Why trade unionists should stand with Palestine – Louise Regan, #TUC23


“Boycott Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) is a call from civil society in Palestine to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians & pressure Israel to comply with international law.”

Louise Regan

Louise Regan writes on why TUC Congress should back a motion in support of the right to boycott campaign.

This year marked 75 years since the Nakba. That is 75 years of dispossession, ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Over 750,000 Palestinians were driven in to exile and more than 500 villages were wiped from the map. Those Palestinians that fled left their homes with their keys in their hands – 75 years later they are still waiting to return.

We know that 2022 was the deadliest year since 2004 with at least 146 Palestinians killed including 34 children. Already this year more than 172 Palestinians have been killed, already exceeding the total from last year.

The UN reports that at least 451 Palestinian structures have already been demolished by Israel this year – including 129 in East Jerusalem. This has resulted in the displacement of 689 people, including 327 children. Over the last 75 years Israel has used demolitions to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their land, and the current far-right government is fast tracking new demolitions across East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

In the trade union movement, we have a long and proud history of standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. The NEU and its legacy union the NUT began supporting their struggles in the 1980s and we have continued to build and develop the work that we do. Currently we organise two delegations a year to visit Palestine and meet with our key partners. Much of the time we are there is spent visiting schools and hearing from teachers and students about their lives under occupation. Their experiences are shocking, from the checkpoints they pass through on their journey to school, to the tear gas that is shot into the areas where they play or the soldiers that enter their schools and classrooms, a place where they should feel safe from fear. Despite this, teachers are committed to ensuring all students receive the best education possible. Seeing this commitment and the happiness of the students that they are teaching is a wonderful experience and our members come back with so much joy from the classrooms and schools that they have visited.

On one of my visits to a primary school in East Jerusalem I remember a young girl crying. When I spoke to her teacher she explained that the girl’s house had been demolished the day before and the family had nowhere to go. The teacher showed me a picture of the devastated family alongside the pile of rubble that had been their home. It was heart-breaking to witness the pain and suffering of such a young child.

However even with this increasing hostility and threat towards them it is humbling to see their resolve to stand firm and resist the things that are happening. In East Jerusalem communities like Silwan, Jabal al-Mukaber, and Hizma Palestinians are refusing to leave their homes. We have met with a number of the families in Sheikh Jarrah who are at threat of eviction from their homes. We have heard their stories, extended families who have lived in the homes since the 1950s now at risk of losing their home again.

It is essential that we remember and educate our members about the Nakba, to hear the stories of Nakba survivors and their descendants and to remember the brutality of the crimes committed against the Palestinian people in that period. But we must remember that the Nakba is ongoing and continues. Every home or school demolished, every olive tree uprooted, every child imprisoned, every family forced to mourn their loved ones killed by the Israeli military, every new generation of refugees born outside their homeland—these are crimes layered on top of decades of injustice.

Despite this Palestinians have stood strong, they continue to demand freedom, self determination and the right to return. The names of the villages from which they were expelled are etched in their minds and on the muraled walls of the refugee camps which they were expelled to.

The injustices against the Palestinian people cannot continue to be ignored. Support for their cause continues to grow and we have to continue to educate and agitate around this issue.

This year at TUC Congress there is a motion calling for trade unions to support the right to boycott campaign. Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is a call from civil society in Palestine to end international support for Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law. Our government wants to prevent us from taking part in democratic campaigns to oppose oppression and we should be clear and vocal in our opposition to this.

Any trade union member at Congress should be calling on their delegation to support this motion, but more that this we need to go back and take action in our own unions. We need to build a mass campaign against this Bill and in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Silence is not an option, Palestinians who we visit give us a clear message – they tell us that their voices are silenced so they need us to speak out and tell the world what is happening.

Featured image: Palestine Flag. Photo credit: Makbula Nassar under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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