Reports

Annual Report 2016

ORFA Annual Report 2016.pdf

ORFA Palestine Trip October 2016

Tony Richardson

There were nine on this trip, five old hands and four first-timers. We were mainly based in Ramallah but we started our first day, a Friday, in Jerusalem.

We met the Vice-Consul, Laurie Hunter at 10am. We outlined the purpose of our twinning trip, and emphasised that groups such as ours needed a specifically designated officer to deal with any problems we encountered. She indicated that she was willing to play that role. The discussion was friendly, but she stressed that there were no funds available for small projects, and that visa problems were dealt with in Amman.

We then did our usual tour around the Old City, Via Dolorosa etc. It was noticeable that there were more Israeli flags flying on Jewish properties in the Muslim Quarter. Earlier we looked at the properties in Sheikh Jarrah, which Palestinians were being cleansed from, and again it is noticeable how the area is slowly being Judaized.

We then went to Ramallah, by bus. This was our base for the remainder of the trip.

On the Saturday we went to Al-Amari Camp, and joined a coach of the staff at the Womens Centre, together with women who had come to Oxford, for a day out, paid by ORFA and the Oxford visitors.

We first went to a religious site in the desert, which the Israelis will not allow the Palestinians to develop. Then we went to the River Jordan, a Christian baptismal site, completely controlled by the Israelis, including a checkpoint.

After this we went to the Dead Sea, a beach near Jericho, again which is controlled by Israeli business, and has a checkpoint. Some of the women swam, but none of us bought anything.

At the end of the day we went to Jericho, and took a cable car up to the restaurant near the monastery in the cliffs.

There we had a meal, with the most wonderful view, and wound this up with a coffee in a house of a friend of one of the women, on a hill overlooking Jericho.

On the Sunday we went into Ramallah, and around the Sakhakini Cultural Centre, which was one of the sites of the Qualandia International Art Festival (http://www.qalandiyainternational.org/about). Over the next few days we would visit several of the sites of this major art event, centering on return, the sea, and the land and cultivation.

We finished our day by having a meal in the house of one of the women from the centre. This was a wonderful Palestinian meal, as were others we were to have.

We started the Monday with a talk in the FIDA offices re the political situation.

This was followed by a talk in the afternoon, at the Palestinian Medical Relief Society offices, by Mustafa Barghouti, which was of great help, particularly for those of our group who have never been before. The growth of settlements, the destruction of trees and houses, has worsened every time we go. We then returned to the centre for the “Sites of Return” section of the festival.

Early Tuesday morning we set off for Bethlehem, where our first port of call was the Palestine Museum of Natural History (https://www.palestinenature.org/). There the Director, Mazin Qumsiyeh, gave us a talk about trying to preserve the fauna and flora of Palestine, and its history. This was a wonderful talk, which could not be separated from the politics of occupation. His gardens include the use of fish in tanks that provide the nutrients for plants - aquaponics - and much other interesting work.

We found throughout this trip innovative work on sustainable agriculture, in this museum, in art exhibits, in the women’s centre in Bethlehem etc.

We were hosted to a lovely meal at the Arab Women's Union guest house in Beit Sahour, then visited sights in Bethlehem, and returned to Ramallah.

The next day we were given a tour around the new Palestinian Museum at Birzeit (http://www.palmuseum.org) by its Director Mahmoud Hawari. This is completely new, and has no exhibition at present, but Mahmoud outlined its plans including touring exhibitions on embroidery, on Gaza History etc. This promises to be a major weapon in the Palestinian struggle. As Mahmoud says, the building (shortlisted for an international award) shows “we are here to stay”.

This visit was followed by a trip to the Democracy & Workers Rights Centre, which campaigns on workers’ rights. In the evening some of our group went to the Fida Youth International Camp, for a show on Palestinian culture.

On Thursday we went for a talk at Addameer (http://www.addameer.org), the prisoners’ rights organisation which campaigns for prisoners in Israeli jails, and in Palestinian jails. The authorities are hostile, because of the work they do highlighting the injustices; 98% are found guilty by Israeli military courts, including children, and PA courts are clearly political. Their workers regularly get imprisoned, and recently one was beaten up. We all felt they do great, necessary work.

In the evening we went to the Child Centre in Al Amari camp, where we were given a lovely singing and Dabke dance display, and some more food.

Friday was a trip to see the new city, Rawabi, which was quite surreal, and then to a picnic in the olive terraces of Arura village. After this we had a talk with a couple of women of the village regards linking with Faringdon in Oxfordshire.

On the Saturday we were given a tour around the camp, including the self -financing disabled centre. There is no longer any UN funding for such activities, in fact UNWRA funding is declining all round. Another meal and exchange of gifts at the Women's Centre followed.

