Israel/Palestine: One year after the war on Gaza: Instability, class polarisation and growing interest in socialist ideas

Over 130 Jews and Arabs participate in ‘Socialism Conference 2009’, organised by Tnua’t Maavak Sozialisti / Harakat Nidal Eshtaraki (Socialist Struggle Movement – CWI in Israel)

One year after the devasting attack on the Gaza strip by the Israeli regime, and against the background of growing militarisation, instability and new attacks on the living conditions of the working and middle classes in Israel and the occupied territories, Tnu’at Maavak Sozialisti / Harakat Nidal Eshtaraki held it biggest public conference ever.

Around 130 Jews and Arabs, women and men, high school students, workers, pensioners, trade unionists and socialists came, in spite of the pouring rain, to participate in ‘Socialism Conference 2009’, and to discuss the recent struggles for trade union rights, protests against racism and discrimination, the struggle against national oppression and occupation, and to hear the case for socialist alternative to capitalism and war.

Last Year, ‘Socialism Conference 2008’ was held, on 26 December, one day before the brutal war on the Gaza strip was started by the Israeli regime. Back then, Socialist Struggle Movement participated fully in the anti-war demonstrations inside Israel from the first day of the war. One year after the war, the Socialist Struggle Movement took part, alongside hundreds of Arabs and Jews, in two demonstrations that were held on the Israeli side of the border of the besieged Gaza strip and in the center of Tel Aviv, to protest the ongoing siege on Gaza and to commemorate the 1,400 victims of the war. The new war threats that are being made by Netanyahu’s far- right government along with the increase in repression against Palestinians has made the national question a particularly looming issue.

Joint struggle

The need for a mass and joint struggle of Jews and Arabs against occupation and national oppression was fully addressed and discussed at all of the three sessions of the conference. At the first session, which focused on the ongoing struggles and protest movements against the recent attacks of the government, Jafer Fareh, head of the "equality center" and a former leader of the unrecognised country-wide Arab Students’ Association inside Israel, emphasised the need to link the day-to-day social struggles on immediate issues to wider struggles, including against racism, national oppression and occupation. Others speakers, including workers representatives, and activists from Socialist Struggle Movement, spoke about how the bosses are using racism and the tactics of "divide and rule" in the workplaces. Fat’hiya Mossrawi, from the union of the kindergarten workers which organises Jewish and Arab female workers, set an example of how workers from different national backgrounds can come together to struggle for their rights.

Yaniv Klener, representative of the alternative medicine workers’ committee, who are engaged in an ongoing battle for unionisation through the "Power to the Workers" organisation, and just recently conducted a 7 week strike, also spoke. Kiril, a representative of the newly founded workers’ committee in a southern town pavements’ factory, came to tell the story of their ongoing unionisation through "Power to the Workers", which began after they were inspired by the strike of the alternative-medical workers. Among other speakers in the first session were also the representative of the teaching faculty of the Open University and a female representative of a new radical LGBT struggle formation.

Socialist alternative to capitalism and war

The second session discussed in detail the socialist alternative to capitalism, against the background of the world economic crisis and attacks on the living standards of workers all over the world. The ongoing neo-liberal campaign of cuts on welfare budgets and attacks on organised labour is Israel has resulted in one third of children and one quarter of the population living beneath the poverty line. Different speakers in the discussion emphasised the inability to solve the burning social problems of poverty and unemployment under capitalism, but also the inability to solve the national question and secure the national aspirations and social rights of all nationalities in the region as long as capitalism and imperialism remain in power. The need for the establishment of an independent party of working people as a tool of struggle for socialist change was addressed as an urgent task by Socialist Struggle Movement during the discussion.

The last session was a panel discussion on building the organised labour movement in Israel, with five different trade unionist from the recently established "Power to the Workers" and the General Histadrut trade union federation, on the platform. The main issues that were addressed by the speakers from the platform were the criminal role of the leadership of the General Histadrut in recent years. Ami Vaturi and Arye Gur, both of them today in the leadership of power to the workers, told participants of how the Histadrut leadership betrayed two different struggles they led. Efraim Davidi, a member of the Communist party in Israel, who was a member of the Histadrut leadership (Hadash faction) until 2007, put an emphasis on the need to build a layer of class conscious trade unionists inside the General Federation, saying that "Power to the Workers" was an unnecessary splitting of forces which made organised labour weaker. However, other speakers, including, Inbal Heramony ,a woman representative of the social workers’ "Our Future" organisation, which acts as an opposition inside the social workers’ union (part of the Workers’ General Histadrut), described the positive effect that the establishment of "Power to the Workers" had on militant trade unionism inside the general federation. Shay Galy, member of the "Power to the Workers" leadership, and a Socialist Struggle Movement activist, spoke about the urgent need for collaboration between workers from the different union structures and the need for a joint front of the different unions in struggle against layoffs, and for higher wages, that can also address the wider issues that working people are confronted with.

This annual conference addressed the urgent issues facing workers in the Israel/ Palestine region: the economic crisis and how to fight it; the threat of a new regional war; struggles against war, occupation and national oppression; and the need for socialist change. 14 different workers’ representatives and representatives from other struggles addressed these issues at the conference. Many more learned from the rich experience that was share at the conference, making it also a practical guide for the struggle for socialism in Israel, the Palestinian territories and the whole of the Middle East.

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January 2010