Israel privatises the occupation

The Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories has become a corporate grab of land and labour, with any claimed security, political or religious justifications nothing more than a smokescreen for profiteering. Penny Cole reports for A World to Win

Palestinians face a “deadly political paradox”, explains Salwa Alenat of Kav LaOved (Workers” Hotline) at a meeting in London to discuss who profits form the Israeli occupation.

They have no jobs in the Palestinian Authority areas where there is soaring unemployment and so are forced instead to build settlements and tend crops on land stolen from them.

Around every illegal settlement, agricultural products are being grown using low-paid Palestinian labour working in terrible conditions. In addition, new industrial zones, illegally constructed and operated, are using Palestinians as cheap labour, including child labour.

After 14 years of legal battles, the Israeli High Court has ruled that the country”s labour protection laws apply in the settlements but this is being largely ignored and no enforcement attempted.

Some 30,000 Palestinians work in agriculture in the Jordan valley, often earning less than a third of the minimum wage. Settler landlords operate date farms and refuse responsibility for accidents at work, health care or compensation.

Workers are hoisted by cherry picker into trees early in the morning, and left to labour there in the heat of the day with no way down. They spray dates with hormones and pesticides without protective gear provided.

Then there are the industrial zones. Salwa Alenat, whose Israeli-based organisation defends the rights of Palestinian and migrant workers, gave the example of a factory which backs on to the illegal wall built across the West Bank.

Workers can enter and leave only at specified times, she said, describing it as a big prison for the 500 workers. Not only Israeli employers, but Palestinian gang masters are profiting from their exploitation.

The Palestinian Authority says this is a political issue but Palestinians are increasingly trying to organise to struggle for their rights as workers, “regardless of what political decisions are taken here or there,” Salwa explains.

Dalit Baum, whose organisation Who Profits? exposes corporations involved in the occupation, said that while Israeli media endlessly mourns “the cost of the occupation”, for the wealthiest parts of Israeli society it is a source of huge profits.

The rapid implementation of neo-liberal policies by successive Israeli governments has transformed some formerly nationalised companies into privatised corporations with global links. These corporations are ruthlessly exploiting the occupied territories.

Names to look out for:

A total of 27 Israeli companies operating in settlements and exporting to the United Kingdom have been identified:

* Fruit, vegetables and fresh herbs: Agrexco, Arava, Flowers Direct, Hadiklaim, Mehadrin Tnuport Export

* Other food products: Abady Bakery, Achdut, Adumim Food Additives/Frutarom, Amnon & Tamar, Oppenheimer, Shamir Salads

* Beverages: Adanim Tea, Soda-Club, Tishbi Estate Winery

* Cosmetics: Dead Sea Laboratories, Intercosma

* Pharmaceuticals: Fermentek

* Plastic products: Keter Plastic, Tip Top Toys, Twitoplast

* Metal products: DiSTeK, Mul-T-Lock, Yardeni Locks

* Textile products: Caesarea Carpets, Dispobud, Ofertex

* Other products: Greenkote

The occupation has been privatised, with crossings being run by, amongst others, GS4, formerly Group 4 and its Israeli subsidiary Hashmira. It is one of the biggest employers in the state of Israel, and has come under intense scrutiny by the Israeli parliament for alleged breaches of the labour rights of thousands of its workers.

The security companies have facilitated one of the most sinister developments in surveillance and control techniques and equipment, which are tested on Palestinians and marketed worldwide.

Unmanned drones that both photograph and fire on Palestinians; drone ships that target Palestinian fishermen; drone bulldozers made by Caterpillar, with Israeli women soldiers an office somewhere manipulating a joy stick, to crush and demolish Palestinian homes.

The West Bank has become a massive landfill site. All of Israel”s toxic medical wastes are being dumped there. Even the stones of the West Bank are being stolen. The global Hanson corporation is involved with a company that is quarrying and grinding them for cement manufacture.

Alongside this ruthless and illegal economic occupation goes a transformation of the state of Israel itself.

An example of this change is the fate of the Zionist trade union movement Histadrut, which was the driving force behind construction of the Israeli state after 1948. In 1983 it had 1,600,000 members, more than one-third of the total population and about 85% of all wage earners.

It was the second-biggest employer, in both industry and the public sector. Now after a decade of privatisation, its membership is just 650,000.

Not only Arab but migrant workers are badly treated in Israel. Thai, Filipino and Chinese migrants, having paid agents as much as $10, 000 to get to Israel, are not permitted to change employers and face deportation if they lose their jobs. They receive time-limited work permits and then become illegal when these expire, forced into the black economy. And the cycle continues with continuous importation of fresh batches of migrant labour.

Kav LaOved supports all low paid and exploited workers and reports an increased number of enquiries on the hotline of Jewish Israeli workers, mostly recent immigrants, seeking help.

This privatisation and globalisation of the Israeli state was kick started by premier Benjamin Netanyahu during his first period in office from 1996 to 1999. During his most recent period as premier, his priority has been to carry out the same process in respect of the occupied territories.

Netanyahu wants to substitute what he calls “economic peace” for the peace process. An example of how this works is in the town of Jenin, a Palestinian town now entirely enclosed by the illegal wall. Palestinians on the other side are now being offered day shopping passes to enter Jenin and spend.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy is continually hamstrung by restrictions and isolation, land grabs and attacks, and remains entirely dependent on Israel for any trade at all.

With neo-liberalism in the driving seat in Israel and the occupied territories, it has never been clearer that there is a community of interest between workers throughout the area, whatever their nationality, religion or race.

The biggest threat to Israel”s global rich and their political representatives would be a one-state solution, where workers could unite in the struggle for real democracy and economic power.

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