APHEDA is the aid arm of Australia’s biggest union, the ACTU.
Yesterday they released the following statement:
Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA study tour to the Middle East
Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA, the overseas humanitarian aid agency of the ACTU, led a study tour of trade union officials and members to the Middle East from Monday 1st March to Monday 15th March, 2010.
The purpose of the study tour was:-
• To examine Union Aid Abroad–APHEDA’s aid projects with Palestinian refugees in Bourj el-Barajneh camp in Beirut, Lebanon; food security and agriculture projects with Palestinian families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and projects of medical assistance to the El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital in Gaza.
• To meet with Palestinian and Israeli trade unions and workers’ organisations
Study tour participants came from NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT, and unions represented were the Teachers Union, the Construction Union, the Australian Services Union, the Health Services Union, the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union, and Unions ACT.
The study tour visited Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Meetings were
• Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), Nablus and Jericho branches
• Histadrut (General Federation of Labour in Israel), Tel Aviv
• The Australian Ambassador to Israel, Tel Aviv
• The Australian Representative to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Ramallah
• United Nations Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Mr Maxwell Gaylard, Jerusalem
• United Nations Relief & Works Agency Gaza Director, Mr John Ging
• UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Hebron, Mr Hamed Qawasmeh, Hebron
• Four members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, Ramallah
• Representatives from the Palestinian Negotiations Support Unit, Jerusalem
• International Trade Union Confederation (Jordan), Mr Nezam Qahoush, Amman
– General Union of Palestine Workers (GUPW), Ramallah
• Federation of Independent Unions of Palestine (FIUP), Ramallah
• Democracy and Workers’ Rights Centre (DWRC), Ramallah
• Palestinian BDS National Committee, Ramallah
• MA’AN Development Centre, Ramallah & Gaza City
• El Wafa Medical Rehabilitation Hospital, Gaza City
• Women’s Humanitarian Organisation, Beirut
• The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Jerusalem
• Workers’ Advice Centre, Tel Aviv
• Kav La’Oved (Workers’ Hotline), Jericho
The tour was led by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s Middle East Project Officer, Lisa Arnold, and volunteer Yusuf Douer, and assisted by Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA’s Executive Officer, Peter Jennings.
Sally McManus Secretary, ASU NSW
Kim Sattler Secretary, Unions ACT ACT
Mal Tulloch Assistant Secretary, CFMEU C&G NSW
Leonore Hankinson Industrial Officer, NSW Teachers Federation NSW
Evan Moorhead ALP State Member for Waterford Qld
David Forde Labor 4 a Just Palestine & CFMEU C&G Qld
Wendy Turner ALP Vice President & LHMU Qld
Ross Franks Organiser, CEPU – ETU Division Qld
Phil Monsour State Council Rep., Qld Teachers Union Qld
Ginny Adams Organiser, HACSU No 2 Branch Victoria
Of particular concern to the participants were these issues:-
1. Sanctions against Gaza
Israel has imposed a blockade and economic sanctions against Gaza since June 2007. These sanctions are illegal, inhumane and counter-productive. They are illegal because they contravene international law such as the Geneva Conventions. They are inhumane because they are resulting in great poverty and immense suffering for 1.5 million people, and as usual, women and children suffer the most. They are counter-productive because they actually strengthen Hamas, who control goods smuggled through the tunnels from Egypt into Gaza, and charge a tax upon these goods.
2. Illegal settlements in the West Bank
The growth of illegal settlements of people from Israel into the West Bank and East Jerusalem continues apace, and the methods used to drive Palestinians off their land and from their homes as part of a deliberate Israeli Government policy of creating circumstances to force people out has been described as ethnic cleansing. Adding to the dispossession of Palestinians from their land, these illegal settlements are generally surrounded by no-go zones that vary in size from a couple of hundred meters to approximately one kilometre, and are connected by settler-only highways which also have wide no-go zones for Palestinians. With almost 60% of the West Bank now taken by the settlements, settler-only roads and the Separation Wall, Palestinians are increasingly squeezed into a small number of “districts” or “ghettos” or “bantustans”. The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, claims that the illegal settlements are now reaching a “tipping point” and soon a one-state solution will be the only option, and Ehud Barak, former Israeli Prime Minister and current Defense Minister, has stated that “Israel will be an apartheid state if no peace deal is reached”. (Haaretz, March 7th, 2010)
3. The Wall
A 700 kilometre long, 9 metre high Wall is being built throughout the West Bank. The vast majority of the Wall’s route does not follow the pre-1967 “Green Line” international border between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but rather cuts through Palestinian land, taking approximately 10% of the West Bank as it snakes between illegal Israeli settlements and Palestinian communities. It frequently cuts through Palestinian communities, separating families, and cutting farmers off from their land. Families trapped between the Wall and the internationally-recognised border are subjected to the most extreme conditions, including restrictions on food and access to land and external medical facilities in emergency situations.
4. The Checkpoints
There are over 550 military checkpoints throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians on their way to work or even children on their way to school are often kept waiting at these checkpoints for lengthy periods, often hours, before being permitted to proceed by the Israeli soldier. We ourselves witnessed many Palestinians being humiliated in this way before being permitted to proceed through the checkpoint, including an elderly man on his way to worship in the mosque at Hebron.
5. Workers’ Rights
Although we were assured by the Israeli Trade Union Federation, the Histadrut, that, following an Israeli High Court decision in 2007, there is now no discrimination in Israeli Labour Laws between Israeli and Palestinian or other migrant workers, we were also informed by the PGFTU, the GUPW, the FIUP and all workers’ rights organisations we spoke with, that there still exists five strata amongst workers, with differing wages, conditions and rights. There are Israeli citizens, Israeli citizens who are Arabs, Palestinian workers with permits to enter Israel or the illegal settlements to work, Palestinian workers who work in Israel or the illegal settlements without permits, and Asian migrant workers.
6. Political Prisoners
It is estimated that there are over 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel, over 300 of them are children, and one-third of the elected Palestinian Legislative Council are still in Israeli prisons. Many prisoners are held in administrative detention for periods of up to 6 months without charge and with limited access to legal representation.
7. Palestinian Refugees
There are over 422,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, more than half of whom reside in 12 United Nations-administered refugee camps throughout the country. The camps have no proper infrastructure, and suffer very high levels of overcrowding, poverty and unemployment. The Lebanese constitution explicitly forbids integration for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. They have no social and civil rights (they cannot obtain Lebanese citizenship), very limited access to government-provided public health or educational facilities, and no access to public social services. Palestinian refugees are also prohibited by law from working in 72 trades and professions, hence their high levels of unemployment. Consequently, Palestinian refugees remain dependent on United Nations agencies or local non-government organisations to provide services, which remain grossly inadequate for the growing refugee population in Lebanon. The minimum demand from these refugees is their right of return or to receive compensation, as guaranteed in UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948).
The study tour group believes that both countries, Israel and Palestine, have the right to exist within internationally-accepted borders in accordance with United Nations Resolutions.
The study tour group acknowledges Israel’s right to security, but believes that true security will only come about when Israel has the courage to make a just peace with its Palestinian neighbours, rather than attempting to crush them, humiliate them at checkpoints and drive them off their land.