1948 Palestinians pay a high price for their solidarity with Gaza

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A Palestinian boy leaves a store that had erected a poster calling people to boycott Israel in East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Beit Hanina on August 26, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Ahmed Gharabli)

By: Jamal Sweid

Published Wednesday, September 3, 2014

In the occupied territories, expressing solidarity with Gaza means losing your job and even receiving death threats. Collectively, the price has included an Israeli economic boycott of Arab markets and shops. That is how the Palestinians living in the 1948 occupied territories are taking part in the confrontation.

Haifa – During the last Israeli war on Gaza, the Palestinians in the 1948 occupied territories were not far from the fray. Especially that the war began while the West Bank, Jerusalem and the 1948 territories were engaged in confrontations against the occupation. Solidarity with Gaza began with carrying on with these confrontations.

But the rockets of the Resistance falling on occupied cities limited the ability to organize protests, and so people took to social networking sites and even store signs. In return, official and popular Israeli parties called for holding 1948 Palestinians who express sympathy with Gaza accountable by taking punitive measures against them. These measures included firing them from their jobs by putting pressure on their Israeli employers and boycotting Arab-owned shops and businesses.

To paint an objective picture, one has to point out that these steps were taken in the context of private sector institutions. On the other hand Israeli state institutions impose strict rules on their employees in terms of freedom of speech in the workplace and even in the public sphere.

Attorney Maha Shehadeh from the organization Unwan al-Aamel in Nazareth said that posts sympathetic with Gaza were shared on more than 25 Facebook pages administered by “Arab workers and employees whose employers were pressured to fire them.” She explained that she has dealt with dozens of similar cases.

Shehadeh told Al-Akhbar that the termination of employment in this case is illegal, arbitrary and without a hearing. She added: “Banning free speech is used in criminal law but implementing the law is not the job of the employer. We are facing, therefore, politically-motivated dismissals, which violate the equal opportunity law and freedom of expression. Especially since employees expressed their views outside the workplace.”

One of these employees is Lina Alem who works at a telecommunication company. She was fired for the same reason. Alem told Al-Akhbar that she has been working at this company for five years. “As the ground invasion of Gaza began and news about the rising death toll among Israeli soldiers started coming in, I expressed my opinion on my Facebook page and all hell broke loose.”

Alem continues: “My colleagues at the company where I work tried to attack me in the workplace while others showed management what I wrote. My boss summoned me and asked me to remove the name of the company from the work category on my page. Then I received death threats after my phone number was published on lists belonging to racist groups. In the end, the company management decided to fire me for my own safety, they said.”

Threats were not restricted to employees, there was incitement as well against university students, political activists and journalists. Fired workers find themselves in a difficult position. The problem is not strictly a legal one that will end in the courts, especially that there are threats of sexual assault. This makes the workplace environment, if one returns to work, a threatening one.

Nevertheless, Shehadeh points to a number of cases that are “in the process of legal redress.” She said there are legal mechanisms to fight illegal discharge through the justice system, such as “asking to reverse wrongful termination and requiring the employer to pay compensation to the employee who was fired.” She pointed out that the damages for discharged Palestinian employees go beyond their financial or professional status. “Most of the people that came to us asked for compensation because they lost their jobs and because they are now scared.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman demanded that Arab shopkeepers who expressed solidarity with Gaza and responded to the decision of the High Follow-up Committee to go on a strike in solidarity for one day be punished. Lieberman’s call, which he issued on his personal Facebook page, was met with an unprecedented response from Israeli society. Similar calls issued by several Jewish parties demanding the boycott of Arab-owned shops spread.

Although the majority were committed, some Arab businessmen argued that the economic boycott of Israeli products in the occupied 1948 territories “will be useless, especially that the Arab economy in occupied Palestine is not independent of the Israeli economy and this boycott will affect the local Arab economy because it will encourage a similar Jewish boycott.”

That is what happened in some cities. An Arab businessman who owns a shop in the old market in Acre said that Jewish boycott of Arab shops undercut the business season and resulted in unprecedented losses, especially that tourism had previously stopped. Other businessmen, however, said that the boycott brought in more Arab customers who used to shop at Israeli stores.

As the war ends, things will gradually go back to normal. But during the assault on Gaza, issues of wrongful termination and boycott were absent from the agendas of politicians, such as members of the Knesset and the Follow-up Committee. Strong public action focused instead on heeding Lieberman’s call.

Israeli sources were quoted yesterday saying that the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, sharply criticized a bill proposed by some members of the Knesset from the Jewish Home, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu political parties to “abolish the status of Arabic as an official language.” He said: “We have to recognize that we are not just waging a security battle but a social battle as well.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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