Terry McCorran Co Chairman of NIFI reports on his recent visit to Israel
On the 1st of November this year I had the privilege of joining the Trade Union Friends of Israel (TUFI) Delegation to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Sadly, due to the Boycott of Israel by my own trade union, Unison (which includes a boycott of TUFI – TUFI were banned from having a stall at this year’s UNISON conference), I had to go in a Personal Capacity unlike other members of the delegation who went as representatives of their trade unions. The up side of this was it made me more determined to find out the truth about Boycotts, and whether it was possible for Israelis and Palestinians to live and work together in peace.
The truth it turns out in my opinion is much different from what the World Media and some Trade unions tend to make out. And when people told me you couldn’t compare what has happened in Northern Ireland to what is happening in Israel I felt maybe you couldn’t, there are certainly many differences, but in one vitally important aspect they are wrong. Speaking to Jews and Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, in Israel I found out one thing that the vast majority of them had in common with people in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. They want PEACE, they want to go to work and then go home to their families.
Our guide for the trip was Avital Shapira-Shabriow from the Israeli trade union movement, the Histadrut, who set up a very well organised and high-level trip. During our visit we met government Minister Itzhak Herzog (Welfare Minister) , a man whose father, the late President Herzog, was born in Belfast. We also met the Jerusalem Municipality Employees Committee; the Chairman of the Jerusalem Labour Council (Danny Ben-Sherrit); a member of Tony Blair’s Quartet Department (Ben Scott Rule); the Histadrut Chairman Mr Ofer Eini; the Acting Governor of Nablus, Anan Atteereh, and Mr Shaher Sae’d (General Secretary of the Palestinian trade union movement, the PGFTU) among many others. We travelled from Sderot, a town on the Gaza border in the south, which has suffered thousands of missile attacks by Hamas, to Haifa in the north, which has a large Jewish and Arab population, living and working side by side.
I guess for me, as a Trade Unionist the big question was BOYCOTTS. At a meeting with the General Secretary of the PGFTU I asked two very straight forward and to me very important questions:
1. Do the PGFTU want a Boycott of Israel? (Answer from Mr Sae’d: No and it has never been discussed by the PGFTU)
2. Do you want a Boycott of goods from the Israeli settlements on the West Bank? (Answer from Mr Sae’d: While I do not agree with the “Illegal Settlements” and protest against them, I could NOT ask for people to BOYCOTT them as 30,000 Palestinians work in them or for companies which produce goods from them, and to BOYCOTT them would harm the very people I represent and would deprive them of a means to support their families).
I left Israel and the Palestinian Authority realising that rather than Boycotting people and goods we should help and support the vast majority of people of the region by encouragement and engagement with all those seeking a peaceful resolution. I also left knowing one day soon I will go back, and, through NIFI and my work in the trade union movement, I will do all I can to support the people of Israel and Palestine who want peace.