The main group left for the airport on Sunday, and had no trouble exiting.

The rest of us did separate things, before we left, including visiting Nablus, Bethlehem and Taybeh (brewery and ancient village).

Two of us had a meeting with the Executive of the Independent Federation of Trade Unions, where we learnt that they had achieved a new Social Security Law, and its financial backing by the Government. The Trade Union struggles continue.

Annual Report 2015

ORFA Annual Report 2015.pdf

ORFA Photo Exhibition 2015

Report by Tony Richardson.

On 17th-20th June 2015 ORFA mounted an exhibition of its work in the Town Hall, Oxford. This was part of the 'Palestine Unlocked' Festival, which was opened by the Mayor of Oxford Rae Humberstone, and closed by the Palestinian Delegate to the UK Manuel Hassassian.

The exhibition was opened by the Sheriff Saj Malik. It consisted of walls showing visits to Ramallah organised us, visits by Palestinians to us, trade union and political activities, meetings with respective Mayors, and the Apartheid Wall. The exhibition was well attended and well received.

The Sheriff of Oxford Saj Malik opening the exhibition:

The exhibition:

The exhibition:

Mads Madsen, visiting doctor who worked in Gaza:

Trade Union Trip to Palestine, July 2015

Report by Tony Richardson.

In July a Trade Union Group went with the Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association (ORFA) to Palestine. The group contained 2 probation officers, one nurse, and two car workers. Our two main aims were to visit a hospital, and a courtroom. As well as meet trade unions, and visit the sites of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. On our first day we toured the old city part of Jerusalem, and visited both the Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Holy Sepulchre Church. We then moved to Ramallah.

Our first morning in Ramallah we Visited the Women's Centre in Al Amari Refugee Camp, and met some of the women who came to Oxford last summer. In the afternoon we went to Hebron, by public bus, where we met the leader of the post office union, and toured the old market, and visited the Ibrahimi Mosque. Every year the settlers are taking more control over this area, and the Palestinians are slowly being ethnically cleansed. What started off as the settlers 'right' to go to the mosque has meant Palestinians have lost the right to open their shops, and walk many of the streets. Throughout the journey both ways you can see the settlements developing all over the area. On the TV news was yet another village being knocked down.

On the Wednesday we met the Independent Unions leadership, after we had made a visit to the DWRC, (which deals with union rights). The Independent Union Federation described their many struggles, particularly that of the Public Sector Union, that after a series of strikes, had their leadership imprisoned, and is now closed down, all this by Palestinian Presidential Decree. They are looking for international recognition as a Federation, and condemnation of the banning of a union. We then had a very nice and welcome meal in a home in Al Amari.

Our next day was very busy. We started with an official tour of the main Hospital Complex in Ramallah. This is a public hospital, and has been greatly increased in size and doing much of the training on the West Bank. It was a privilege to be shown round as special guests, and fulfilled one of the principal aims of our visit. We then had a formal meeting with the Mayor of Ramallah, Musa Hadid, and we brought him the greetings of the Sheriff of Oxford. He was very friendly, and wanted to expand the relationship with Oxford. In the afternoon we went to Bethlehem, and were taken on a tour by our long-time friend, and union activist, Hanan. We saw the Church of the Nativity, and had good views of the Apartheid Wall, and the settlements surrounding the City.

On Friday we went to Nablus, where we were taken around the Old City and into the Turkish Baths by Abed and his daughter, the photographer who came to Oxford with the NUJ in the Palestine Unlocked Festival.

The Saturday was taken up with meeting the Women's Officer of the PGFTU, in Ramallah, and also the leadership of the GUPW Federation, who are also looking for International recognition, and are in talks with the PGFTU about merging. We also met members of the Fide Party leadership.

Sunday was a rest day, and we went with our longtime friend, Mohamed, to Arura Village, to have a picnic under the Olive Trees, what a treat, high in the mountains overlooking valleys of more olive trees. On the way we visited the new Palestinian City Of Rawabi.

Also on the way we went through the unmanned checkpoint at Atara. This was similar to our trip to Nablus -- many checkpoints look out of use, but in both of these visits we were told that in the previous week they had been in operation, in other words you never know. In reality at a demonstration a few days after our passing through Atara a young Palestinian was shot dead by an army sniper.

On our final morning we were taken by a lawyer (working for Defence of Children International) to the courts at Ofer military Camp near Ramallah. We visited both a court remanding older prisoners, and a youth court. Again this fulfilled one of our main aims and was a privilege, though difficult to witness Palestinians at the sharp end of military occupation.

Afterwards we had a free afternoon, and walked around Ramallah before getting our plane back to the UK. We had achieved both our main aims, and much more besides, particularly meeting the women of the camp, Refa, Elham, Nadia and other old friends.

