***image2***Interview with Mr. Manuel Abdel Aal, a member of the executive committee of the Federation of Palestinian Trade Unions (PGFTU)

On the occasion of Labour Day, could you tell us about the situation of workers in the occupied Palestinian territories?

First of all, I want to salute the Palestinian workers in all parts of the world where they are present, especially in historic Palestine. I want to salute all the fellow workers around the world who have supported us in all our struggles and their national unions and all the honest workers who are defending their labour rights at national levels.

The situation of the Palestinian workers under continuous occupation is a tragic. Our workers experience a very high unemployment rate, which officially is over 18%. However, the actual figure is actually higher. In any society such an unemployment rate indicates a very difficult situation, but what makes it worse is that there is also a very high rate of poverty within Palestinian society. Therefore, unemployment is reflected in the poverty rate and vice versa. The main reason for this is the Israeli occupation, which is the main cause of the difficult living conditions experienced by Palestinian workers and their families. There are many different policies of the Israeli occupation, which together cause suffering and poor labour conditions for our workers.

What are the key factors that directly affect the situation of the workers?

The factors are many, including the closure imposed on our people, especially with regard to work in Jerusalem and within the Green Line. Since 1993 Israel has gradually cut off access to these areas until imposing a total closure and now one cannot access the territory inside the Green Line and Jerusalem for work purposes. One has to apply for a permit from the Israeli army.

The second and very important factor is the construction of the Apartheid Wall, which is an obstacle to the movement of Palestinians and separates farmers from their land, students from their schools and workers from their workplaces. In particular, it prevents Palestinian workers from moving between their homes and their work. For example, in the past the workers did not need a permit to enter Jerusalem and the Green Line to work, but the presence of the Wall and the closure of Jerusalem and the land inside the Green Line prevents workers from reaching their work places. And it's much worse for our workers and our brothers in the Gaza Strip. The proportion of workers who can enter into the Green Line is 0% because the siege and complete closure.

Can you explain the mechanisms of the permit system a bit further?

Since 1993, following the Oslo agreements and the consequent negotiation process and then the second Intifada Israel imposed a complete closure on Jerusalem and the territories inside the Green Line. Workers face the problem that they have to obtain permits issued by the Israeli occupation authorities and such permits are obtained with great difficulty because of the requirements, including age, place of residence, an intelligence report on "security" issues and other harsh conditions. Therefore the percentage of workers that succeed in getting a permit is very low: about 20,000 to 30,000 workers, whereas the number of workers in the past exceeded 150,000 workers.

The permit system is tough, cynical and harmful. This system prevents workers from earning their living. And this although an occupying power is legally responsible for the livelihoods and needs of the civilians it keeps under occupation. The occupation authorities have a significant and direct responsibility for what happens in the occupied territory. We are still under occupation and the occupation is controlling all the resources and actions of the Palestinian people, including the movement of the workers from the places of residence to the places of work.

Though the Israeli authorities sometimes announce that they are going to give permits for workers, in reality, nothing happens. There is no solution in sight for this.

Would you say that the situation goes from bad to worse?

Of course! Look only at the statistics: each year about 40 thousand people enter the job market. We would need to create jobs for 40 000 people, but a large part of them simply join the number of unemployed, and therefore add to the suffering of Palestinian workers, their families and the Palestinian people in general. The problem goes further: there is a large amount of labor force, but there is no demand, no jobs for these young people. This has led to a movement of migration, to brain drain, which is a great loss for Palestine.

What do you expect from the international solidarity?

My message to the world, especially the working class, is a call to lobby their governments to put pressure on Israel to end the occupation and bring down the Apartheid Wall and the settlements, and to support an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, because we have the right to live in freedom and human dignity and democracy as the rest of the peoples on the earth, like all workers and all people who yearn for peace and justice. It is a call to support the Palestinian people, wherever they can get active, to give the Palestinian people all their rights.


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