On the First of May – International Workers’ Day – Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes Palestinian workers and the workers of the world. This is a day of struggle for the liberation of the working class from exploitation, racism, capitalism and imperialism – including the liberation of Palestine from Zionist occupation.
Within Palestine, 1 May is a day of struggle highlighting the leading role of Palestinian workers in the liberation movement. The prisoners’ movement is no exception; indeed, the vast majority of Palestinian prisoners come from the working and popular classes, the refugee camps and the villages, and it is these workers who put their bodies and lives on the line for freedom.
As imprisoned Palestinian leader Kamil Abu Hanish wrote in 2017, “The sons and daughters of the popular classes of Palestine, the workers, the farmers in the villages, the refugees of the camps, have always been the leaders and the driving force of our Palestinian national liberation movement. The Palestinian popular classes have been the freedom fighters, the strugglers and the resisters on the front lines, confronting the occupation and Zionist colonization in Palestine. And so it is the case that the popular classes of Palestine fill the ranks of the Israeli prisons, the builders of the Palestinian prisoners’ movement continuing on the front lines of resistance, building the ongoing Palestinian revolution.”
General strikes have always been a key mechanism of Palestinian resistance, from the earliest revolts of the Palestinian people against British and then Zionist colonialism. In the 1936 revolution, Palestinian workers’ six-month general strike was at that time the longest in the world. This continued over the years, as Palestinian workers in exile built the Palestinian liberation movement and its organizations, and as Palestinian workers and labor unions led in the organizing of the first intifada. UNRWA workers and others in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon paved the way for the modern revolution, as revolutionary leaders like Abu Maher al-Yamani organized refugees for liberation and return on the basis of their trade union work before the Nakba in Palestine.
In the 1950s, Palestinian labor organizers in occupied Palestine ’48 were jailed as they attempted to keep their organizations intact under martial law. At least seven Palestinian trade union leaders were deported from the West Bank between 1969 and 1979. These attacks happened as Palestinians inside Israeli jails fought to end forced labor, a victory that was achieved only through great sacrifice. Omar Shalabi, a Syrian prisoner, was killed under torture in October 1973 during the protests against Israeli forced labor.
Palestinian workers are regularly subject to colonial forms of imprisonment, from the political targeting of workers’ organizations to the mass criminalization of Palestinians seeking employment inside occupied Palestine ’48. Palestinian workers are frequently arrested for “entering Israel without a permit,” despite the fact that many of these same workers are Palestinian refugees denied their right to return to their original homes and lands for the past 71 years. The systematic siege and subjugation of the Palestinian economy, from the texts of the Paris Protocols to the latest attacks by the U.S. government under Donald Trump, has forced thousands of Palestinians to seek work with or without permits as day laborers, often in construction.
At any given time, there are approximately 1000 Palestinians arrested, detained or fined for seeking to work in their own homeland; they are not classified in the Israeli colonial system as “security” prisoners and are thus missing from the statistics related to Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. However, it is clear that everything about these workers’ situation is deeply political – they are imprisoned for their Palestinian existence on Palestinian land, specifically as Palestinian workers.
The drive to exclude Palestinian workers has always been part of the Zionist colonial project. This has been reflected in the founding principles and continued operation of the Israeli Histadrut, a trade union federation founded with the explicit purpose of promoting Zionist colonization of Palestinian land and excluding Palestinian labor. Despite having a fraternal relationship with the AFL-CIO and other major labor unions worldwide, it actually exploits Palestinian workers inside Israel by deducting fees from their salaries while denying them benefits. Its role predates the Nakba and continues to reflect this colonial relationship, which is why Palestinian workers and labor union solidarity activists have urged a boycott of the Histadrut by international labor federations.
Palestinian workers in exile also continue to struggle against exploitation and oppression. In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees continue to be denied access to over 70 professions, leading to massive unemployment and frequent despair among the working class. Palestinian refugees forced to flee to Europe, North America and elsewhere from Lebanon, Syria and occupied Palestine confront racist, repressive policies that inhibit their right to work and threaten them with deportation, detention and exclusion.