Six Women from Al Amari Refugee Camp visited Oxford, June 2014

Report by Tony Richardson.

The six women from Al Amari refugee camp in Ramallah, together with Hanan Bannourah, a Trade Union leader from Bethlehem, arrived in Oxford on 13th June. The delegation had been brought over by the Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association (ORFA). At the Ramallah end, the visit was organised by the Women’s Centre in Al Amari Refugee Camp.

Their first event, on Saturday 14th, was the 'Women in Black Vigil' in Bonn Square. This was followed by a meal organised by the Network of Oxford Women. On Sunday they went by train (the first time for some of them), to Banbury to meet the Labour Party women’s section.

On Monday 16th they had a lunchtime meeting in Oxfam's headquarters. This was attended by 50 mostly young people. Although it was about gender issues in Palestine it could not help being dominated by the issue of prisoners, because the women were the mothers of 6 sons serving life sentences, and one of the sons was going blind, lost the use of one leg, had no hearing in one ear, yet couldn't get medical treatment. In the evening was one of the main public meetings, in St Michael’s Church, chaired by the priest, Bob Wilkes. This was well attended, 60 or so people.

The next day the Oxford Mayor, Mr Abbasi, held a reception for the Al Amari group, while Hanan went to London to meet the President of the Royal College of Midwives, to continue the links with the Palestinian midwives. In the afternoon the whole group met some Oxford lawyers, to discuss human rights. On the evening of the 17th we held the main Oxford public meeting, sponsored by ORFA and Oxford PSC (Palestine Solidarity Campaign). The women movingly addressed a packed courtroom, in the Town Hall (about 70 people). Again the issue of prisoners dominated, and people were directed to the PSC petition about prisoners.

On Wed 18th they attended Unite Women’s section, in the Unite Offices in Cowley. This lasted nearly 2 hours, and resulted in a discussion about going to Palestine. That evening they addressed a public meeting in Faringdon organised by the Arura Faringdon Friendship Association, AFFA. (Arura is a village near Ramallah.)

A group of the women, one of whom has worked in the main Ramallah hospital for 30 years, went to the Unison Offices, in the John Radcliffe Hospital, on Thursday. They received a good response and a list of possible actions was developed. In the evening a group addressed a public meeting, organised by the local United Nations Association (UNA), in Charlbury, David Cameron's Constituency. This is the UN Year for Palestine. It was agreed to send a message to Cameron.

On Friday 20th they went to discuss with the cast of a new play about Palestine 'Far away so close'. They were also interviewed by the 'Oxford Mail'. Two of the women were interviewed by Bill Heine, for his Radio Show that was broadcast on Radio Oxford on Sunday, 11am. This was really well received. In the evening they attended a meal, and a presentation on 'The Palestinian History Tapestry', part of which is due to be produced in the Women's Centre.

On the Saturday they went to the Women Against Pit Closures (WAPC) event, organised by Oxford Trades Council and Ruskin College, on the 30th Anniversary of the Miners Strike. This included the launch of a new film that Anne Marie Sweeney has made for WAPC. Two of the Palestinian women who spoke, responded to the film, saying that these women in struggle were speaking their own language. This was followed by a lovely meal with supporters in a Cowley Road restaurant.

Sunday was their free day and they all went to London, took an open topped tour, and returned back to a wonderful farewell evening meal and gathering of ORFA patrons and supporters, in a supporter's house and garden. Monday they returned to the airport, and home.

At Oxford Women in Black:

Looking at Oxford sites:

At Oxfam headquarters:

In church public meeting:

Public meeting in Oxford Town Hall:

With Unite Union women and car factory senior stewards:

With Unison Union at John Radcliffe Hospital:

With Palestinian history tapestry:

At Ruskin College miners strike celebration:

At farewell party:

Visit by Mohammed Saleh (Aruri), November/December 2011

Report by Tony Richardson.

Mohammed Saleh (Aruri), Head of International Relations for the Federation of Independent Unions Palestine, and representative of Arura village in its twinning with Faringdon, visited us. His trip was scheduled to start on the 18th of November, but Mohammed was initially refused a visa by the British Consulate in Amman. After many emails etc. including to the Embassy, the decision was reversed. So Mohammed arrived on the 21st. That afternoon he had a tour of Faringdon followed by a shared meal in the evening and discussion with Arura Faringdon Friendship Association (AFFA).

On Tuesday 22nd he visited an organic farm which has set up a community-owned wind farm and more recently a solar farm. Mohammed discussed with the farmers the potential value of solar farms in rural Palestine. In the evening he came to Oxford, to speak at a meeting of the organisers of the strike on Nov 30th. He brought greetings to the strike from his federation, and was invited to speak at the rally on the day. Many speakers noted the connection between the British strikes, and the Arab Spring, and other resistance.

