For the sake of this event, organizations from Israel cooperated for the first time to form a joint delegation, called “The Social Forum in Israel.” Its purpose was to represent the problems facing the country’s Arab population. Among the participating groups was Mussawa (Equality), the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Alternative Information Center, Yesh Gvul, and Women against Violence. The Workers Advice Center (WAC) and Video 48 each contributed a representative.
The Social Form in Israel organized a panel concerning the economic effects of globalization on the Middle East. The panel members were Dani Ben Simhon of WAC and Ephraim Davidi, a representative of Hadash in the Histadrut. Davidi warned against the emergency regulations in Israel that make it difficult to organize workers. He claimed that the Right and the Left share a consensus favoring the government’s neo-liberal policies. Ben Simhon described WAC’s activities in protecting the rights of Arab workers. He cautioned that the Disengagement Plan will prove disastrous for the Palestinian people, because it will perpetuate the separation between Gaza and the West Bank. The first to pay the price of disengagement, he said, are the Palestinian workers. He called on the trade unions taking part in the convention to support the demand that Palestinians from the Territories be allowed to work in Israel.
Together with the Spanish NGO, ACSUR Las Segovias, WAC screened Video 48’s documentary, “Breaking Walls” to a full house of 60. The film follows three people whose paths intersect at a mural in an Israeli Arab village. One is painter and activist Mike Alewitz. Another is Dani Ben Simhon, who gave up a promising art career to organize workers. The third is construction worker Mus’ab Salameh. Their story exhibits the tangled connection between Israeli and Palestinian societies.
Magali Thill, an ACSUR representative, introduced the film. Jonathan Ben Efrat, its director, spoke about the way in which Video 48 combines art and social change. After a general discussion, WAC then screened a new short film by Video 48 called The Thirst to Work. It shows the dilemma of Arab women in Israel, caught between official discrimination that prevents them from getting jobs, on the one hand, and, on the other, conservative Arab society, which frowns on a married woman who works outside the home.
The convention concluded with a colorful demonstration on the streets of Barcelona. In looking back, however, the representatives of WAC and Video 48 expressed regret at the lack of substance. The convention did not relate in any significant way to the major questions that today face the Middle East, such as the war in Iraq and the Disengagement Plan. Networking for its own sake is no match for the region’s harsh realities. The global, European and Mediterranean forums are drifting into a routine of hobnobbing and backslapping that does not meet the challenges that confront us.