chooses to interfere in global conflicts.
However, no harm done in advocating for peace between people – – but we should do so fairly.
Debate Not Downgrade
One positive point that Barghouti made in his article is that there should be national debate. However, “debate” is not South Africa dictating to others because it believes it knows best.
We are not a “colonial master” and should not believe we can dictate to others. Our brief should be to see peace triumph.
It is unwise to obstruct relations with a country like Israel that could contribute so much to our people. Engaging Israel will benefit our economy and introduce technological innovations from hi-tech to water management and agriculture. These are all areas that we could benefit from Israel’s cutting-edge expertise.
We must prioritize our people before anyone or anything else.
There are many countries across the globe that interfere in the affairs of other countries from the USA in Venezuela to Russia’s military occupation of Crimea in the Ukraine.
Does South Africa take a position in these disputes? No.
One of our biggest trade partners is India, predominantly Hindu, that administers – some would argue treats as a colony – Kashmir, and which has a longstanding dispute with Muslim Pakistan. Has South Africa taken a position over this conflict that has persisted since 1948 – the same year Israel became independent?
I am not dismissing Mustafa Barghouti’s struggle but his appeal for South Africa imposing sanctions against Israel. Why? Because it penalises the citizens of the country doing the imposing. Following Mr. Barghouti will be denying South Africa’s population access to opportunities. We are living in a global village; we are more connected than ever, and politics should not divide people but rather unite them.
Kenneth Mokgatlhe holds BA Honours (political science) from the University of Limpopo. He was a spokesperson of the Pan Africanist Congress from 2015 to 2018. Mokgatlhe has written for Political Analysis South Africa, and is a frequent columnist for South African papers, notably – The Star, Sunday Independent, Sowetan and Cape Times.
Whenever I read an article or see a BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions) headline crying that Israel is an apartheid state, I think about a moment I had a while back, while I was traveling home from work on the bus.
The drive is quite scenic and meanders through forests and fields and I often sit by the window just taking in the unique beauty around me.
Well, this day, we came to a stop about halfway home and I noticed a truck pulled over on the side of the road. While there was nothing particularly unusual about that, something else caught my attention. It was then I saw a man get out of the truck. He had something rolled up under his arm and as he looked around, I realised what it was.
The driver of the truck was Muslim, and it was time for late afternoon prayers.
He found a spot just behind his truck on the shoulder of the road and laid his prayer rug down. He then proceeded to kneel and go about his afternoon prayers. Nobody disturbed him; nobody told him that he couldn’t.
Think about that for a moment. A Muslim man, in Jewish state, taking time out of his workday to pray. No one stopped him. No one harassed him. No one even batted an eye.
Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. The only place where people of all faiths are free to practice their religion without condemnation or harassment. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist – all are welcome and receive equal rights that are protected.
These are rights that are enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the country features high on the Freedom House index on democratic values and freedoms.
Apartheid was a system of laws of racial discrimination that governed every aspect of a person’s life and was unique to South Africa.
What is “Apartheid” about a country where you are not only free to practice your own religion; but you also have equal opportunity for citizenship, employment, schooling, voting rights, representation in government and serve in the army ?
And if you’re still not convinced, why not pop on over to the Old City of Jerusalem, see the Jews praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall) , watch the Muslims retire for prayer five times a day as they are summoned by the muezzin and listen to the church bells ring out across the hills and valleys. This is something that is so unique to Jerusalem – and Israel.
Catch a train and see a microcosm of Israel’s citizens or visit any university campus. You get the picture…
The accusation from Israel’s detractors that the Jewish State is an Apartheid practitioner is nothing but a cheap ploy to try and get the global community to isolate her.
I have one thing to say to Israel’s detractors who are accusing the Jewish state of having Apartheid policies. Once you have done all of this and seen for yourself, the reality on the ground, then you can confidently tell me this is an “Apartheid” state. I’ll wait….
Gina Jacobson is a mom, a wife, a dreamer. She loves coffee and when she’s not reading, she’s writing.
Over 7,000 Palestinians join Israel’s top Trade Union
By David E. Kaplan
Long before Israel emerged as a country in 1948, it’s labour got organised. Established in December 1920 during Mandatory Palestine, the Histadrut – or the General Organization of Workers in Israel – represents today the majority of trade unionistsWITHIN the State of Israel.
However, this summer something quite extraordinary occurred.
It’s most unusual in any country for foreign workers to enjoy equal workers’ rights but Israel is responding with its national trade union – the Histadrut – not merely accepting but recruiting Palestinian members who live not in Israel, but within the PA controlled West Bank. Resulting from the recruitment campaign, over 7000 Palestinians who enter Israel every morning to work, have joined.