The next day Mohammed visited Faringdon Community College. He had a tour of the school, visiting a number of classrooms and spoke to a class of 16 year olds. The College has specialist status in engineering and Mohammed was impressed by the practical design and technology courses on offer which they do not have in Palestinian schools. The Head presented him with a prospectus and paperweight. After that he went, by train to Parliament, to participate in the Annual PSC lobby of Parliament. We met the member of Parliament for Oxford, Andrew Smith. Mohammed raised the visa problems, and his impossibility of visiting Jerusalem. Andrew later sent us a letter saying he had raised these questions with the Foreign Secretary, and was awaiting a reply. We then met PSC officers, and agreed to hold a meeting with them the following week. In the evening Mohammed addressed a well attended AFFA public meeting in Faringdon Town Hall on the theme of 'Life in the West Bank'.

Mohammed in London:

On Thursday morning the 24th Mohammed addressed a seminar in Brookes University, and received a good response. In the evening he addressed a Socialist Resistance, and Green Left meeting, at which the speaker was Filipino ecosocialist Maria Pampilo. This meeting was about food sovereignty, something entirely relevant to Palestine.

The following evening we had a meal, in a Lebanese restaurant, with supporters of Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association (ORFA).

Saturday was taken up with the National Twinning With Palestine Conference in Liverpool. About 60 delegates attended, from all over the UK, including from Oxford and Faringdon. The conference was opened by Liverpool-Beilin group, and had the annual report, followed by workshops on education and other forms of twinning. Mohammed spoke in a workshop on linking unions. There were 5 Palestinians from the West Bank, brought over by their groups. Many good suggestions, about the groups most successful activities, were made. There will be a report on the twinning website. It was nice that it was held in the CASA club, which was formed out of the Liverpool Dockers Strike. At the end a committee was elected from all over England, Scotland and Wales.

On Monday the 28th from 12-3pm, we attended a teach in, held by Save Our Services. This was held in Bonn Square in Oxford, and consisted of people talking to the Public about the Nov 30th strike. Mohammed also spoke. In the evening we went back to Faringdon, to a reception held by the Mayor. Eleven out of fourteen Town Councillors attended, along with a County Councillor. The Chairman of the Vale of the White Horse District Council was very sorry she could not attend but wants to be kept up to date with AFFA activities. The Mayor welcomed Mohammed, who then replied, and gifts were exchanged. Both parties are keen to develop civic links.

With the Mayor of Faringdon, Dr Mike Wise:

The main public meeting in Oxford was on the 29th, in the evening. It was held at Ruskin College, which has a long history of educating trade unionists. Again this was a good discussion, and gave people the chance to ask questions, like the relations between Fateh and Hamas, the politics of his federation, and one state solution, or two states. Mohammed was also presented with books from the Unite union branch at the massive BMW plant in Oxford.

The 30th was a really busy day, we toured the picket lines in the city centre; police support workers, probation officers, Town Hall workers, County Hall workers, College of Further Education teachers. Then out to Brookes University, and the Churchill, and then Warneford Hospitals. Everywhere a good response, and at the Colleges Mohammed was able to talk about the impending lecturers strike in Palestine. The march on that day was organised first in to sectors, and we joined the Public Sector section. All three groups joined together for the last part in to the centre of Oxford. Everybody said it was the biggest march ever in Oxford. The TV estimated 6,000 at the rally. As well as all sections of strikers, Mohammed spoke, bringing Solidarity from his federation. Not often that Palestine gets a mention at a strike rally in the UK.

Demonstration in Broad Street, Oxford:

Mohammed speaking:

On the 1st Dec. Mohammed addressed the Oxford TUC. This enthusiastic meeting agreed to send solidarity greetings, and that at their AGM they would discuss sending a delegation to Palestine. In the meantime they asked a series of questions as to what way they could help.

We had our fruitful discussions with PSC officers on the Friday, and an article in PSC news will follow this. We also met Mohammed's old friends Bernard and Carole Regan. After this we went to the Tent City Occupation, at St Pauls. Many photos were taken.

At the Green Fair, on Saturday 3rd, we met the Mayor of Oxford, who was extremely friendly. Considering that she is the first Jewish Mayor ever this is quite symbolic.

With the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Elise Benjamin:

The rest of the visit was taken up with Mohammed cooking for the Oxford supporters, and a meal with ORFA and AFFA in Faringdon. Much discussion was held with regards to the next steps. Youth delegations, Trade Union delegations, and an olive picking trip in 2012 were all mentioned.

In his few gaps Mohammed had an opportunity to visit Oxford Colleges, the Ashmolean, and other Museums of Oxford. He successfully flew back to Amman on the 6th.

