Long struggle ahead for Palestinian workers

Yesterday marked International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day and Labor Day. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has issued two statements related to this annual commemoration. The first outlines Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ right to work, and the other condemns the Interior Ministry in Gaza’s banning of an assembly of workers to mark International Workers’ Day.


On Israel’s labor rights violations:

On International Workers’ Day PCHR denounces Israel’s systematic violation of Palestinians’ human right to work
Since 1891, 1 May has been celebrated as International Workers’ Day, a public holiday throughout the world commemorating and reaffirming workers’ struggle for labor rights and decent working conditions.
The primary responsibility to protect and implement workers’ rights lies with nation states, since they are responsible for the implementation of international labor standards within the territories under their jurisdiction. As the occupying power Israel has the responsibility to ensure the right to work in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), comprised of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), inter alia, have confirmed the binding legal responsibilities of Israel vis a vis the entire spectrum of human rights of the Palestinian population under occupation.
However, the human right to work, which includes each individual’s right to the opportunity to gain their living by work which they freely choose or accept,[1] as well as the right to safe and healthy working conditions[2], remains out of reach for many Palestinians as result of Israeli policies enforced during its long standing belligerent occupation of the oPt.
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the approximately 585 checkpoints and other restrictions[3] inhibit the free movement of people to get to and from work and make trade difficult and costly. Confiscation of land and settlement activity have also taken economic opportunity away from Palestinians who make their living from agriculture or animal husbandry. As consequence, the unemployment rate has reached 17.2% and this has had an impact on the food-security level of the population (22% of households are food-insecure and an additional 12% are vulnerable to food insecurity[4]).
In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-imposed total closure, tightened in June 2007 as means of “economic warfare” and collective punishment of the civilian population – and thus illegal under the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 – has affected negatively all sectors of the economy, which were already damaged by the Israeli military operations of December 2008-January 2009. This has resulted in a corresponding rise in unemployment (now at 37.4%[5] compared to pre-closure figures of 26.4%) and in a sharp increase in poverty (65%[6]) and food insecurity (52% of the population is food insecure and an additional 13% is vulnerable to food insecurity[7]). Should the illegal closure be kept in force, the plight of unemployed workers will inevitably further deteriorate with evident implications on the workers and their families’ human dignity.
Unavoidably, since working opportunities in the formal economy are limited, thousands of people have found no alternatives but to risk their own lives working in the tunnels along the border with Egypt. According to PCHR documentation, since 2006 165 workers, including 8 children, have been killed in these circumstances. Furthermore, farmers and rubble collectors are affected  by Israeli unilaterally declared “no-go areas” on land located up to 1,500 meters from the fence dividing Israel and the Gaza Strip. Anyone entering or present in these areas – which comprise approximately 17% of Gaza’s territory and 35% of Gaza’s agricultural land[8] – is under high risk of being shot by Israeli border patrols. Likewise, Gaza fishermen, today only 3,700 compared to 10,000 in 2000[9], are often attacked by Israeli war vessels when fishing 3 nautical miles from the shore, although they are entitled to fish up to 20 nautical miles according to the Oslo Agreements.
In 2010[10], at least 15 Palestinian workers, including four children, were killed by Israeli forces while working in the  “no-go areas” on the land and at sea. Another 169 workers, including 45 children, were injured.     
PCHR reiterates its condemnation of these crimes which are part of a long-standing pattern of violations perpetrated by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory and denounces the infringement of the inalienable human rights of the Palestinian population.

[1] Art. 6, UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
[2] Art. 7, Ibid.
[3] PCHR, Weekly Report On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, 21 - 27 April 2011.
[4] FAO-WFP-oPt, 2010 Socio-Economic and Food Security Survey, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, oPt.
[5] UN OCHA-oPt, Easing the Blockade, Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip, Special Focus, March 2011.
[6] PCHR, State of the Border Crossings, 16-30 September 2010.
[7] UN OCHA-oPt, Easing the Blockade, Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip, Special Focus, March 2011.
[8] PCHR, The Buffer-zone in the Gaza Strip, August 2010, Facts Sheet section.
[9] PCHR, Israeli Attacks on Palestinian Fishermen at Gaza Sea, February 2011, Facts Sheet section.
[10] UN OCHA-oPt, Easing the Blockade, Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip, Special Focus, March 2011.


On the banning of a peaceful assembly to mark International Worker’s Day in Gaza:


PCHR Condemns Continued Restrictions Imposed on the Right to Peaceful Assembly by the Palestinian Government in Gaza;
Peaceful Assembly of Workers on International Workers’ Day Banned

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns the ban by the Ministry of Interior in Gaza of the organization of a peaceful assembly by workers on International Workers’ Day.  PCHR further denunciates the intervention of security services into public liberties and summoning of organizers of public meetings.  PCHR calls upon the government in Gaza to respect the right to peaceful assembly and public liberties that re ensured under the constitution and international human rights standards.
According to investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 20:00 on Saturday, 30 April 2011, Attorney Karem Mohammed Shahwan, from the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center (DWRC), received a phone call from the Police General Investigation Department (GID), summoning him to the GID headquarters in Ansar security compound.  Attorney Nashwan went to the headquarters of the GID, where he found that three staff members of DWRC had been also summoned: Nidal Ghaben; Fayez al-‘Omari; and ‘Abdul Raziq Harara.  Two other defenders of workers’ rights had been also summoned.  Attorney Nashwan stated to PCHR that a GID officer informed him that the Ministry of Interior rejected their application for a license to organize an assembly near the UN headquarters in Gaza City on Sunday, 01 May 2011, and that the police would be deployed in the area to disperse any unlicensed assembly.  He added that DWRC, in cooperation with union activists and defenders of workers’ rights had already addressed the Ministry of Interior in Gaza to notify them or the organization of a peaceful assembly near the UN headquarters to deliver a letter to UN staff addressing the UN Secretary General demanding him to work towards ending the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and lifting the siege imposed on the Gaza Strip.
It is worth noting that GID officers summoned Attorney Karen Nashwan and other activists last week in the aftermath of the Ministry of Interior’s rejection of a similar notice they had sent to the Ministry that they would organize a rally from Palestine Square to the Unknown Soldier Yard in Gaza City on International Workers’ Day.
In the same context, the GID in Khan Yunis dispersed a peaceful assembly organized on Sunday morning in commemoration of International Workers’ Day near UNRWA offices in Khan Yunis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip.  A number of GID officers arrived at the area and ordered two of the organizers to end the assembly and refer to the GID headquarters in Khan Yunis, where they were questioned about organizing a peaceful assembly without obtaining a license from the Ministry of Interior.  They were released later.
In light of the above, PCHR emphasizes that:
1.     The right to peaceful assembly is ensured under Article 26 (5) of the Palestinian Basic Law, and the Public Meetings Law No. 12 of 1998, whose Article 2 states:  “Citizens shall have the right to hold public meetings, gatherings, and processions, which shall not be infringed upon or restricted, except pursuant to the provisions of this law.”
2.     The governor and chief of police, according to the law, does not have any legal right to license or ban any public meeting, a peaceful rally or another other form of peaceful assembly, and the legal provision is only limited to “notifying” the governor or police by the organizers, and the police may place restrictions for the purpose of traffic regulation.
3.     Palestinian security services are required to respect international human rights standards, the Palestinian Basic Law and other relevant laws.



Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.