Tomorrow is May Day when workers of the world are meant to unite, to organize, unionize. Some take to the streets and demonstrate, while others stay at home with their families. But this year the day seems a mockery in Palestine where the blockade has exacerbated an already troubled economic structure trying to survive decades of occupation.Unemployment is up and thousands who found work as part of the Israeli cheap labor force can no longer reach jobs due to closure, the Wall and an campaign of arrests.
In the public sector, strikes have at times over the course of the year crippled government offices, the education and health systems, security and municipal services. Trying to reach work within the West Bank and East Jerusalem has become even more difficult with the Wall completely blocking access for some, while others are forced to find lengthy routes around it. Israeli forces have destroyed or shut-down many factories in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Thirty-seven year old Amer Ahmed is employed in the Gaza Strip, but is criticized for it. He sells toys in Jabaliya Refugee Camp, where they are viewed as luxury items taunting residents who cannot afford presents for their children.
“The situation is very difficult,” says Ahmed who supports a family of seven. “Staff salaries are gone,” he told PNN, referring to the public sector working in government institutions. “I worked in Israel before the closure at the beginning of the Al Aqsa Intifada six and a half years ago. Since then I have not found work or local officials to help me. The government and the presidency offer false promises.”
Unemployment is rising among Palestinians with an overall rate around 50 percent. There are areas where it is as high as 85 percent.
Thirty year old Ahmad Al Asali says that he is among the “forgotten workers.” He told PNN that conditions for his family are deteriorating. “On Labor Day, world workers day, there is no work for Palestinians. There is instead widespread unemployment and the economic condition is very bad.” Al Asali is among those who demand that Palestinian officials pay more attention to the plight of the unemployed and underemployed.
The General Union of Palestinian Workers is calling on the United Nations to provide humanitarian relief. A statement issued on the occasion of Labor Day reads in part, “The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees needs to develop programs and operational assistance to workers, increasing aid in proportion to the size of the disaster.”
The Palestinian Center for Statistics issued its findings for this May Day, indicating complex conditions as the international blockade and Israeli siege have destroyed most possibilities, including the ability of the Palestinian Authority to pay public sector salaries.
Chairperson of the General Federation of Trade Unions in Palestine, Rassem Al Bayyari, says that while the people of the world are celebrating Labor Day, the Palestinian people celebrate in their own way. He referred to the realities of life under Israeli occupation on Labor Day and every day, including “houses being bombed, young people killed, supporters targeted, and thousands of our sons being arrested.”