England’s Largest Trade Union Says Stop Arms Sales to Israel

Text of April 20 statement by the NEC of UNISON  


UNISON expresses concern at the dramatic escalation of violence and the loss of life in Israel and Palestine. We believe that the current dangerous situation is a direct consequence of the abandonment of the peace process and the invasion and reoccupation of Palestinian territories by the Israeli army directed by Ariel Sharon.

We condemn the Israeli Government for its continuing policy of state terrorism in violation of UN resolutions and international law.

UNISON believes that Israel’s continuing offensive against Palestinian targets will not stop the spate of suicide bombings against Israeli forces and civilians. We condemn unreservedly the killing of innocent civilians by suicide bombers and believe that there can be no justification whatsoever for such acts, but we believe that they are fueled by the deep frustration and despair of the Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation, and by the indiscriminate use of brute military force against innocent civilians.

UNISON reaffirms its solidarity and support for the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), expressing sorrow that the recent bombings of Nablus caused great damage to the headquarters of the PGFTU.

We believe that the current military offensive and the humiliation of Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat and his people by a supposed democracy is unacceptable, and we support fully the calls made by the United Nations, the EU, the U.S. President George W. Bush, and Russia for Israel to withdraw immediately from Palestinian territories.

We believe that it is ordinary people who are paying the true price of conflict in the Middle East and innocent civilians on both sides who are suffering. On the Israeli side, main cities remain empty, especially at nights, and Israelis are afraid to go out unless it is absolutely necessary. On the Palestinian side, in addition to the severe unemployment, and the daily humiliation of the occupation further exacerbated by the recent reoccupation of Palestinian towns and villages, there is now a mounting humanitarian and human rights crisis in the West Bank.

UNISON expresses concern at the worsening humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, where people lack water, medicines, and food. We support the recent UN call for Israel to respect humanitarian law and allow full and unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations and services, and international observers.

We call for an immediate halt to British arms sales to Israel, and we will approach other trade unions representing those involved in the production and transport of arms and equipment to the IDF [“Israeli Defense Forces”], asking them to refuse to produce and transport these items to Israel.

In particular we will urge the British government to use its influence within the EU and on the U.S. administration to press for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories and to insist that Ariel Sharon participate in meaningful dialogue with the Palestinian Authority. Furthermore, we demand the establishment of an International Commission of Inquiry into allegations of human rights abuses, including killings of civilians, by the Israeli army in Palestinian refugee camps. We believe that disproportionate and excessive force has been used by Israel and that civilians were not properly protected.

UNISON calls for an end to all violence and we renew our call for reconciliation and for a negotiated political solution, which will allow Israel to live in peace within secure pre-1967 borders and for the creation of a viable independent Palestinian state, in accordance with UN resolutions 1397 and 1402, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The international community must now demand that Israel comply with UN resolutions 242 and 338, which call for a full and permanent withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, and must also insist that the refugee question be settled in negotiations based on UN resolution 194, which recognizes the right of Palestinian refugees to return.

In the event that the government of Ariel Sharon continues its military aggression and refuses to comply with UN resolutions, we call upon the UK Government and the EU to instigate economic and trade sanctions against the state of Israel. We believe that the UK must work for this aim in all its international discussions about Palestine particularly with the USA, and in the UN.

UNISON calls for a boycott of Israeli goods and services until such time as the Israeli Government agrees to comply with UN resolutions and return to the negotiating table. We will continue to communicate with the PGFTU and liaise with the Trade Union Friends of Palestine and the Labour Middle East Council in setting out the future direction of this campaign.

We further call upon the TUC, STUC, and the whole of the British trade union movement to lend support to the UNWRA emergency appeal for the West Bank and Gaza. UNISON will contribute to this appeal with an appropriate amount.

We also call upon the international community to bring pressure to bear to bring an end to the continuing cycle of violence in the region and to reinvigorate the search for a peaceful solution in the Middle East. We reaffirm our position of opposition to escalating the military action against Iraq, as we believe that this will only serve to exacerbate tensions in the Middle East and create further instability and chaos.