They confront the racism of “Fortress Europe” and criminalization of refugee workers alongside fellow migrants and workers seeking safety and refuge from the military, social, environmental and economic disasters forced upon their home countries by the very imperialist states that then deny their rights. They face severe exploitation in black market labor. Still, these workers continue to struggle despite all odds not only to confront racism and exclusion in the imperialist countries but also to organize to confront imperialism and win their liberation.
Israeli occupation and oppression reflects the sharpest edge of capitalist exploitation for the Palestinian working class, backed up fully by the most powerful and dangerous imperialist powers, especially the United States. However, they also face Arab reactionary regimes that are complicit with the exploitation and marginalization of Palestinian workers even as they pursue normalization with the Israeli state. They also confront Palestinian capitalists and the Palestinian Authority, formed as a security subcontractor to the Israeli occupation. The Jordanian monarchy acted in the 1970s and 1980s to repress union organizing in the interests of Palestinian capitalists, while ultra-wealthy Palestinian capitalists like Bashar al-Masri are on the first lines promoting normalization and undermining the boycott of Israel.
Imperialism is on the attack around the world, using its military might and its weapons of siege and sanctions against peoples around the world. As always, it is workers and the impoverished classes who bear the heaviest brunt of these assaults, such as in Venezuela, where the people continue to resist imperialist attacks despite repeated coup attempts, the confiscation of the Venezuelan people’s resources, military threats from the United States and devastating, exploitative sanctions. Despite the severity of their own situation, the workers and people of Venezuela continue to uphold their international solidarity – including with the Palestinian people – as they resist an imperialist-imposed coup attempt.
On International Workers’ Day 2019, we once again amplify the words of Kamil Abu Hanish, speaking from Israeli prison: “Today, we call upon you, the fighters for freedom and justice in the world, the workers’ movements, the strugglers for socialism, the movements of revolution, to escalate your support for our struggle, for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian prisoners. We urge you to act to isolate the occupation state, to hold it accountable for 70 years of crimes against the Palestinian people. We urge you to intensify and build the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the occupation state and the corporations like Hewlett-Packard and G4S that profit from its imprisonment, apartheid and colonialism. The workers’ movements, the movements of the popular classes, the movements of the oppressed, can and must take part in this battle around the world, as part and parcel of the struggle against racism, imperialism and capitalism.”
Trade union movements continue to play a leading role in the growth of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, including the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the National Union of Teachers, Public Services International, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the Quebec Confédération des syndicats nationaux, the United Electrical Workers union, the Scottish Trade Union Congress and more labor organizations in Ireland, the Philippines, India, France, Sweden, Belgium, Basque Country, Spain, Galicia, Brazil and more. International workers’ solidarity with Palestine has a long and proud history, including the leading role of Black and Arab autoworkers who struck in 1973 in Detroit against their union’s purchase of Israel Bonds. Just this month, the Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging (FNV), the largest trade union of the Netherlands, with 1.1 million members, dropped HP as a partner in their offers to their members. Corporations like HP, G4S, AXA, Cemex and Puma continue to play a major role in facilitating the Israeli occupation at the same time that they exploit workers’ labor around the world.
We urge workers’ organizations around the world to continue to build and grow this solidarity with Palestinian workers, the leaders of the Palestinian liberation struggle. At the same time, we also express our solidarity with the struggling workers of the world, including the imprisoned labor union and workers’ movement leaders who are held behind bars or face death threats and repression for their role in defending oppressed workers. From India to the Philippines to France, from Colombia to Egypt and Morocco, we stand with these labor movements targeted for repression. We salute the imprisoned Turkish and Kurdish strugglers, not only in Turkish jails but also in European ones, often targeted for their role in workers’ organizations or even for defending them in court. The liberation of Palestine is fundamentally linked to the liberation of all from imperialism, exploitation and capitalism.
On International Workers’ Day 2019, these struggles must become an occasion to escalate our work to support Palestinian workers, including freeing the prisoners. We can support that struggle by demanding unions divest from Israel Bonds, boycott the Histadrut and join the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign to stand with Palestinian workers in a collective struggle for liberation that confronts settler colonialism, Zionism, apartheid, exploitation and oppression in all forms.