The message of Nihad Sharkiya, who headed the campaign, resonated:
“A worker is a worker, no matter where he comes from, and he deserves his rights”
A Gulf Apart
This is a far cry from those who reflexively point the proverbial finger at Israel. Take the Gulf region for instance who are quick to support the Palestinians in theory but according to Amnesty International, ensure that Palestinians in particular, as well as Yemenis, suffer harsh working conditions. They are not alone. Foreign workers from Southeast and East Asia also encounter constant obstacles.
Possibly the most suffering are migrant female workers. Some 60% of non-Kuwaiti women are maids who are not covered by the social insurance and financial benefit provisions of the Kuwaiti Labour Code.
The allure of the Gulf frequently translates dreams into nightmares.
As one newspaper revealingly sited that “Dubai, with its artificial islands, megamalls and seven-star hotels, along with Qatar’s new World Cup stadiums have only been possible due to years of graft by cheap foreign labor, imported mostly from Asia and Africa.”
The promise of much higher wages than at home, seldom materializes. What usually plays out are that low and unskilled migrants often end up trapped for years in their host countries, indebted, exploited and forced to work long hours in hazardous or brutally hot conditions.
The outreach by Israel’s Histadrut reflects the lyrics of “There Must Be Another Way” – a song by Jewish-Israeli Achinoam Nini and Arab-Israeli Mira Arad which they performed at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. Their message was a simple call to respect the humanity of others.
Over the course of ten days in mid-July 2019, Arabic speaking representatives of the Histadrut met with Palestinian workers at the border crossings, offering advice and handing out pamphlets containing detailed information about workers’ rights in Israel. The Palestinian workers received advice and instruction from the representatives on issues like wages, pensions, safety and welfare, as well as an invitation to contact the Arabic language union hotline. As reported in the Histadrut’s online publication Davar, “The Arabic language hotline was set by the Histadrut to offer guidance to Palestinian workers in Israel, who often speak very little Hebrew.”
It reported a spike in calls following the outreach.
Wahil Abady, who heads the Arabic language information center for the Histadrut, told Davar that the Palestinian workers were excited about the campaign as reflected in the large number that signed up for membership. “These people need someone to take care of the problems they face at the workplace. We never dreamt of such high numbers. We were receiving so many questions that we had to open a special Arabic telephone line for them. In one month, we received more calls than we got all of last year.”
Approximately 80,000 Palestinian workers cross the border into Israel every day. There, to meet them at the border crossings on their way into Israel before sunrise were the Histadrut activists. “Our people were spread across ten of the border crossings, and over the course of ten days they got to speak to about 15,000 workers coming in from the Palestinian Territories,” said Tal Burstein who took charge of the campaign. “The responses we got from the workers were amazing. We gathered a huge amount of information about breaching of labor laws and various other problems that the Palestinian workers face in Israel. We’re dealing with a very serious problem,” he said.
The relatively high wages and tight restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities make the visas issued to Palestinian workers a rare asset in the Palestinian Territories. For security reasons, Israeli authorities issue visas mostly to older, married men with families back home who are deemed less likely to participate in terrorist attacks.
Notably, the Palestinian Authority provides no pension scheme. This means that often the wages paid to a Palestinian working in Israel will go towards supporting his parents and his wife’s parents, on top of his own family in the West Bank.
The problems for Palestinians are numerous but not unusual.
Why did Jewish workers need a trade union nearly 30 years before a state emerged in 1948? To avoid exploitation of course – of one description or another?
Well it is no different for Palestinians and being foreigners, they’re invariably vulnerable.
The problems may range from not getting sick leave to not even getting holidays off. “Every time the work stops, for whatever reason,” says Burstein, “the Palestinian workers are the first to pay the price”.
Mostly involved in the construction industry, these workers are under the radar of most Israelis. “These workers are completely invisible,” says Amihai Satinger, head of the unionization division of the Histadrut, who played a major role in the Palestinian project.
As far as many employers are concerned “they are totally replaceable. When one of them goes another comes along.”
Contra South Africa – a “Time Bomb”
If the foreign workers in Israel are “invisible”, back to my native South Africa, they are too “visible” resulting in resentment and subject to horrendous violence.
The recent outbreak of xenophobia, says local community organiser Papi Papi – pointing across the road to a new informal settlement of over 100 metal shacks crowded onto a small patch of wasteland – “Is a time bomb.” He describes the death of a Zimbabwean man during the unrest, who was “caught in his car and then burned alive.”
I found the nature of the problem is South Africa tragically exposed by a group of men playing a game of Ludo on a scrap of cardboard.
“I’m not xenophobic,” insisted a man who gave his first name as Alfred. “But these foreigners are prepared to work for less.”
“They work for small money,” his friend Frederick agreed. “And they hire their own, so it’s hard for us to compete. There is frustration.”
