Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Belfast trade unionists to boycott Israeli goods

The Belfast telegraph - Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Trade unionists are to launch a boycott of Israeli goods as part of a major campaign to secure a peaceful settlement in the Middle East, Stormont heard today.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) launched a report on Israel and Palestine compiled by senior members who visited the troubled region.

As controversy continues to rage over the death toll in Gaza caused by the recent Israeli military attacks, trade union leaders announced they are to hold a major conference this year to act as a springboard for their campaign.

While the DUP dismissed the report as unbalanced and urged unions to concentrate on local economic issues, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams who hosted the report's launch in Stormont's Long Gallery commended the trade unionists.

ICTU President Patricia McKeown led the Middle East visit that involved 11 senior members of the umbrella group representing trade unions across Ireland, including 36 trade unions with 250,948 members in Northern Ireland.

The delegation met Israeli trade unionists and politicians, plus Hamas political leaders, but said they were shocked by the conditions they found in Palestinian areas.

"I was profoundly shocked by what we found," said Ms McKeown.

"I didn't expect the denial of human rights and the discrimination to be so evident and to be an obvious part of daily life.

"To see unemployment on the West Bank rising to 80%, to see people having to get up at three in the morning, and virtually sleep outside the the army controlled crossings in order to get into work - that's something we didn't expect to see."

The ICTU trip took place more than a year ago, but its campaign will move up a gear this year with a major conference to highlight the Palestinian/Israeli situation, while research on a boycott of Israeli goods to press for a settlement will also be finalised.

The ICTU delegates urged an end to rocket attacks on Israel during their a face-to-face meeting with Hamas politicians.

But Ms McKeown said her colleagues were deeply shocked by the conditions they saw in the Palestinian areas they visited and felt compelled to push for international action, with talks already under way with trade unions in Britain and the United States.

But she said she was angry the debate split along unionist/nationalist lines in Northern Ireland.

"Nelson Mandela described this as the most important problem on this planet," she said.

"To come back and find out that this is the way in which it is treated in certain quarters... I put that down to a couple of things, an absence of knowledge... but it is also, in some quarters, extreme fundamentalism responding to extreme fundamentalism."

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams told today's event: "Since the visit by the ICTU delegation, Gaza has been the target of an all-out military assault by Israeli forces. Over 1,300 people were killed, many of them children.

"Unless the international community and that includes the Irish government, the British government, the EU and the US government exercises its considerable influence and authority, any relaxation of the current assault on Gaza will only bring a short respite for citizens there."

He said a sustained international effort was needed to secure a durable settlement and added: "If the conflict here taught us anything, that is that no conflict is intractable. There are solutions."

The ICTU praised Ulster Unionist Fred Cobain for providing the necessary cross-party support to host the event in Stormont and the trade unionists insisted an open debate on the Middle East was vital.

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