AGITPROP NEWS: Report on LaMP Palestine Delegation

Alewitz, Mike (Dept. of Art) ALEWITZM at
Sat Sep 13 15:59:50 MDT 2003

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In this issue:

1.  Report on LaMP Palestine Delegation


1.  Report on LaMP Palestine Delegation

Thanks to everyone who responded to our requests for protest letters re: the threatened demolition of the new Beit Arabia peace center and mural in Anata, East Jerusalem, the building and mural memorializing Rachel Corrie remain whole and stand defiantly in the face of the Israeli interrogation center going up on the opposite hill.  

The dedication ceremony on Aug. 21 drew around 100 people and heard greetings from the mayor of Anata, the PLO, a former member of the Hadash faction of the Knesset, the muktar of the neighboring Bedouin compound, the muralist Mike Alewitz, and a number of Israeli peace activists.  The head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions moved the crowd with his declaration that the Israeli authorities, who have destroyed houses on the site four times, can go ahead and destroy the new center 100 times, but that it will be rebuilt each time as an act of resistance to the occupation.  ICAHD is making posters of the mural, and in the eventuality that the center and mural are demolished, plans to sell pieces of the mural as a fundraiser for their projects.

Our Art & Labor Delegation

The labor delegation, consisting of Ed Hunt of SEIU at U. of Washington, Sam Goldberger of the SEIU at the four C's in CT, Becky Wasserman of the US Student Association and Board member of Jobs with Justice, Paul Karolczyk--a CT student and construction worker, and Dan Levine--a labor reporter from CT, was able to meet with official union representatives, union dissidents, and labor advocates on both sides of the Green Line.  As a result we developed a highly nuanced appreciation of the intersection of the politics of Israel's neoliberal austerity plan and the occupation, as well as of the challenges facing labor in each of the distinct sectors of the economy in both the territories and Israel proper.

Construction Workers Mural at Kfar Qara

On the evening of our arrival, we drove to Kfar Qara, an Arab village in the northern triangle of Israel, to join the dedication rally for a mural painted by Alewitz and local construction workers on one wall of the municipal stadium there.  Sam Goldberger delivered greetings from our group and the unions who had contributed to the solidarity mural project and recalled the struggle to integrate the U.S. labor movement. 

The Palestinian workers, in response, concluded the rally by singing the Internationale in Arabic, astounding some of our delegates who had come to believe that the secular left had vanished in the region.  We then retired to the patio of one of the local leaders for coffee, tea, and an exchange of messages of solidarity.  

The workers, active in Ma'an, or the Workers' Advice Centers, a broad formation led by activists from the ODA, or Party for Democratic Action, invited our delegation to a day of meetings to discuss a call for an international labor delegation to investigate the discrimination against Palestinian Israelis in hiring and the concurrent exploitation of the Romanian, Thai, and Chinese workers that Israeli employers have brought in to replace them and to drive down wages and to extend the hours of work.  We will circulate this call and report on our discussions around it in a later reportback.

Immigrant Workers:

In Tel Aviv, we were able to meet with groups that attempt to aid the "guest" workers brought to Israel in the most superexploitative manner.  Kav LaOved and the Workers' Hotline together attempt to respond to the needs of the most distressed members of this group.  There are over 250,000 "foreign" workers in Israel.  The vast majority are brought in legally by the employers after they have "proven" to the Ministry of Labor that Palestininan workers have "refused" work.  

The system of recruitment, fees to coyotes in both the country of origin and the country of entry, and kickbacks to the employers who originally called for the workers is said to amount to a $3billion per year industry.  It is said that workers from Romania pay about $2000 for entry and that workers from China need to come up with around $10,000. These workers are very often deprived of their passports by Israeli border guards, who then hand them over to the employers.  Often the employer has entered into the scheme only for the kickback and quickly fires the worker.  This worker is, in this way, deprived of any legal status and is subject to deportation. Those who actually go to work, are forced to work 12 and 14 hours a day, to sleep at the work site, and to accept subminimum wages.  If a worker is fired, yet escapes immediate deportation, he can often do a bit better in wages as a free agent in the underground economy, but must suffer the consequences of being criminalized for having lost his job.

While waiting for a meeting in the office of the Workers Hotline, we met a Filippino woman whose case was typical.  She had been in Israel for four days.  She had once been a schoolteacher, but had sought to improve her economic status by doing domestic contract work abroad.  She had paid $5000 to an agent to come to Israel and another $2000 to an agency here. She was sent on a job as a home care staffer for an infirm woman.  By the second day, the extended family was demanding that she clean the whole house.  She complied but the family fired her anyway, telling the agency she was a bad worker.  The agency refused to place her on another job and she was stranded in Israel with her 10 year old son, without  a passport or any means to travel or to live.