These unemployed “political scientists” wasting away their time playing Ludo, articulate a not too infrequent scenario resulting in the death of foreign workers and the destruction of their property!
How do South Africa’s trade unions respond?
The country’s two biggest trade union federations, Cosatu and the newly formed South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), have basically given the thumbs up on restricting foreign workers.
Despite the alarming climate of xenophobia, the labour movements are significantly silent.
“The way we treat African foreign nationals is our own fault, starting with the government and ending with ordinary citizens,” writes South African journalist Shaazia Ebrahim in his article “South Africans need to face some harsh truths”.
While lauded the world over for their peaceful defeat of Apartheid and progressive constitution, South Africans are not nearly as beloved on the African continent itself.
A continent away to the north, the Histadrut in Israel went all out during the campaign to hear and record the stories from the Palestinian workers. Said Burstein:
“They know about the Histadrut, and most of them have been in touch with us in the past. They know us because the Histadrut fought to apply Israeli labour laws to Palestinians working in Israel a few years ago. That made a big difference.”
Countering BDS Obstructionism
As a humanitarian issue, Palestinians working in Israel have long been a cause for concern for Israeli trade unions. This is evident as Gary Kaplan, an officer of the Histadrut’s International Relations Division explains: “the Histadrut represents Palestinians working in Israel – predominantly in the construction industry – regardless of whether they are members. These construction workers earn and receive what is part of the Construction Sector Collective Agreement regardless of membership. This is unique to Israel. However, now as members, they will be entitled to free legal advice when required.” As part of the campaign, the Histadrut promoted awareness of Palestinian workers rights by advertising in Palestinian newspapers as well as placing in city centers across the West Bank.
Despite the overwhelming positive response from Palestinian workers recognizing how their lives as workers would improve, the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate warned several media outlets “not to publish any material by the Histadrut,” and predictably, the BDS movement joined in those negative efforts.
Nevertheless, the Histadrut persevered.
Peter Lerner, Director General of the International Relations Division at Histadrut, revealed to the media that the Histadrut works in close coordination with the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).
Noting the complex and challenging political reality, Lerner explained that “this collaboration is based on long term understandings,” providing “an island of stability.” Although “every act on our side creates some kind of opposition on the Palestinian side, we focus on what’s good for the workers in Israel, whether they’re Israeli, Palestinians or foreign workers.”
Encouraged that so many thousands of new workers are joining the union proves that “unionized labor recognizes no borders.”
Join us for a day while we are in Israel together.
By Gina Raphael
Dear Congresswoman Tlaib,
My name is Gina Raphael and I am from Los Angeles, California. Outside of my business and family, my energies are focused on developing the State of Israel as a beacon of light to the world. I’m so glad you’re visiting Israel in August along with Rep. Omar. I, too am traveling to Israel at the same time along with my ten-year-old daughter Mia, who is also an immigrant, adopted from China. Mia has been fortunate to visit Israel many times and has grown to love Israel just as much as her love for America. We would like to invite both of you to spend a day with us in Israel’s north and experience some of the amazing work going on. We’d love to show you what is really happening outside of the media.
For instance, we can visit the future site of a world-class Culinary Institute in the north of Israel that will be the finest in the Middle East. It will bring people of all walks of life and religions together through a love for food. The Institute will help to transform a region that has had a 40 percent decline in population. This region is supposed to be the silicon-valley of food technology. Amazing work is happening in Israel’s north that will benefit all Israeli’s population – Jews, Druze, Arabs, Muslims, and Christians alike As they say there, they don’t coexist… they exist as great neighbors. I would be honored to show you how they ‘exist’!
Close by, we can see the initial plans for a new medical center that will help people of all religions given this lacking resource in the area. On prior visits, we met Syrians who have been helped by Israelis at hospitals. I’m not sure if you realize, but Israel took care of over 4,000 Syrians wounded during the Syrian civil war. The average patient spent over 1 month in the hospital, with a few spending over 18 months. The government hospitals never turned down one patient, regardless of how intensive the wounds or needed surgeries. We’d love to show you the Galilee Medical Center, where 3,000 wounded Syrians were treated. The director of the hospital, Dr. Masad Barhoum, is an Israeli Arab I’m sure you might enjoy a conversation with him to hear what the reality truly is. I would love nothing more than to see kindness like this sprinkled throughout the world.
We can also receive an update on a program funded by amazing donors in the US that provides new career training to women across religions that have been impacted by violence as well as others just searching for new ways to move their lives forward. While women in Israel build bridges together, it’s disheartening to hear that those in your own community attack those individuals that work together with Jews to make positive change together.
If you let me know at your earliest convenience if you can spend time with Mia and me in Israel, we can try and arrange a meeting with the head of Israel’s Bank Leumi and their new Chairman Dr. Samer Haj Yihye. The head of Israel’s leading bank is an Israeli Arab which highlights the pluralistic nature of the country.
