Rioting Workers Damage Property, As Israel Braces for New Strikes

Rioting workers ripped up government property in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday, as the country braced for a 24-hour strike by about 130,000 public sector employees, ranging from engineers to academicians.

The mass walkout Thursday will silence Israel radio and television, except for brief hourly news bulletins. Employees of Ben-Gurion Airport announced they will handle only incoming flights Thursday, bad news for people planning to leave Israel by air in the next 24 hours.

The latest labor strife reflects mounting dissatisfaction with wages, working conditions and layoffs among industrial workers, engineers, technicians and members of the social science and humanities faculties on university campuses.

It parallels a seemingly endless succession of strikes, work slowdowns and curtailed services by medical and non-medical personnel employed by the government hospitals and those run by Histadrut’s health care agency, Kupat Holim.

All of the nation’s hospitals, except for a handful that are privately owned, are on drastically reduced Sabbath schedules this week, because of an ongoing dispute with the Finance Ministry over wages and overtime pay.

The Finance Ministry building was the target of violent demonstrations Wednesday by workers from the financially troubled Beth Shemesh engine factory. They smashed windows, broke office furniture and threw garbage all over the premises.

TEAR GAS USED AGAINST ‘HOOLIGANS’

Outnumbered police used tear gas to disperse the rioters. Five police officers and 14 rioters were hospitalized for injuries. Six arrests were made.

Spectators described the violence as the worst in Jerusalem since Herut-led demonstrations nearly 30 years ago against Israel’s acceptance of German reparations.

Finance Ministry Director-General Victor Medina said “hooligans” would not force the Treasury to surrender to illegal acts.

The problem stems from the dismissal of 260 workers at the Beth Shemesh plant, where engines for the Lavi jet fighter were built. The Lavi project was scrapped last year under heavy pressure from the United States, because of huge cost overruns. The project had been largely financed by American economic aid.

The dismissed employees demanded severance pay equal to that give laid-off workers at Israel Aircraft Industries, which designed and built the Lavi. IAI has other military-industrial orders on its books, but the Lavi engine was the sole support of the Beth Shemesh works, and its people suffered most from layoffs.

According to Medina, the Finance Ministry has been negotiating with the workers for two weeks on severance pay, but was met with “excessive demands.”

Haim Haberfeld, head of Histadrut’s trades union department, announced the labor federation’s support for the engineers, who will walk of their jobs Thursday. He said the Treasury was unable to offer a wage package deal, because its policy is “only to take and not to give anything,” an allusion apparently to the high taxes Israelis pay.

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