Ben Gurion to shut down tomorrow as nationwide strike begins

Barring a last-minute deal, a nationwide public sector strike will begin tomorrow, spelling misery for thousands of travelers whose flights to and from Israel will be affected.

In particular, the strike – called by Israel’s largest labor union, the Histadrut – could disrupt travel for thousands of Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land for Christmas.

Barring a last-minute wage deal, the Histadrut labor federation says its members – including workers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion international airport, government offices, hospitals, schools and public transport – will stop work at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) on Wednesday.

For there part, local Christian groups are scrambling to ensure pilgrims’ travel plans can still go ahead.

“I contacted the office of the Histadrut chairman this morning to ask that they make an exception of the airport,” Wadie Abunassar, a spokesman for local Christian groups, said in a statement.

“That is in order not to hurt the thousands of Christian pilgrims who are due to arrive here for Christmas and hundreds of Christians from Israel who are to travel abroad for the holiday,” he said.

Histadrut is demanding across-the-board public sector pay rises, while the government argues that with negative inflation in the economy this year workers’ spending power has increased.

Treasury officials are reportedly ready to consider increases for the lowest paid workers only.

Negotiations were continuing Tuesday evening but with no sign of any imminent breakthrough.

In the last few minutes, the management of Ben Gurion International Airport approved requests made by airlines to advance their Wednesday morning flights, in preparation for the impending general strike of the public sector.

Roughly 5,000 passengers will depart on 27 flights before 6:00 a.m. on Wednesday.

Travelers are advised to check with their carriers or travel agents before setting out.