Beyond Solidarity Statements, Palestinian Unions Call for Escalated Action

Public Services under Occupation

Unions defend the right to energy and quality public services. Today [Dec 15] marks the 70th day of Israel imposing a complete siege on Gaza, cutting access to food, water, fuel, and electricity to its 2.3 million residents. Around 22,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israel and 85% of the population has been forced from their homes. For 75 years, the occupation of Palestine has systematically violated the right to essential public services, including:

Electricity: the Gaza Strip has suffered from a chronic electricity deficit for over a decade. The OCHA charts to the left highlight the scale of the deficit based on data from the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company (GEDCO), the official body in charge of electricity supply in the Gaza Strip. “Electricity has become an issue in Gaza that profoundly impacts basic services like water supply, wastewater treatment, health facilities, as well as also businesses and irrigation of crops and fruit. Particularly in urban contexts like Gaza, people’s well-being and public health conditions strongly depend on electricity, even after the fighting has ended. In 2021, Gazans should not be living like this. We are calling on the authorities concerned and the international community to recognise the situation and work toward improving it,” says Mirjam Müller, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Sub delegation in Gaza.

Communications: in mid-November, Palestinian telecommunications companies Paltel and Jawwal announced a full blackout of service in the Gaza Strip caused by Israel’s cut-off of fuel needed to operate the main data centres and switches. Israeli warplanes also destroyed both their headquarters in central Gaza City. This is not the first time deliberate attacks by Israeli forces on telecommunication infrastructure have achieved their goal of isolating Palestinians. Attacks on telecommunication infrastructure result in ‘people [being] deprived of access to lifesaving information, such as finding areas of safety or contacting emergency services,” said Rasha Abdul-Rahim, director of Amnesty Tech. It is important to note that Israel destroyed the Gaza City Municipal Archives, eliminating over 150 years’ worth of thousands of documents from the public record.

Healthcare: Israel has decimated Gaza’s healthcare and sanitation systems by blocking critical supplies like food, water, fuel, medical supplies, medication, and vaccinations from coming in while indiscriminately and relentlessly dropping bombs on hospitals, homes, schools, and more. As a result, Palestinians don’t have access to clean drinking water, sanitation services aren’t operating, and few hospitals are functional. This means Palestinians are catching fatal, preventable diseases like cholera, gastroenteritis, and diarrheal disease without access to the life-saving treatment they need. WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris warned that unless Gaza is able to rebuild its healthcare and sanitation systems, thousands of Palestinians will die from infectious diseases like diarrheal disease—potentially even more than the tens of thousands Israel has killed with its bombs so far.

Transportation: In early 2023, OCHA documented 565 movement obstacles in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and excluding H2. These include 49 checkpoints constantly staffed by Israeli forces or private security companies, 139 occasionally staffed checkpoints, 304 roadblocks, earth mounds and road gates, and 73 earth walls, road barriers and trenches. As the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) explains, “Truck and taxi drivers are at the heart of trade in Palestine. All goods and people that come in and out of the West Bank have to travel by road because it is cut off from the sea and has no air services. Road transport workers are subject to constant and unpredictable Israeli road checks and barriers.” ITF President Paddy Crumlin recently reiterated, “The brutal occupation, displacement and dehumanisation must end. Palestinians must be free.” In the future, unexploded bombs dropped since October 7th, many US-made, could make parts of Gaza uninhabitable and untraversable.

Water: Even before the most recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, Palestinians in Gaza struggled to access clean water, with 97% of Gaza’s freshwater resources contaminated due to the Israeli blockade and repeated bombardments. This results in high levels of water-related illness among Gaza’s population. Many families are forced to spend a third or more of their income to purchase water from unregulated sources. The onset of winter has brought rains and floods, worsening an already dire situation for tent-based refuge. In December, the Israeli occupation army began pumping seawater into Gaza’s tunnels, endangering Gaza’s already salinised water supply, resulting in possible irreversible environmental damage and constituing an additional war crime.

Food and Medicine: “Basic services are crumbling, medicine is running out, food and water are running out, the streets of Gaza have started overflowing with sewage (…) People in Gaza are dying; they are not only dying from bombs and strikes: soon many more will die from the consequences of (the) siege imposed on the Gaza Strip,” said Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general for the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA). The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that food and water supplies are “practically non-existent” in Gaza and people are facing “the immediate possibility of starvation,” It is important to note that even before the current genocidal campaign, 70% of the Gaza Strip’s children were already suffering from health issues, including malnutrition, anaemia, and weakened immunity.

Calls for Ceasefire at COP28

A protest broke out on the fourth day of the COP28 conference in Dubai, with participants calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Palestine. In his COP28 intervention, Colombian president Gustavo Petro drew a link between the climate crisis and the ongoing attacks on Palestine: “We can already see it in the anti-migration behaviour of rich countries (…) The exodus will be met with a lot of violence… What we see in Gaza is a rehearsal of the future.” In his closing remarks, Petro added, “Perhaps if we see a free Palestine emerge among the spoils today, we will be able to see a living humanity emerge tomorrow amidst the spoils of the climate crisis.” On December 8, the largest of COP28’s protests took place as hundreds marched behind a banner reading “Ceasefire Now.”

Palestinian Trade Unions Call on International Trade Union Solidarity to End all Complicity, Stop Arming Israel

Over 30 Palestinian trade union bodies, including the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), have issued a call to end all complicity and to stop arming Israel. ”[The] urgent, genocidal situation can only be prevented by a mass increase of global solidarity with the people of Palestine, and that can restrain the Israeli war machine. We need you to take immediate action – wherever you are in the world – to prevent the arming of the Israeli state and the companies involved in the infrastructure of the blockade. We take inspiration from previous mobilisations by trade unions in Italy, South Africa and the United States, and similar international mobilisations against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930s, the fascist dictatorship in Chile in the 1970s and elsewhere where global solidarity limited the extent of colonial brutality.”

