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TUC hosted delegation on Palestinian rights 

Published date

At our Congress in 2022, the TUC General Council agreed in our international statement, to continue our work on solidarity with the Palestinian people. 

We said:  

The General Council condemns the continuous human rights abuses faced by the Palestinian people and reiterates our call for an end to Israel’s illegal occupation. Congress condemns Israel’s renewed bombing of Gaza in August 2022 killing 44 Palestinians, including 15 children, the subsequent rocket fire into Israel, and notes the UN Special Rapporteur’s description of the attack as illegal under international law. It also condemns the Israeli army’s killing of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and beating of her coffin bearers by Israeli police, and supports the application made in April to the International Criminal Court calling for an investigation into the Israeli government’s systematic targeting of journalists. We condemn the outlawing of seven NGOs including the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Addameer and Defence for Children International – Palestine. 

The TUC recognises the conclusion of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories this year that within those territories “the political system of entrenched rule … satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid”. The TUC commits to ongoing solidarity with the Palestinian people in their struggle for freedom and equality and will oppose fully any UK legislation aimed at preventing legitimate democratic solidarity actions in support of the Palestinian people. We call for an ethical policy on all UK trade with Israel including banning trade with illegal settlements and ending the ongoing arms trade. 

In line with this statement, the TUC recently (31 January-2 February) hosted a delegation in support of our work on respecting Palestinian rights and international law. The delegation included Dr Susan Power, Head of Legal Research and Advocacy at Al-Haq; Michael Lynk, a Canadian law professor and former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; as well as representatives from other organisations. 


The delegation met with trade unionists, parliamentarians, civil servants at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and civil society organisations – raising recurrent issues connected to violations of Palestinian rights and international law. 

During these meetings, Dr Power stressed that 2022 was declared by the UN as the deadliest year for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Of the 192 Palestinians killed by Israeli Occupying Forces in the occupied Palestinian territory, 53 were killed in the Jenin Governorate. She spoke about the escalation of violence against Palestinians and the liberalisation of Israel’s ‘live fire’ regulations, which means that Israeli military forces can use live fire lethal force in cases where there is no longer any immediate threat posed, including using lethal force in response to rock throwing.  

We witnessed this recent escalation in violence when Israeli security forces raided the Jenin Refugee Camp and killed nine Palestinians (another died days later from injuries bringing the death toll to ten). This was followed by an attack outside a synagogue in occupied East Jerusalem, which resulted in the killing of seven Israelis. In January 2023 alone, the Israeli Occupying Forces killed 35 Palestinians in the West Bank. The TUC deplores any attacks on civilians and continues to say that the root causes of this violence – the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and apartheid – must be brought to an end while respecting international law and all human rights, including Palestinians’ right to self-determination and the right to return. 

Professor Lynk pointed out that the Israeli occupation is requiring increasing levels of violence in order to maintain the occupation and contain the Palestinian resistance to it. In addition to the accelerating death toll, home demolitions and settler attacks are both rising, and more and more Palestinians are being imprisoned through administrative detention, which allows for detention without charges, trials or convictions.   

Dr Power described the use of collective punishment against Palestinians – which recently included the demolition of 26 homes belonging to Palestinians and the displacement of 22 families. She reported that the Israeli Knesset has been discussing reforms which are essentially collective punishment measures against Palestinians – such as the demolition and closure of homes; revocation of residency for residents in Jerusalem; prohibiting entry into Area C; and the withdrawal of social security benefits. International law prohibits the use of collective punishment, and it is considered a war crime.  

We discussed the new Israeli coalition government’s stated commitment to settlement development, which is expected to lead to an acceleration in settlement expansion. This is despite the settlements being illegal under international law, and the prohibition on an Occupying Power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, and from forcibly transferring and deporting protected persons from the territory it occupies, under the Fourth Geneva Convention.  

Meanwhile, a dual system of employment rights discriminates against Palestinian workers. Israeli labour law applies a higher standard of rights to Israeli workers, while antiquated Jordanian labour law continues to be applied to Palestinian workers. Professor Lynk noted that unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza reached 26.4 per cent in 2022, with Gaza encountering a 45 per cent unemployment rate.  He reported that more than 90,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza work as day labourers in Israel, and another 35,000 work in the Israeli settlements - with this highly dependent and colonised economy resulting in precarious work, no union protection, low wages, no benefits, and great occupational safety risks.  

The delegation reinforced the TUC’s position that the UK should not be trading with the illegal settlements. Dr Power pointed out that third-state obligations to respect and ensure respect for the Geneva Conventions require third states to prohibit the import of settlement goods and services. She called on decision makers to introduce legislation to ban settlement trade, stating that this is not an arbitrary political decision to apply a boycott, but is based on states’ own obligations to respect international law. This includes the requirement to distinguish between Israel and the territories occupied in 1967, under UN Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), and to give effect to the prohibition of land appropriations and settler transfer in, under the UK Geneva Conventions Act, 1957 and International Criminal Court Act, 2001. Professor Lynk described the settlements as a war crime under the 1998 Rome Statute, and Dr Power highlighted the Irish Occupied Territories Bill which aims to make it an offence to import or sell goods or services originating from illegal settlements in any occupied territory. 