Palestine Visit, April/May 2011

Tony Richardson reports:

Kettled in Jerusalem

When I arrived at the airport on Wednesday, the security kept putting more people on duty, in order to speed people through. What a change, no queue, I was off the plane and in my taxi inside 30 minutes.

Compare that with the next day, when I went to Ramallah on the bus. On the way back we had to all go in to the cattle sheds, and they were only allowing three through at a time. They then slowly check their IDs and baggage, and then they wait a bit before allowing another three through. One person was not allowed in.

No question of putting on extra staff, to man another gate. In the end it took me about 45 minutes to go through. And this is the daily grind for Palestinians who are allowed through, and is obviously meant to put off visitors, to Palestine, from other countries.

In Ramallah the demostration, in tents, in Al Menara Square, has temporaily changed, from calling for Palestinian Unity, to defence of prisoners, for "Prisoners Day".

Al Manara Sq Unity tent demo:

Tel Aviv

Yesterday I went to Tel Aviv, to the Eretz Yisrael Museum, to visit the exhibition on Sir Ronald Storrs, who was in charge during a period of the British Mandate. To an observer like me he helped the Zionists establish their power structures, as well as making sure the Palestinians didn't do the same, except he was friendly with the undemocratic main families.

Anyway the exhibition is obviously mainly about his relationship with the Jewish structures, and therefore airbrushes out the Palestinian struggle. This is my limited knowledge opinion. It does show how the Zionists started to call for his removal, after they didn"t get everything completely their way. I will be posting photos, showing how he tried to maintain some cultural aspects, and create theatre groups etc.

Storrs Exhibition:

Jerusalem

So to today. I went out of my Hostel, in the old city, to find soldiers outside. They said I could pass, as did the next group, and the next. What none of them said was that I couldn't go back. So once I was out I couldn't get back in. There are hundreds of soldiers controlling the main Christian thoroughfares, Via Dolorosa etc. After a couple of hours I joined a huge group of Christians outside Jaffa Gate, who were only being allowed in a few at a time. After an hour I was thinking that only Christians on Easter Saturday would allow this to happen, without revolting.

Then when a group was being allowed through a woman fell over, and there was a lot of pushing and shouting, and we did breakthrough.

How could people of one religion completely control the events at the other religions site, on their most important days. This is something that already happens to Moslems on Fridays, and also with regard not allowing visits from the West Bank, but this is the first time I have seen this at Easter. It does coincide with the Passover, but Jewish people were using their own entrance, without problems.

Christians blocked going in to Old City:

Ramallah

The Twinning Conference of the Palestinian participants took place in El Bireh Munipal Hall on Monday 25th April.

With about forty participants, from 20 groups it was a big success. The overall picture is of a growing movement, and the workshops that were held made many suggestions, which will be put on the Twinning Website. One recurring theme was in the problems of communication, internally and with the UK groups. Hopefully with the election of an 11 person committee, which might meet using Skype, as the UK one does, there might be better coordination.

As in the UK there are varying strengths of groups, but this is only natural in a self selecting solidarity movement that now has more than forty sets of twinning.

The reality of the Palestinian position was brought out by the fact that one of the delegates couldn't attend because he was shot, at the Friday Beilin Anti Wall demo.

Twinning Conference:

Ramallah: Video workshop in Al Amari Camp

Village Life

Went to Arura Village North of Ramallah yesterday as part of the Faringdon Arura twinning (AFFA). On the way in I stopped at the building site of the first Palestinian City since 1948. This is Rawabi with a first stage planned population of 20000 rising to 40000. It is being built by a Qatari company and the roads are being built by USAID as a donation to the Palestinian people but it seems that it will be the private company that will benefit. There is fence all around the site because the people from the small Israeli settlement nearby keep attacking it. Also the company has been waiting for 4 years for permission from the Israelis for the approach roads even though it is in an area that comes under Palestinian Authority control. The city is only 2 hills away from Arura Village.

New City Palestine, Arura village in Background:

I have been to Arura many times but this is the best because it is Spring and there are flowers everywhere. It is going to be a good Olive harvest because the trees themselves are full of flowers. As I sit in a garden looking at the hills of olive trees I ask about the growing of vegetables in their gardens. The biggest problem is water which they only get from the company a couple of days a week and so every house has to collect rainwater which is collected beneath the house and then pumped to a tank on the roof this water is used for everything. As we speak it starts to rain later in the evening this turns into a torrential downpour and thunderstorm.

Spring flowers:

I then go around various groups with letters from the Faringdon group in order to facilitate linking. First the schools: as always a group of interested teachers assemble. At the new Primary (up to 12 Sunday-Thursday) school they show great interest. Especially in help with English because even their best pupils have difficulty with spoken English (ditto the teachers) so they would love a visitor to sit in on their classes. They promised to respond to the letter. At the Boys School (12-16) They seem to have the same problem but the group of teachers are keen to link with a school in Faringdon and are sure that individual pupils email links will work. Similarly the Girls school who say that they would have to get permission from the ministry to formally link but can do it individually.

