Paddy Crumlin, MUA national secretary and ITF executive board member will be visiting the Middle East later this year, to promote the International Transport Workers initiative to bring the workers of Israel and Palestine together.
Its the working people who are suffering most from this conflict, he said. And its the workers and their unions who can begin a lasting peace process on the ground.
The ITF has been leading a major international union relief effort behind the scenes, throughout the conflict after brokering an historic accord between the Palestinian and Israeli unions in Cyprus in July 2007.
The initiative has seen the creation of the Palestinian Drivers Assistance Project. Managed by the ITF in coordination with the Palestinian General Transport Workers Union and funded mainly by the Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW), it aims to provide a hotline for Palestinian drivers facing the 500 military checkpoints each day.
ITF assistant general secretary Stuart Howard reports that the project, monitored by a Joint Liaison Committee (JLC) which also includes the Transport Section of Histadrut, the Israeli union, is to liaise with the army at West Bank checkpoints on behalf of Palestinian drivers.
The proposed pilot zone focuses on the West Bank where nine major check points have been identified.
While the Israeli union Histadrut publicly supported the Israeli military bombardment of Gaza, the transport section is battling privatisation and recognises the need for closer union cooperation.
The Palestinian union, however, is aligned with Fatah and it is expected that any accord with the Israeli unions (and military) may only increase suspicion and union persecution by the Hamas Islamists elected to govern Palestine in the 2006 parliamentary election.
Labor Party national conference this year will host a key fringe event on What the Australian labour movement can practically do to support peace, justice and reconciliation for Israel/Palestine. A four-person panel of eminent speakers, from the spectrum of the Palestine/Israel debate, It includes: Ambassador Izzat Abdulhadi, Head of the Palestinian Delegation;· Mr Michael Danby, MP; MrRobert Goot, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry;· Ms Maria Vamvakinou, MP.
National Secretary and ITF executive board member Paddy Crumlin, will present a video on the ITF work on the day.
At the recent Dockers' and Seafarers' meeting of the ITF, the National Secretary indicated to General Secretary David Cockroft that the union, together with other Australian unions, including the AWU, are enthusiastic about promoting dialogue and further engagement between the Palestinian and Israeli trade union movements to promote 'a practical agenda in support of workers in both countries."
Aid to Gaza
Meanwhile the ITF has sent three shipments of aid for Gaza. The Maritime Union donated $2,000 to the relief effort. The first two shipments were airlifted in chartered planes. The third went by road, as part of a Jordan Hashemite Charity Organization aid convoy.
The aid shipments included medical supplies, tents, blankets and hospital cots for newborn babies, operating theatre equipment, first aid supplies, burn dressings, medicine and milk for newborn babies.
An earlier aid flight organised with the assistance of Jordans General Trade Union of Workers in Air Transport and Tourism, carried a cargo of medicines and ambulances on 8 January.
ITF aid shipments were separate to the Lebanese ship carrying humanitarian aid seized by Israeli gunboats in January.
The international trade union movement, including the ITF, ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation), the General Federation of Jordanian Trade Unions (GFJTU) and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) have all backed a call for trade unions to sponsor humanitarian relief aid to Gaza.
"This is the least we can do to help (the people of Gaza)," said Bilal Malkawi, ITF Middle East representative, thanking the MUA for its donations.
ACTU and ITUC president Sharan Burrow has also written to unions calling on members to respond to the Union Aid Abroad (Apheda) appeal for the people of Gaza.
Apheda has a long history of working in food, security and medical rehabilitation in Gaza with partners who are secular and not politically aligned," she said. "The ACTU believes that the key responsibility for aid during the emergency period lies with governments and the United Nations, but unions can make a valuable contribution in lobbying for a cessation of fighting and ensuring that humanitarian access is unimpeded."
Apheda reports medical supplies in Palestinian hospitals are seriously depleted due to the Israeli-imposed blockade of the Gaza Strip for the past two years.
In a Palestinian population of 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations reports that almost 80 per cent of Palestinian families are almost entirely dependent on food aid or direct assistance.