The statement calls on trade unions around the world:

  • To refuse to build weapons destined for Israel.
  • To refuse to transport weapons to Israel.
  • To pass motions in their trade union to this effect.
  • To take action against complicit companies involved in implementing Israel’s brutal and illegal siege, especially if they have contracts with your institution.
  • Pressure governments to stop all military trade with Israel and, in the case of the US, funding to it.

The Militarism-Climate Nexus

Billions of US tax dollars are being used to fund the Israeli occupation of Palestine via the largest institutional source of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, the US military. Last week, the Climate+Community Project, the Transnational Institute (TNI), Commonwealth, and War on Want put together a powerful webinar breaking down the relationship between war and climate change.

Resources Workers in Palestine Initiative

The Workers in Palestine is a group of Palestinian trade unions and activists working to expose Israel’s consistent exploitation of Palestinian workers’ rights. Their site centralises trade union solidarity statements from around the world in response to the call referenced above. The initiative also publishes resources for trade unions, including:

Public Pathway in Gaza

Palestinians have long demanded natural gas rights in the Mediterranean off the Gaza Strip and the construction of a sea route that will connect it to the outside world.

In late 2022, the Washington Post reported that Europe was renewing an initiative to extract natural gas off the coast of the blockaded Gaza Strip in light of energy pressures set off by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to UNCTAD studies, Palestine has “sizeable reservoirs of oil and natural gas, in Area C of the West Bank and the Mediterranean coast off of the Gaza Strip.” Additional discoveries of natural gas in the Levant Basin are estimated at 122 trillion cubic feet, and recoverable oil is estimated at 1.7 billion barrels.

Within a framework of a globally managed decline of fossil fuel use where rich countries implement cuts in exports at a rapid rate (wealthy Australia exports 80% of its coal, and the US is the third largest exporter of gas), the Palestinian people could develop their resources to meet their own basic energy needs. But they have been prohibited from doing so. This is a violation of energy sovereignty.

Under international law, these resources should belong to the occupied territory — not to the occupying power. Israel has benefited from the oil and gas lying beneath Palestinian lands and waters. A Public Pathway approach to a just energy transition in Palestine necessarily involves an end to the occupation and restoration of energy resources to the Palestinian people.

US Unions Demand Weapons Export Ban to Israel

In October, a Central Labor Council in Olympia, Washington, voted unanimously in favour of a resolution against “any union involvement in the production or transportation of weapons destined for Israel” and called for “our parent federation [the AFL-CIO] to also publicly support an immediate ceasefire and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis.”

The national AFL-CIO reacted by pressuring the Council to retract the resolution, citing that it exceeded the scope of the 80-word “Statement on the Situation in Israel” issued by the Federation on October 11th.

Workers pushed back. “Local labour councils and unions speaking up is how we show the leadership where the rank and file is at,” said Alice, one of the Olympia resolution co-authors. “I’m hoping we can put some pressure on the AFL-CIO to back off and even endorse a ceasefire, the position that so many international unions have come to, from Ireland, Canada, the U.K.,” she added.

On December 1st, the United Autoworkers International (UAW) became the largest union in the United States to endorse a cease-fire. he UAW now joins other US national unions, including the American Postal Workers Union, the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE), the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), and a long list of local unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), in the call for a cease-fire.

Mark Dimondstein, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, one of 55 Vice Presidents of the AFL-CIO and a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and Council, is among the trade union leaders speaking out in the United States. As an antizionist Jewish American whose family was persecuted and killed by the Nazis, Dimondstein underscores the role of natural resources and public infrastructure in the creation of the Israeli occupation: “The governments of Britain and the US, ultimately Israel’s main financial benefactor, were not motivated by concern for Jewish people [following the Holocaust] but by the desire to control the region’s strategic oil resources and transportation lanes, including the Suez Canal,” he says.

At a recent AFL-CIO Executive Committee, Dimondstein advocated the union to join the global call for an immediate cease-fire. “Israel has cut off all water, fuel, electricity, and medical supplies to Gaza—blatant war crimes. Gaza itself is a literal open-air prison of 2.3 million people, walled off since 2007 by an Israeli siege. Lack of fuel and electricity means premature babies die, hospitals can’t save lives, people are forced to drink contaminated water, and thousands more will die cruel deaths. Families are being left on the brink of starvation. (…) I lead a union that stands for equality, peace, international solidarity, and social justice—and that’s why I am joining thousands of others in calling for a cease-fire,” says Dimondstein. Among the US trade unions to make statements are:

The National Writers Union: among the first to protest the killings of Palestinian journalists in particular. It condemned the actions of the Israeli military “and its specific assault on the press.” It urged the North American media to “cover this war in a factual, unbiased way, and with proper historical context.”

Chicago Teachers Union: “As a union of educators dedicated to empowering the next generation, we are deeply concerned by the loss of civilian life and indiscriminate bombing throughout Gaza, where half the Palestinians living there are children,” said Jackson Potter, the vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), at a November 13 Palestine solidarity rally. The CTU joined the American Federation of Teachers–Oregon, the United Educators of San Francisco, and the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel in passing cease-fire resolutions.

US Healthcare workers: The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (100,000 members), SEIU’s Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR) and the massive SEIU Local 1021 (over 60,000 members) are among the major healthcare unions now demanding a ceasefire. •

This article first published on the TUED Global website.

Trade Unions for Energy Democracy (TUED) is a global, multi-sector initiative to advance democratic direction and control of energy in a way that promotes solutions to the climate crisis, energy poverty, the degradation of both land and people, and responds to the attacks on workers’ rights and protections.