Boys school Arura:

Girls school Arura:

We then moved onto the Health Centre which is for all N.Ramallah Villages. This was like the primary school built with Gulf money but has to finance its own running. They would like a direct Faringdon Link. The Nurse there said that the whole village remembers the Olive picking trip that we did from Faringdon in 2009. (anybody interested reading this we are thinking of perhaps doing another one next year October). The Mayor who who covers two villages was not in but we met a Councillor who promised to pass on the letter from Faringdon's Mayor. Of course the discussions with people in the village covered the newly announced unity agreement between Hamas and Fateh. I think everybody is waiting to see what it means. The TV showed the people who had been occupying Ramallah's Al Manara Square demanding unity pulling down a tent but when I went there this morning the other tents were still up. Also on TV Abbas was explaining the agreement and then said that all the politics are to be done by the PLO "and thats me". So no change there then.

Ramallah Friends Boys School

I went to a Conference this morning organised by the Progressive Labour Union Front of Palestine. This body consists of the Independent Federation of Democratic Unions and the General Workers federation it does not include the PGFTU although it appears to contain some of its members. The Conference was about BDS and included the Stop the Wall Organisation and the Palestinian BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) campaign. The two main organisations started the conference with statements clearly calling for full boycott of Israel and boycott of Histradut.

This was followed by a boycott panel including a woman from BirZeit University and the Brazillian CUT. Some discussion from the floor also took place The reason the PGFTU is not involved appears to be that this organisation calls for a full boycott and the PGFTU argue just for boycott of settlement goods the resolution also called for a boycott of Histradut the Israeli TU Federation which supported the bombing of Gaza and other Zionist policies. The PGFTU is hostile to this boycott because they have relations with Histradut including financial.

The conference was in Arabic but from translations I was given the tenor was strongly for the organisation's policies. I was the only person from Europe but the important external delegation was from CUT the 22 million strong Brazillion TU Federation. They strongly support boycott but they didn't mention Histradut. The statement from the Conference is going to be circulated in English so watch this space.

CUT Brazillian union at BDS Conference:

Audience at BDS conf:

Union Speakers at BDS Conf:

May Day, Ramallah

First thing in the morning I attended a May Day workshop organised by the Federation of Independent and Democratic Unions in the Rocky Hotel, Ramallah. These unions are the only ones organising strikes so there were the leaders of the month long but just suspended health strike. Also of the bank workers who are preparing action against the cutback in the Palestine Islamic Bank, also of the just sacked 54 workers in the Hebron Electrical Workers, which is also the independent federation that is leading the ongoing University Workers strike. Therefore it's not surprising that they are having workshops on fighting and negotiating with the employers.

After the General Secretary's speech one of the sacked women spoke from the South Electricity Company she was followed by the leader of the Public Health Union who called for support in front of the Health Ministry next Thursday calling for the Health Minister to go. He said that they provided emergency cover during their strike.They were striking to implement their rights to pensions transportation allowance emergency allowance shift allowance and many other things that they were not being given which are their legal rights. Similarly the leader of the Public Employees union said that despite the fact that they were promised after their strike benefits the body that was supposed to be set up 4 months ago to negotiate has still not been formed.

He also stressed that they needed more jobs. He said that Prime Minister Fayyad had received an award from the World Bank for cutting expenditure but that is money from their salaries. These workers of course know a lot and they have produced files on three corrupt ministers but when they took the files to Abu Mazen many times "he does nothing". This union was formed just three years ago and he stressed that they have to be independent and hold elections every 2 years. The representative of the Cairo Amman Bank workers then stressed for the need for all bank workers to support each other at least issuing press releases in support of strikers.

The Ministers have contempt for the workers they think they are just sheep. This Govt. is working under the CIA because it receives its funds from the USA. A leader of the Palestinian Community in Holland said that a lot of Palestinian workers abroad should support Palestinian Unions. The representative of the NGO workers union then said that he had just received a message that Hamas had banned a May Day demonstration in Gaza. I then gave May Day greetings from Oxford Trades Union Council and they reciprocated for our demonstration the next day. I did stress that they needed to set up a website including in English if they want to get international support.

After this they broke into workshops and I left to go to the May Day demonstration organised by the PGFTU in the centre of Ramallah. At the rally in Al Manara square at the end of the demonstration they had a speaker from the ICFTU International federation who talked about dignity minimum wages etc. and praised the leader of the union. Then the Brazillian CUT leader praised Palestinian Workers but made no mention of boycott. There were two local speakers no strikers because they never have them. The final speaker was Shaheer Saeed the leader of the federation. There were about 500 in attendance many quite young.

