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In Our Own Backyard

Haaertz  |  August 13, 2009  |  Share  |  Source article


A report commissioned by the National Labor Committee (a U.S. organization devoted to protecting workers' rights) on an Israeli-run sweatshop in Jordan shocked many decent people who demonstrated in front of chain stores Jump, Irit, Bonita and Pashut at Tel Aviv's Azrieli Mall. The demonstrators protested the horrifying exploitation of factory workers by the company Musa Garments, as detailed in the NLC report. They promised a consumer boycott.

Unfortunately, their boycott will not sting the owners' profits. Nonetheless, these people represent the spearhead of the few Israelis fighting for human rights. Most of them are certain to have demonstrated against the expulsion of migrant workers' children.

Yet the gap between this struggle and the Israeli reality has become wide in recent years. In fact, the battle that enjoyed relative success in preventing the expulsion of migrant children has already shown elements of defeat. The children's saddened eyes, the beautiful Hebrew that hummed from their mouths and their polite pleas played so well to the cameras that even government ministers could not withstand the public's deep sympathy for them. So, for the time being, they are here, frightened and helpless, until the next wave of deportations. Obviously, children are not the only group that deserves a campaign to fight for its rights. But what can you do? They are more attractive to the media, while a single black man of 30, for example, interests nobody.

What is the connection between them and the Bangladeshis, Indians, Chinese and Nepalese who sleep on dilapidated beds, eat barely cooked chicken still dripping with blood and work themselves to the point of exhaustion after having their passports confiscated and their self-respect and civil rights trampled in the Musa Garments factory in Irbid, whose real operators are Israeli? There is an obvious link that could be called "the backyard."

The people exposed in Irbid are not some of globalization's bad seeds. Rather, they provide a peek into the Israeli economy's backyard. Unlike other economies, the Israeli economy does not need to look far to manufacture its consumer goods and brand names. Until recently, it had no need to import slaves. For nearly 40 years, the glorious Israeli economy relied on the very near backyard - the occupied territories.

When cheap labor is so readily available, when it arrives in the morning and disappears in the evening, it's very easy to deny the human existence of those who build homes, clean streets and apartments, wash dishes in restaurants and tend gardens. This ease was made even easier thanks to the settler-like hierarchical mind-set that views the Palestinians as the lowest level of human existence. This attitude trickled down quickly and conveniently into people's consciousness within the Green Line. Thus, it is so easy for Prime Minister

Benjamin Netanyahu to sell his false vision of "economic peace" in Ramallah. The removal of migrant workers from the center of the country under the so-called Gedera-Hadera plan is the other side of the coin.

The moment things no longer went as planned in the backyard and Israeli entrepreneurs, contractors and farmers lost out to the cheaper global market, people here began searching for a new backyard, and they found it in two places.

The entrepreneurs found Jordan, and the farmers and contractors found the "legal" migrant workers who are rendered slaves in hiding. But now it seems that Jordan is not cheap enough, so a new arrangement has been conceived, one seen in Musa Garments - a backyard within a backyard.

Yes, it is important to demonstrate against them. It is also important to boycott their products. But it is more important to understand the real hidden danger in their activities. With the same ease with which settler-like values have trickled across the Green Line, values of slave exploitation are now trickling in.

Israel's labor laws and, even more so, organized labor stand in the way of them manufacturing cheap T-shirts for every citizen.

We cannot earn a living here, they say. Labor is too expensive and taxes are high, so there is no choice. These words are familiar because every backyard at every stage of history has happily become part of the mainstream.

Just wait and see how fast this way of thinking is adopted by Israeli economists, a way of thinking replete with reasoned arguments such as the freedom of an employee to choose a non-union position and horrible conditions. What do you prefer? Unemployment?


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