Palestinians between Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea call for general strike

Shuttered Palestinian businesses in Jerusalem (Latifeh Abdellatif - MEE)

Mustafa Abu Sneineh

Middle East Eye  /  May 18, 2021

The Karameh (Dignity) Strike is set to be respected by millions across historic Palestine, as Israel cracks down on its Palestinian citizens and bombs Gaza.

Palestinians in Israel, occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank have called for a general strike on Tuesday to show unity amid ongoing Israeli bombardment on the Gaza Strip.

The Arab Follow-up Committee, which coordinates between political parties inside Israel, called on Sunday for Palestinian citizens of Israel – who at almost 1.6 million make up 20 percent of the country – to mobilize for a general strike. It is named the Karameh (Dignity) Strike.

Palestinian political factions, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and civil organizations have also responded to the call, announcing a general strike in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The strike is the latest example of Palestinian unity across historic Palestine and beyond seen in the past week since Israeli crackdowns in Jerusalem spilled into a conflict in Gaza.

For nine days Israel has relentlessly bombed the besieged Gaza Strip, killing over 212 Palestinians including 60 children. Rockets fired at Israel by groups such as Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have killed 10 Israelis, including two children.

Meanwhile, Palestinian citizens of Israel have taken to the streets to angrily protest the bombing and their own discrimination by Israeli laws and society. Groups of far-right Israelis have targeted Palestinians, violently attacking any they come across.

Jamal Zahalka, the president of the National Democratic Alliance (Balad), a party representing Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Israeli parliament, told Middle East Eye that the call for a comprehensive general strike is unprecedented since 1976’s Land Day, when Palestinians protested against Israeli land-grab policies.

“The message of the strike to Israel is that if it continues its plans and policies in Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem, there will be a powerful reaction. We want them to know that they should stop their plan of temporal and spatial division inside Al-Aqsa,” Zahalka said.

Since 2003, rightwing religious Israelis have stormed al-Aqsa Mosque under police protection on an increasingly frequent basis, often praying there in contravention to the status quo that protects the holy sites of Jerusalem.

“We simply ask them to respect Al-Aqsa Mosque as a mosque, which they don’t, and the church as a church… The general strike will be bigger than any demonstrations we have witnessed before and there will be activities in all towns and cities in the West Bank and the mixed cities on the Palestinian coast,” Zahalka said.

‘Palestinian workers could be fired’

In a statement, the Follow-up Committee said that the strike will include all institutions, except private schools, to protest against “Israeli aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood”.

It called on the Israeli government to put an end to attacks in the mixed cities of Ramla, Jaffa, Lydd (Lod), Acre and Haifa, where hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded and arrested by Israeli forces and rightwing rioters in the past week.

Dareen Tatour, a writer and poet from Reina town near Nazareth, told MEE: “Palestinians in historic Palestine feel unsafe and feel threatened by every Israeli Zionist right-winger on the street.

“The situation is bad, and even if things calmed down in the Gaza Strip, Palestinians inside Israel will still face racism and fascist attacks.”

She said that arrests of Palestinians in Israel have been continuing daily.

“The general strike will highlight that Israeli hospitals are run by a big percentage of Palestinian doctors and that the Israeli economy depends on Palestinian workers, and this strike will cause loss to Israel, if it is successful. It is a big challenge to us because there’s a potential that Palestinian workers could be fired because they joined the strike,” Tatour said.

“But that’s all we have – strikes, protests and demonstrations, and most important of all the will to stand in front of the occupation.”

Zahalka said that Palestinians in Israel had to form emergency and legal committees to help detainees during arrests and interrogations, and also to help in protecting residents of Palestinian towns from attacks by Israelis in the mixed cities.

“So far, there are 120 legal cases against Palestinians and zero cases against Israelis, and this is another evidence of the racism of the Israeli legal system. Even the Israelis who killed the Palestinian in Lydd were released, though there is camera footage of the event,” Zahalka said.

Official backing

The PA, which governs Palestinian institutions in the West Bank, announced on Monday that businesses, schools, universities and offices will shut on Tuesday.

Fatah, the party that dominates the PA, warned that Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem are attempting to “ignite a religious conflict” in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Israeli attempts to expel 40 Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah were a key cause of the latest escalation between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The PA said that there will be “neither security, nor peace, nor stability without having Jerusalem as the capital of the independent Palestinian state”.

Palestinians have sought East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and Shiekh Jarrah, as their capital of a future Palestinian state. Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem in 1967, annexing the city’s eastern neighbourhoods in a move never recognized by the international community.

Other Palestinian organizations called for general strikes in the West Bank including the Lawyers’ Syndicate, the General Union of Teachers, and the Higher Committee of the Public Transportation, as well as banks and financial services.

The leading Palestinian University of Birzeit urged its students and teachers to adhere to the strike “in solidarity with our people, and standing in front of the Israeli aggression against our people in Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, occupied historic Palestine and the West Bank, and our people in all places of their presence”.

Mustafa Abu Sneineh – journalist, poet and staff writer at Middle East Eye