The TUC calls for a ban on the trade in settlement goods, and we also oppose the UK-Israel Free Trade Agreement currently under negotiation, as we do with other trade agreements with countries that are systematically abusing human rights, including the Gulf States, Turkey, and India. Dr Power raised concerns about the omission of a territorial clause in the UK-Israel trade agreement which would mean that Israel could apply it to the occupied territories – thereby extending its sovereignty. She advised that trade deals which support the maintenance of a discriminatory apartheid regime should not be entered into. 

The meetings also discussed the concerning pushback against updating the UN database of companies that have activities in the settlements and have been involved in human rights violations. The database has three UK companies listed – JCB, Opodo, and Greenkote. We learned that plans to update the database only extend to removing companies. This is an alarming development as it is a vital tool for holding companies to account and provides an important oversight mechanism for companies to conduct their enhanced due diligence in conflict affected areas, such as occupied Palestine, as required under the UN Guidelines on Business and Human Rights. We support Al Haq and ITUC calls for the database to be updated by adding new companies where there is evidence of their involvement in human rights violations in the settlements.    

Last year, Israeli authorities responded to Al Haq’s commendable work to defend Palestinian human rights and hold the Israeli government to account by designating the organisation, along with six others, as a terrorist organisation. Dr Power called on parliamentarians to pressure the Israeli government to rescind the designation. The designation was denounced by a number of UN experts. The TUC stands in solidarity with Al Haq, and last year we released a joint statement with affiliates condemning the designation of the (then) six organisations and calling on the UK government to publicly oppose this measure and demand that Israel reverses the decision.   

As set out at our congress this year, the TUC recognises the conclusion of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories this year that within those territories “the political system of entrenched rule … satisfies the prevailing evidentiary standard for the existence of apartheid”. Michael Lynk outlined the evidence that led him to this conclusion. Al Haq recognises the crime of apartheid on both sides of the Green Line, and we discussed the policies, laws and practices that are applied to Palestinians, which constitute the crime of apartheid. Our discussions were framed in relation to international law, and both Professor Lynk and Dr Power stressed the importance of apartheid being recognised as an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination of the Palestinian people, along with action to hold the Israeli government to account.  

Al Haq outlined their call on the UN General Assembly to reconvene the Special Committee on Apartheid, and argued that there should be consequences for Israel for committing this crime against humanity – such as a trade embargos, and diplomatic and economic sanctions.  

The UK government should be using its leverage to help end the occupation, but we simply do not see this happening. Instead, Israel is being prioritised by the UK government for a trade deal. The government should also be supporting the use of judicial mechanisms to hold Israel to account. However, as Michael Lynk pointed out in meetings – the UK voted in December 2022 against a General Assembly resolution requesting an International Court of Justice advisory opinion relating to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Despite the UK’s votes the resolution passed, and was welcomed by the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem.  

The need for accountability was at the heart of Professor Lynk’s presentations. Such accountability could include not signing trade deals with Israel or ending military sales. Coming from Canada – he shared demands put forward by the New Democratic Party (NDP) with respect to Canada’s policy and practice on Israel and Palestine. These include condemning Israel’s Nation State Law, ending all trade and economic cooperation with the illegal settlements, suspending the bilateral trade of all arms, and to refer the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court. 

For there to be any hope of peace, Professor Lynk set out criteria which included: 

  • Addressing the vast asymmetry of power between Israel and Palestine 

  • Active international intervention 

  • A framework for ending the occupation anchored in UN resolutions, international law, and human rights 

  • Realisation of the Palestinian right to self-determination 

  • Recognition that Israel is a bad-faith occupier 

  • Ending the occupation with speed and the rebuilding of institutions for governance 

Contributions from our other delegates focussed on the changes within the Israeli government, including the appointment of far-right figures into positions with responsibility for security and finance – and the possible impacts this could have on deepening the occupation.  

We heard that the Israeli government is trying to bring in judicial changes that would weaken the power of the Supreme Court. While the court has not always ruled in favour of Palestinian rights, there are concerns that limiting its powers could make it easier for the government to regularise the legal status of over one hundred illegal outposts (i.e. settlements built without the required authorisation from the Israeli government) in the occupied West Bank (even if legalised in Israel, they are still illegal under international law). Following the delegation, the Israeli government decided on 12 February to establish nine new settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory by authorising ten illegal outposts, which include private Palestinian land. This decision violates international law, and these moves, alongside other plans to expand the illegal settlements in the occupied West bank, further fragment Palestinian territory and make the occupation more permanent.  

The TUC would like to thank all delegates for their time, insightful contributions and advocacy.  

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