The Workers Hotline was in discussions with Ma'an, trying to come up with a joint declaration about the plight of Palestinian workers thrown into unemployment and the superexploited guest workers brought in to replace them.  Still in dispute is one demand of Ma'an which calls on the Israeli state to "close the skies", i.e. to stop colluding with the employers in the trafficking of workers.  Dr. Roy Wagner of KavLaOved objected to any demand which might encourage chauvinism against the foreign workers. The discussion continues.  I have included as an attachment a report on the situation of these workers in Israel being circulated by Ma'an.  One important development is the recent organzing effort of Turkish "guest" workers inside Israel.

Labor Organizing

The plight of both "guest" workers and Palestinian workers who live inside Israel was part of our discussions with labor advocates inside the Green Line as well.  Hassan Barghouti, the director of the Democracy and Workers' Rights Center in Ramallah, said that he hopes the development of a new and vibrantly democratic workers' movement in the territories will be the inspiration for a radicalization of the labor movement inside Israel.  Barghouti's optimism about the possibility of stimulating a mass workers movement in the face of the obstacles posed by the occupation surprised many on our delegation, but his vision was backed up by the anecdotal evidence he provided about successful organizing efforts.  

According to Barghouti, only about 22% of Palestinians in the territories support Islamic factions and about 30% support Fateh.  In the current situation only about 3% support the old "left" factions in the PLO.  Around 48% of the Palestinians in the territories view themselves as political independents and are looking for a voice to defend their rights as part of civil society and as workers.  The traditional Palestinian trade union leadership comes out of the national struggle and their salaries are paid by the Palestine Authority, which is burdened with all the compromises of Oslo. At this moment, when those compromises  weigh so heavily on the working people of the territories and when the Palestine Legislative Assembly is composed primarily of longtime militants, professionals, or Palestinian employers, the great majority of Palestinian workers have no representatives to fight around basic class issues. Political fights inside the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and fledging efforts at electing work site workers' councils independent of the structures of the PGFTU suggest that the status quo will not hold for long.

In our meetings with the PGFTU, we learned of the obstacles to organizing posed by the occupation and the continued closures, checkpoints, and curfews.  U.S. trade unionists will be able to learn more about their perspectives first hand, as a U.S. tour of several PGFTU members will kick off at the Labor Notes Conference in Detroit on Sept. 12.  For more information on this tour, go to

Future Prospects

In all cases, we asked activists about their assessment of the spring strikes and demonstrations of the Histadrut.  Did this increased display of opposition to Netanyahu's austerity budget suggest that the ranks of Israeli Jewish labor might be pushed into protest against the costs of the occupation? If the question was interpreted to mean would the Histadrut ever be moved to publicly oppose the occupation, the answer was always "no."  

But if the question was interpreted more broadly, avoiding the question of the organizational fate of the Histadrut and addressing the social forces in motion in Israel, the answers were more cautiously optimistic.  Jihad Akel, a Palestinian on the Executive Board of the Tel Aviv Histadrut, hoped that the spring mobilizations signaled the beginning of a new labor activism.  For two months, single mothers, mostly Mizrahi or Arab Jews, have been camped in a  tent city outside the Knesset to protest the cuts in social benefits.  Dr. Bahar of the Alternative Information Center looked to this development as a sign that the Mizrahi working class  may yet return to the militancy  of the 70's.  Dr. Bahar is one of a number of Mizrahi academics who are writing revisionist histories of the Arab Jewish working class in Israel.

International Solidarity

Overall, our solidarity mission generated a great deal of publicity.  Labor muralist Mike Alewitz was featured in a full page article in Ha'aretz and in a small Tel Aviv weekly.  Israeli TV Channel One carried an interview with Alewitz that was broadcast in prime time and in which Alewitz's murals in Palestine/Israel were contextualized as part of his other international projects.  Alewitz was able to speak about the growing opposition to war among U.S. labor activists and to denounce the U.S. backed Israeli occupation of Palestine.  Local activists were thrilled by the attention that he brought to their work.

Our delegation will be producing a more formal and comprehensive report on our experiences, which will eventually be available at  We will also be participating in an interest meeting and tabling at the Labor Notes Conference, in an effort to begin to share our new insights about the struggle to develop real ties of solidarity with Palestinian working people and anti-occupation Israelis.  

Thank you for your support.

Chris Gauvreau
Labor Art and Mural Project, Aug. 27, 2003



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Mike Alewitz

Art Department/ Central CT State University
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