Northern Israeli rights - how an Oxfam partner organisation changed its activities during the Middle East conflict 2006

Labourer's Voice is an Oxfam partner organisation that is committed to supporting Arab Israelis to claim the rights they are entitled to.

In northern Israel, close to the Lebanese border, the recent rocket attacks by Hizbollah have killed more than 40 people, but they have also wreaked havoc with the local economy, and Arab Israelis are suffering the most.

Properties and businesses have been damaged by the attacks. People haven’t been able to go to work, as they fear for their lives, and benefits offices in several northern Israeli towns have closed down, so people have had to travel elsewhere to collect their welfare payments.

For most Israelis help is at hand. At the end of July, the Israeli government published guidelines detailing the compensation available to workers and employers whose work has been disrupted by the war. The government has also issued guidelines on how trauma victims or people whose property has been lost or damaged can claim compensation.

But this isn’t much use for the 50 per cent of the population of northern Israel that are Arab Israelis – Arabs who remained here, or whose families remained here when the state of Israel was created in 1948. There are around 600,000 Arab Israelis living in northern Israel. For many of them, their first language is Arabic, so the guidelines and applications – only available in Hebrew - aren’t accessible to them. As a result, they have been left feeling insecure and unsure of whom to turn to.

In an agreement between the government, the business community, and labour representatives, there are guidelines on worker absenteeism, payment of salaries and compensation for corporate losses. But no compensation regulations have been issued for tourism or seasonal workers, local industries that many Arab families depend on to make their living.

Labourer's Voice is an Oxfam partner organisation that is committed to supporting Arab Israelis to claim the rights they are entitled to. This organisation, known as ‘Sawt el-Amel’ in Arabic, has set up an emergency telephone helpline that gives people advice, in Arabic, about labour and national insurance issues. They have also set up a legal advice clinic where workers whose livelihoods have been affected by the war can get professional advice.

“On the first day, we received more than 50 phone calls from desperate citizens across northern Israel,” says Marie Badarne. “From our conversations with people, we can tell that the vast majority of Arab Israelis aren’t aware of what they are entitled to and how to get help.”

Suffering from trauma

One of the people who approached Labourer’s Voice for Help was Mr Mahdi Suleiman from Nazareth’s Safafra neighbourhood. When a rocket hit his neighbourhood on 19 July, and killed two local children, Mr Suleiman was one of the first people to arrive at the scene. He was shocked when he saw the unrecognisable bodies of the two children, badly burned and covered in blood, amidst all the destruction and the smoke. He was taken to hospital where he was treated for trauma.

When Mr Suleiman arrived at the Labourer’s Voice office he explained that he wanted to find out what help was available for the trauma he is suffering from. Since the rocket attack, he has suffered from insomnia and hardly goes out. He is so scared for his three children, aged between six and eight, that he won’t let them go out either. Mr Suleiman, aged 40, concluded, “I did go to hospital, but my life has changed a lot. Now, I’m afraid of any loud thud.”

The Labourer’s Voice team gave Mr Suleiman advice related to his rights to compensation and helped him fill in the application form to the National Insurance Institute, which is available in the office. They also suggested to Mr Suleiman seek professional help from a psychologist. This case is now fully documented at Labourer’s Voice and if Mr Suleiman experiences problems further up the line with his claiming his compensation, then Labourer’s Voice’s lawyer will follow up his case.

Women without wages

Many requests to the Labourer’s Voice hotline are related to labour law. One of the callers was Ms Maisoon Asad from the village of Beit Jan near Karmiel. She called on behalf of herself and 35 other women who work at a meat factory near Acre. They are employed by a contractor from a neighbouring Arab village. Since the war broke out, they could not go to work, and when they approached the contractor for their salaries for July, he told them that they would not get paid for work they did not do.

Labourer’s Voice offered advice over the telephone and told Ms Asad that she and her colleagues had to go to the local income tax office (which was open despite the war) and fill in a specific form and return it to the tax bureau. A few days later, Ms Asad called again to say that all the women’s salaries had been paid.

Even with a ceasefire, people who have been directly or indirectly affected by the conflict still have their work and livelihoods problems to solve. “ Sawt el-Amel (Labourer’s Voice) is the only organisation in northern Israel with the determination and the expertise to provide professional advice on labour and national insurance law to the thousands of Arab citizens who are overwhelmed by the situation,” said Marie Badarne

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