If you would like to made a donation to support the ITF relief work in Gaza please contact the ITF Arab World Office in Amman by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like to make a donation to support the ACTU Union Aid Abroad aid initiative please ring 1800 999 674 or email email@example.com or visit the website at www.apheda.org.au or mail a cheque to Level 3, 377 Sussex Street, Sydney NSW 2000.
Dockworkers in Durban refused to load Israeli cargo in January, in protest against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and a policy of apartheid against the Palestinian people. The Israeli cargo however, was secretly offloaded the Johanna Russ by casual labour.
The Durban stand was widely supported by Australian maritime workers, with branches in NSW, Victoria and WA calling for similar action in Australia.
The WA branch sent messages of solidarity to the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) seeking to discuss joint campaigns, and agreed to participate in a campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel.
The MUA supports the actions taken in South Africa by COSATU and SATAWU and stands with you in solidarity during this campaign, Assistant Branch Secretary Ian Bray wrote. We too have recently had resolutions passed to join the working class campaign.
WA State Conference adopted a position of boycotting all Israeli-registered vessels, and all vessels known to be carrying either goods destined for Israel or goods sourced from Israel.
In Sydney MUA branch officials signed and helped pay for publication of a petition condemning Israel published in The Sydney Morning Herald. Other names on the petition include actor Judy Davis, writer John Pilger, cartoonist Bruce Petty, actor Colin Friels and novelist Tom Keneally.
Assistant branch secretary Paul McAleer joined the Gaza Defence Committee and spoke at rally of 12,000 people who marched in solidarity with the people of Gaza, including a MUA Sydney Branch contingent.
Resolutions from the Branch Committee and membership supported an internationally coordinated boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.
We act in solidarity with those in Israel, Palestine and around the world who struggle for peace and social justice, the branch resolution read.
In Melbourne the MUA motion to the Victoria Trades Hall Council condemning the draconian blockade that Israel has imposed on the Gaza Strip.
The resolution condemned the ramming of the peace boat Dignity by Israeli warships on December 29 2008; the use of white phosphorous munitions by the Israeli army in densely populated areas; Israels bombing of United Nations schools, which were being used as shelters by Palestinian refugees; attacks on health clinics by Israeli forces and statements by the Israeli government that it will protect Israeli soldiers and officers accused of war crimes from prosecution by international tribunals.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin denounced the Israeli invasion of Gaza and called on the Australian Government to back the United Nations General Assembly calls for an immediate withdrawal and ceasefire.
The MUA is supporting initiatives to promote better dialog between the two countries, particularly the trade unions (see page 25).
"We call on the international trade union movement and the Australian Government to join the UN General Assembly condemnation of the invasion as a 'monstrosity' and the Israeli blockade of Gaza as a breach of international law," he said. Israel is not eliminating Islamic extremism by such bloodshed, it is helping create it worldwide. Far from their intent of creating a more moderate Palestinian government they are giving Hamas even more legitimacy and support among Arab and Islamic peoples."
The national secretary also noted that far from enhancing the re-election chances of the Israeli government which included the Labor Party it instead promoted extremist parties, which now stand to take power.
The Maritime Union has a long history of solidarity with Palestine and Lebanon against Israeli aggression, with waterside workers boycotting Zim Line vessels during the Israeli bombing of Lebanon and the massacres at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila in 1982.
Israel fired white phosphorous shells indiscriminately over densely populated areas of Gaza in what amounts to a war crime, Human Rights Watch says in a report. The New York-based group has called on the United Nations to launch an investigation into alleged violations of the rules of war, both by Israel and Hamas, during the three-week Gaza war, Associated Press reports.
Meanwhile a UN rights report has said Israel's three-week war on the Gaza Strip was possibly a war crime. The UN report came as a group of 16 judges and scholars who participated in war crimes commissions in Darfur and Rwanda sent an open letter to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, calling on the UN to investigate alleged breaches of international law committed during the war in Gaza. The signatories included Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the former UN human rights high commissioner, Mary Robinson. And in Israel a coalition of 13 Israeli groups said it was time to stop whitewashing suspected crimes in Gaza in a letter sent to the Attorney-General, Menachem Mazuz. "The Government's failure to establish an independent investigation constitutes a violation of Israel's responsibilities under international law," it said.