HSBC announce May Day:

Independent Federation of Unions May Day Workshop:

15 CUT at PGFTU May Day Rally:

16 PGFTU May Day demo Al Manara Sq:

Jerusalem

I had to make two trips from Ramallah to Jerusalem finalising visas for the young people Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association is bringing to Oxford in July. The road journey itself took much longer than it used to. A major reason for this is that the new Veolia built light railway is more or less completed and is testing the trains. The tracks reduce the later part of the main road between Ramallah and Jerusalem to single lane. This means for much of the time there is congestion. Also the traffic has to keep stopping to allow the trains to pass. So this has a major effect on Palestinians coming to work or study in Jerusalem if they can get in and vice versa. The train is built to make it more convenient for jews going to the settlements and across Jerusalem. It is of course illegal to build on occupied land in order to benefit the occupier and to steal Palestinian land to do it. The apartheid can be seen in this.

One other point of a different nature occurred to me while I had coffee with Trade Unionist in Ramallah. This "bloc" has supporters in all the federations and is trying to get the Federations to unite. A healthy attitude, but the problem is that the PGFTU, the Fateh run organisation, has the ICTU franchise and therefore gets American money. In fact Shaheer Saeed from that federation has been elected an assistant general secretary of the international body. He has managed to persuade them to oppose the boycott of Israel and only boycott settlement goods no wonder he got the vote of the Israeli Histradut and The US AFL-CIO.

National struggles always have many facets. For example because the pressure on the northern cities is great by the Israelis they have difficulty creating work or exporting goods or even moving about. So the unemployed from the north have moved to Ramallah living many to a house and working for lower wages than the Ramallah people because when they go home at weekends the cost of living is lower. It is Palestinian capitalists who exploit this situation for greater profits. The strongest fighters for national rights have to be the workers because they lose the most in a colonial situation. A bit gloomy. I will go to Bethlehem tomorrow to meet friends and then home.

Palestine Visit, October 2009

Tony Richardson reports:

Jennie and I had already been in Jerusalem for a couple of days when we met up with everybody else on the 24th October. Nobody had any problems at the airport. Most of us then went through to Ramallah with some of the Faringdon people scheduled to join us later.

Mohamed our village organiser had to go to a PLO meeting called by Abbas to set the date for Palestinian elections. After this he accompanied us to the village of Arura where we ate with Hassan (Mohamed's brother), his wife and daughters. Accommodation was in two households even though there ended up being 19 of us: 12 from Oxford and 7 from Faringdon.

For the next four days we went to the olive groves picking for two separate families in various locations on anceint terraces. The weather was hot but pleasant. We had varying tree-climbing abilities but there was work for everybody. The coffee breaks and picnics under the trees were wonderful. At the end of the day the olives were put in bags and carried back to the road by donkey.

Olive picking team.

In an olive tree.

In the evenings we met village committees, started the process of Faringdon/Arura twinning, and visited the olive press, the police station, a local cafe, did a tour round the old village, went up to the top of the overlooking hill, and the two 13 year olds talked in a school. After a busy and fruitful week we came away with zaatar olive soap, almonds and memories.

Thursday 29th we returned to a hotel in Ramallah.

The next morning we went off to Jerusalem. We walked through the Old City looking at the sights and then joined the Women in Black group of very brave Jewish peaceniks who demonstrate against occupation every Friday in West Jerusalem. We were meant to then do a tour but our driver was sick so we went back to Ramallah.

On Women in Black demonstration in West Jerusalem.

On Saturday some of our group had returned to the UK but the rest went around the Al Amari Refugee Camp and had a meeting in the Women's Centre. This included some of the plans for our next visit to the UK by young people from the Camp. We also met a group from France who do regular work in the Camp.

Sunday Morning early saw us heading off to Jericho with our old friend Mahmoud Hawari who runs the Archaeological Department at Bir Zeit University. This was a real treat visiting the remains of the Old City, the oldest walled city anywhere, also Herod's Winter Palace and Hisham's Palace which Mahmoud is now working on. You could see from these digs how the Israelis try to control Archaeology and to try to limit history to Jewish history. In the middle of the day we went up in a cable car to an anceint monastery and we ate in the hillside restaurant.

We then returned to Ramallah. On the route to Jericho we went on many small roads and returned by a major road that the Israelis want to make Jewish only.

The next day Mahmoud and a young Palestinian from 'Right to Education' showed us Birzeit University. They told us that in that year alone two heads of the Student Council had been imprisoned and had to be replaced. We were also given a tour of the museum and gallery within the University by its organiser - also an old friend of ORFA - artist Vera Tamari. Such a privilege.