We can also ask to meet with Amir Ohana, Israel’s Minister of Justice who is gay. While other countries in the Middle East torture or kill those in the LGBT community the largest city in Israel, Tel Aviv, is known as the most gay friendly city in the world. This is only a sampling of the many things we can do together as we share the beauty of Israel together. As we hope for you to experience the reality of Israel, so you can advocate for the only democracy in the Middle East and America’s closest ally.
This will be Mia’s 8th trip to Israel and she has already become a beacon of change. Mia has raised money to help provide special training to young individuals from all different religious backgrounds with special needs pairing them with canines. I’m sure she would like nothing more than showing you the Israel she knows and loves.
I watched on a Television screen monitoring the Israel/Gaza border as 3 Gazans cut a hole in the border fence, went through the no-man’s land area, clamoured up an anti-Tank ditch and entered Israeli territory, where they lit fires on the Israeli side and damaged some property. While the operation lasted for several minutes, although the Gazan’s were unobscured and well within sniper range, no shots or even warning shots were fired from the Israel side. Contrary to popular misconception Israel practices staggering restraint to ensure that no Gazans are harmed, unless they threaten Israeli lives. I also watched as Hamas cynically use paraplegics with artificial limbs to run towards the border fence, by paying them to do so. But again Israel refrains over and over to fire on them.
In South Africa more people are murdered in one week, than have been killed in the misnamed “genocide” that has been occurring since the beginning of the weekly protests by tens of thousands of Gazans along the Gaza border.
Recently, Gazans fired over 700 rockets into Israel during a 2 day period. No nation state can sanction or condone such aggression. Even one rocket is too much. Moreover, just this past week Gazans launched waves of incendiary arson attacks on Israel, starting more than 30 fires of farmlands, during the extremely dry summer months, when temperatures soar to 40 degrees Celsius. While on the border, I witnessed Israeli fire trucks roaming the area, ever ready to immediately quelch these fires before they spread. No nation stand would stand for this type of aggression which is aimed to burn civilian activities and animal life.!
But Israel seems to be ready to deploy a new strategy, which is aimed at making the lives of Gazans more hopeful, than the constant dose of repression meted out by their rulers, Hamas. The average Gazan finds himself between a rock and a hard place, as state sanctioned brutality and even murder is the order of the day. Hamas also exerts almost complete economic control over the daily lives of its citizens and dishes out food and benefits only to those that toe its line. Even the fate of the Qatari money, which is handed out in cash to the Gazan authorities, finds its way first to those loyal to Hamas. Israel permits the Qatari’s to do so, in order to improve the daily lives of the Gazans.
There is a strong perception in Israel, that they need to find another way to improve the quality of life of the ordinary citizens of Gaza, by taking unilateral steps, which cannot be impeded by Hamas. I was present at a briefing by the Head of the Regional council of Sderot, Mr Ophir Liebstein, close to the Gazan border when he spoke passionately about his desire to proceed with this new vision. He visualizes establishing hospitals, schools and even High-tech industries along the Gazan border, which will be aimed at offering Gazans an alternative to break free from the futility of life currently on the menu in Gaza. By seeing that cooperation offers hope and a way out of the cycle of violence, more and more Gazans will not support Hamas and choose to support those willing to work together with Israel.
Many Israelis have also realized that they can’t leave Gaza to try to sort out its own problems as failure to do so is detrimentally affecting Israel. Raw sewage, which is spewing into the sea and finding its way onto Israeli beaches, because Gaza has squandered the money granted to it by the European Union to build sewage plants, is an example. Israel, at its own expense has set aside an amount of 15 Billion Shekels (63 Billion Rands) to build sewage plants in Israeli territory which will funnel waste water and sewage from Gaza, and once purified allow the return of treated water back to Gaza to assist them to grow crops. Israel is also laying a new water pipeline into Gaza that will more than double the supply of drinking water to the people of Gaza.
This new strategy has also manifested in a policy of rewarding Hamas for acting responsibly. Just today, instead of targeting the arsonists which they could easily do, Israel has offered to increase the supply of diesel to Gaza and has offered a reprieve to Gazan fishermen by extending their fishing zone, on the condition that Hamas restrain and stop these arson attacks.
Israelis are realizing that just because the people of Gaza have been burdened by a government that does not have their best interests at heart, that there is nevertheless something they can do to ameliorate the daily living conditions of the Gazan’s daily lives. Israel is stepping up to show clearly that there is another way than conflict, and that way of cooperation offers the only path to a better life and a long term solution to coexistence.
Ben Levitas – Former Chairman of the SAZF Cape Council. Has a BA from the Hebrew University: MSc from London School of Economics and an MBA from University of Pretoria. Founded Boston House College and is an entrepreneur.