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Monday, 2 March 2009

Stop the Criminalisation of Sawt el-Amel’s/The Labourer’s Voice Activists !

Sawt el-Amel Activists Lose Final Appeal in ‘Ein Mahel’ Trial.

Below are reports of yet further State repression against attempts by Israeli Palestinian workers and unemployed to organise against the apartheid discrimination against them. In particular the targetting of Israeli Palestinians for the 'Welfare to Work' Wisconsin Plan which was first developed in the USA against their own unemployed and a version thereof in Britain.
This attack is one of a long line of such attacks against the right of Israeli Palestinian workers to organise. The Workers Advice Centres. The Workers’ Advice Centres had to fight even to be registered as a non-profit organisation.

Unsurprisingly the Zionist 'trade union' Histadrut has refused to give any support to the independent self-organisation of Arab workers in Israel.

Tony Greenstein
On May 13, 2008, eight Sawt el-Amel activists, who had protested arbitrary financial sanctions by the Israeli Employment Service against hundreds of unemployed from the Arab village of Ein Mahel in the Galilee in 1999, were found guilty of illegal assembly, breach of the public order, and– in some cases – assault of a policeman. All eight defendants were sentenced to pay a fine of NIS 6,000 (USD1,450/EUR 1,130) and to three years of probation. Sawtel-Amel’s director Wehbe Badarne was among the convicted. In addition, four activists from Ein Mahel had to pay up toNIS 1,000 of compensation to the police officers they allegedly attacked. One of the defendants was herself hospitalised during the event. The activists appealed the decision, and on February 24,2009, the Nazareth District Court passed its final judgment: guilty as charged. Sawt el-Amel is not intimidated by this verdict and will continue its struggle for the rights of workers and unemployed.

For background stories, visit our website at:

Trial Update, May 13, 2008:
For latest update, please consult our press release Guilty of Dissent

1) State of Israel against Jamal Hassanen et al.

This case goes back eight years, to a time when Sawt el-Amel was still not officially registered as an organisation. The incident happened in the job office of Upper Nazareth, Nazareths Jewish neighbouring town, and involved unemployed workers from Ein Mahel.
Ein Mahel, an Arab village trapped between Upper Nazareth and the Upper Nazareth bypass road, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the area. Land confiscation to develop Upper Nazareth has continued over the years, leaving the former peasant community without a livelihood.

Then, in September 1999, Ein Mahels unemployed became pawns in a major social-security scam. In a first step, Ein Mahels unemployed were transferred from the employment bureau in Nazareth to the branch in Upper Nazareth. There, the jobseekers were faced with systematic discrimination, and according to an independent investigation by the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot, 199 out of the 454 unemployed from Ein Mahel lost their social benefits in September and October 1999 for allegedly refusing to work. As a result, the Israeli government claimed that between August and October 1999, the unemployment rate in Ein Mahel had fallen from 18.8% to 10.5%. Yediot Ahronot reporter Hagar Enosh said that one of the bureaus main strategies was to send the Ein Mahel unemployed to workplaces that did not exist (Humphries, 2002).

On October 27, 1999, a group of workers and activists demanded a meeting with the area supervisor of the employment service. When this was refused, the unemployed present in the Upper Nazareth job office spontaneously began demonstrating. The police were called and started to provoke demonstrators. Three unemployed women were injured, and nine people were arrested, including Sawt el-Amels director Wehbe Badarne.

The prosecution refused a plea by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, to drop the case, and the trial was opened in November 2002.

Read more:

Humphries, Isabelle, Nine Arab Israelis on Trial for Challenging Job Office Racism (November 18, 2002)
Sawt el-Amel, Whats New at Sawt el-Amel/The Laborers Voice? (No. 1/2006) (February 13, 2006).
Trial Information:
October 22, 2007, 2:00pm, Nazareth Court (Case No. PA 2185/99):
State of Israel v Jamal Hassanen, Samir Habiballah, Wahida Habiballah, Khaldiya Hassanen, Mahmoud Habiballah, Wehbe Badarne, Arif Habiballah, Khitam Habiballah
Charge list:*

Forbidden assembly & Disturbance of peace, a violation of articles 151+152 of the Penal Code of 1977;
Assault of a police officer while performing his duty, a violation of article 273 of the Penal Code of 1977;
Theft, a violation of article 384 of the Penal Code of 1977;
Possession of weapon, a violation of article 144(a) of the Penal Code of 1977;
Assault, a violation of article 379 of the Penal Code of 1977.
*Only Charge No. 1 applies to all defendants.

Seven defendants are members of Sawt el-Amel; Wehbe Badarne is the director of Sawt el-Amel. They pleaded not guilty on all charges.

State of Israel against Issam Omar and Awni Shihadat
Since summer 2005, Nazareths unemployed have been faced with the Wisconsin Plan, Israels neo-liberal welfare-to-work project implemented by private companies. Ever since the programmes launch, unemployed workers and Sawt el-Amel activists have challenged the exploitative Wisconsin Plan through information campaigns, legal advocacy and public activism. Oftentimes, their public dissent is met with violence by police and private security guards. After an escalation on January 16, 2006, which led to the current trial, activists and potential demonstrators were further deterred by the deployment of Israeli Border Police (i.e. army) to guard the Wisconsin centres.

In its press release dated January 17, 2006, Sawt el-Amel wrote:

"Yesterday, on January 16, 2006, hundreds of Nazareths Wisconsin participants voiced their anger and frustration about the policies of the Wisconsin Plan. In the morning, Sawt el-Amel/The Laborers Voice had organised a small demonstration in front of the employment centre in Nazareth Bir Abu-Jej to protest against Agam Mehalevs (the implementing company) new policy which requires the participants to attend the Wisconsin centres for 6-8 hours a day without offering daycare solutions for the thousands of young children. The situation escalated when three women were denied access to the employment centres by private security guards and policemen. At 12:15pm a large police force about 20 police cars arrived at the scene and used force against the approximately 100 Wisconsin participants now involved the unrest. Two active members of Sawt el-Amel [the two defendants] were arrested after security personnel had pointed them out, claiming they had incited the masses. Both of them were later released without charges."

Later on, however, a new charge list was presented against Awni Shihadat and Issam Omar, and on September 11, 2007.

What you can do:
Forward this appeal to your friends and colleagues;
Express your support of Sawt el-Amel through solidarity messages and/or donations;
Send a fax/letter to Attorney General Menahem Mazuz protesting this attack on the unemployed and Sawt el-Amel.
(If you send this or your individual message to Mr. Mazuz, please fax a copy to us: +972 (0)4 6080917)
Attorney General Menahem Mazuz
Ministry of Justice
Salah ad-Din Street 29
Jerusalem 91010; Israel
Fax: +972 (0)2 6467001; Tel: +972 (0)2 6466522
Wehbe Badarne, Director

Sawt el-Amel/The Laborers Voice; P.O.Box 2721; Nazareth 16126; Israel
Tel: +972 (0)4 6561996; Fax: +972 (0)4 6080917; Email:

This is part of a continuing attack on the right of Israeli Palestinian workers to organise. The Workers’ Advice Centres had to fight even to be registered as a non-profit organisation.

Please raise this with your unions. PCS (Public Civil Service) Union Deputy General Secretary, Hugh Lanning has protested against this attack on Sawt el-Amel.

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