Israel: A hot Land Day and the spring strike season

The Israeli government is using the imperialist war on Iraq and the fear of Scuds landing in Israel as a cover to launch its own weapon of mass destruction – a 11.4 Billion Shekel (£1.5 billion) budget cut, the second for 2003.

Comparisons made in the media between Finance Minister Netanyahu and his long time mentor, Margaret Thatcher, are completely justified by this frontal assault on organised labour, jobs, wages and living standards. One of the major items is the breakup, through legislation, of long standing collective wage agreements in the public sector and the end of tenure, as well as steps making it easier for managers to sack any workers, including shop stewards. After negotiations had reached a dead end, even the timid, right wing bureaucracy of the Histadrut (Israel’s trade union federation) was forced to announce a national labour dispute, which could become a general (mainly public sector) strike by next Sunday. Already 100,000 workers, the total workforce in the local authorities, have been on strike since Monday, 31 March. Fifty thousand workers in government ministries and adjoining units started a slowdown on Sunday, and the teachers have held several stoppages (the government plans to sack 6,000 teachers).

Among Israeli Arabs, anger against their own poverty and unemployment, further attacks on services and benefits and the continued oppression of their brothers and sisters in the occupied territories are creating an explosive mix. But the war on Iraq could well be the match igniting the tinderbox. On Saturday, six members of Maavak Sozialisti (the CWI’s affiliated organisation in Israel) attended an anti-war march and rally organised by Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, an organisation led by the Communist Party) in Nazareth.

We gave out Arabic leaflets and sold papers and the latest CWI international statement on the war at the lively demo of about 3,000. The best people present were radical youth dissatisfied with the policies of the CP front.

The main Land Day event was on the Sunday in Sakhnin, a town in the Galilee. Land Day is the traditional day of protests by Israeli Arabs against discrimination and oppression since 1976, when the Israeli Defence Force killed 6 protesters on a demonstration opposing land seizures. Israeli Palestinian workers, farmers and small businessmen went on strike to mark this year’s Land Day protests.

Unfortunately one party opposed the strike in the Follow-up Committee (the main Arab Israeli leadership body) was Hadash. Only later did were they forced to change their minds as a result of the mood in the local area.

A hundred thousand protest

The demo was huge. According to the organisers a hundred thousand filled the small town’s streets. It started with a march and ended with a rally. The march began with about 200 people when we started to walk but had grown steadily along the way. Unlike the Nazareth demo, this was a protest in which many Arab factions and parties participated. Abnaa El-Balad (a radical left nationalist organisation) and the Communist Party were undoubtedly the strongest at the demo. Cars carrying loudspeakers that blasted slogans provided the political lead. Young people gathered around these cars according to their political affiliation. Abnaa El-Balad, although a small faction, are able to use these conditions to attract more young people around their cars with more radical or nationalistic slogans then those of the CP, for example, "With our blood, with our souls, we’ll redeem you Iraq" was one of their slogans. On only one or two occasions did we hear people shouting "Saddam you beloved, strike Tel Aviv". Another slogan connected Jenin and Baghdad. Importantly most of the flags carried on the demonstration were evenly divided between red flags and Palestinian ones. Only a few demonstrators carried the green flags of the Islamic movement. One Abna El-Balad activist told us that the Islamic movement does not make a special effort to bring people to the Land Day demo.

The atmosphere in short was hot, very hot, but peaceful (Israeli police cleverly kept out of sight this time). Our Arabic leaflets and the CWI statement were quickly snapped up (around 2,000 leaflets were given out on both events), indicating the thirst for ideas.

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