A delegation of 11 Scottish trade unionists spent a week in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories last month.
Its task was to discuss the call for BDS – boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions – with the Israeli trade union centre Histadrut, the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and civic organisations.
The delegation, organised by the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) general council, included seven of its members including myself, the general secretary, the assistant secretary for international relations and two other senior trade union colleagues.
Histradrut voiced strong opposition to BDS at a number of meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Its reasoning ranged from concern about potential damage to its influence on government to denial of a need for BDS because Israelis and Palestinians work together in harmony within Israel. Boycott, according to Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini, was a ridiculous idea.
During lunch with foreign affairs officials, delegates were chilled and discomfited when one of them attempted to demonstrate Israel’s integrity during its attacks on Gaza. We were shown colour-coded maps of buildings in Gaza that housed civilians. The military, we were told, when attacking those buildings aimed first at a corner, thus warning civilians inside to flee.
Everyone we met in Israel told us that Israel had been misunderstood. There was a sense of defensiveness and sadness that Israel had been so severely criticised about Gaza.
PGFTU representatives and general secretary Shaher Sae’d met us at their headquarters in Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Sae’d expressed concern that groups and individuals who oppose Israel’s policies and actions will refrain from voicing their views or taking action because of charges of anti-semitism.
They fear that loud and powerful pro-Israel lobbies conflating Israel and Judaism have already silenced many of Israel’s critics.
The overall theme in meetings with Palestinian trade unionists in Nablus and Ramallah, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem and the Palestinian human rights organisation al-Haq was the daily and consistent violation of human rights by Israel.
We were told of al-Haq’s High Court action against the British government on grounds of failure in its duties under the Geneva convention, whose signatories are "under an obligation to ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that convention."
With Histadrut and Israeli trade unions in Jerusalem and Sderot, Gaza was very much on the agenda but not once was there an acknowledgement of the West Bank as occupied territory.
This was at odds with what we had seen for ourselves. As our report to the STUC general council says, "it was very clear to the delegation that the daily violations of human rights were as a direct result of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories."
On that basis, we recommend to Congress support for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel.
The full report can be read at www.stuc.org.uk