Residents of Tel Aviv witnessed an unusual spectacle Sunday, in the form of an unemployment protest rally staged by Arab women.
Dozens of women, who came to Tel Aviv from the Arab townships of the Galilee area and the Triangle – a concentration of Israeli Arab towns and villages adjacent to the Green Line – wished to protest the growing rate of female unemployment in the Arab sector.
"There is a deliberate policy of 'importing' foreign workers which leads to unemployment among women in the Arab sector," Michal Swartz of the Workers Advice Center told Ynet.
"(Foreign workers) make up 50% of the agricultural workforce, effectively closing the door on it as far as Arab women are concerned. We demand this modern slavery trade stops in favor of job openings for Arab women."
The rally (Photo: Yaron Brener)
The government may say the sector's unemployment problem is not its responsibility but rather the making of the global economic crisis, she added, "but this has been an unspoken policy for the past 15 years and no one cares because after all – these are Arab women from the periphery.
"We know we need the public's support if we want to see things change and this is where you can be heard. Unfortunately, If we were to hold this kind of rally in Baqa al-Gharbiyye (a city in the Haifa District), no one would pay any attention to us. In Tel Aviv we have a chance to be heard."
'Slave labor must stop'
Among the women gathered in Tel Aviv was Rada Wahida from Baqa al-Gharbiyye, an unemployed 36-year-old mother of four.
"We've come here to protest poverty and unemployment," she said. "We have the right to support our children… We urge the government to do something. We have noting against foreign workers, but their import must be stopped – slave labor at NIS 13 (about $4) per hour must be stopped. Is it any wonder they are hired over us? We demand to be paid the minimum wage."
Wahida is sure the problem does not lie in the sector, but rather in the establishment, which has frowned upon Arab women trying to integrate in the workforce for years.
"The government used to say that Arab women won't work because it was not a part of their culture, but with the way things are today, that's simply not true. We want to provide for our families – we want to work, but there are simply no jobs."
Many of the women were accompanied by friends and family members. "We are here to show our support," Nidal Hadur of Umm al-Fahm told Ynet. "They are just as important as us," he said, marching alongside his mother. "They are the heart of the sector. The Arab women are what keeps the sector from falling apart.
"You have to remember that International Woman's Day began as the working women's fight in the early 20th Century," said Nir Nader of the Workers Advice Center. "This is the direct continuation of that fight. We are far from equality and there still a lot to fight for."