On Tuesday some of our group went by regular bus to Nablus. This used to be nearly impossible, but it is one of the few ways life is a little easier, like being able to move between prisons. They visited the Old Market and other historical sights as well as meeting the Samaritans.

It should be mentioned that by this time there was torrential rain throughout the West Bank. Lucky we picked olives the previous week.

On Wednesday our final active day in the West Bank we went to Bethlehem for a day organised by old friends Basim and Hanan (who visited Oxford last year).

There was a visit to Badeel where we had a talk about refugees and their rights, then Aida Camp and the Lajee Centre there. The projects that they carry out here to get young refugees involved in photography, filming and other artistic endeavours are marvellous. After visiting the Hospital where Hanan works we did a tour of the Holy Nativity Church and returned to Jerusalem.

On our last morning we had an ICAHD (Israeli Committee against House Demolitions) tour of Jerusalem. This was a good way to wind up seeing how badly serviced Palestinian areas of the city were, also the way the Wall is stealing land for the development of strategic settlements in East Jerusalem. The tour took us into a major settlement in the West Bank with its green lushness using stolen water, its stolen olive trees, and plans for expansion. The trip also showed how easy it was for an Israeli bus to go in and out of the West Bank.

Next to the apartheid wall.

Afterwards I went down to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and saw the houses that the settlers were stealing off people with the long-term Palestinian residents in tents on the pavements.

Sheikh Jarreh, evicted family in tent.

Olive Picking in Arura Village, October 2009

Mohamed Aruri reports from Arura:

Saturday evening was a special day in Arura Village (Twenty-five km north of Ramallah). Twenty friends from Oxford and Faringdon Traveled to Arura to join the locals of Arura in picking olives. Arura is placed at the top of the middle west bank mountains. Because of this location at the top of the mountains, the Mediterranean Sea , (Jerseem and Ebal) mountains of the city of Nablus and Harmon Mountain on the borders Of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, all can be seen from Arura on a nice clear day. Similarly, the mountains of the city of Ramallah and the Western Jordanian mountains could all be seen from the mountain tops in Arura.

On the hill above Arura.

During the time that our British friends from Faringdon were in Arura, they helped us pick olives every day that they were present in Arura. Every day, very early in the morning, we would hit the road after a light breakfast, walk quite long distances until we arrive at the olive orchards in Arura. Then, we would start picking olives until lunch time. Because of the bad olive season this year in the West Bank, the amount of olives that could be picked, unfortunately, was very small. However, on the bright side, this gave us more time to enjoy the beautiful nature of Arura sitting under olive trees that are hundreds if not thousands of years old having lunch and drinkning tea while exchanging stories, learning about each others' cultures and languages. In the evenings, after long days of hard work, we shared very special times eating traditional Palestinian meals and drinking tea and Arabic coffee on the patio of my family home in Arura enjoying the nice weather. Then, for several nights, we met with many residents of Arura, who explained to the British visitors warmly, shared their homes with them and enjoyed their company talking with them while having coffee or tea.

Result of 5 day's work.

One day after dinner, we went to visit an olive oil factory. We heard the workers explain how olives are pressed to produce excellent quality extra virgin olive oil. On another night, after a day of hard work, we met with a council member of the Arura Association and Health Center. We discussed the advantages of the proposed twinning between Faringdon and Arura. Our guests from the U.K. read a letter from the Mayor of Faringdon. The Arura residents that were present at the meeting were very touched by the kindness of the letter and thankful for the solidarity of our friends from Faringdon. The idea of the twinning between Faringdon and Arura was met with great acceptance and soon we were making suggestions as to how to build and strengthen the relationship between the locals of Arura and those of Faringdon and the name Faringdon-Arura Friendship Association (FAFA) came up.

Faringdon delegation hand over the Mayor's message to Arura representatives.

On a school day, two young members of the British delegation visited the Arura Middle School. They met with hundreds of students and teachers who were very welcoming and extremely excited about the new guests.

During the five days that the group from the U.K. spent in Arura, they helped several farmers that would otherwise not be able pay anyone to help pick their olives. Many of these farmers had turned to farming after losing their jobs in Palestine's deteriorating economy. The people of Arura and myself will be forever grateful for all the help we received from our friends in Oxford and Faringdon and we are very much looking forward to developing a long-lasting friendship with the people of Faringdon.

Ramallah Visit, April 2008

Tony Richardson reports from Ramallah:

2/4/08

I had a discussion with members of the FIDA party. I met several members of their new youth organisation, which appears to be growing, and is very active. I also met their Palestine Legislative Council member. He went on to address a memorial meeting of relative and friends of two of their members who were killed on April 1st 2002. This was the date of the Israeli mass invasion of the West Bank and Gaza. 28 people were killed in Ramallah in two days. From his speech at the meeting, it is clear that this party is still in favour of the two state solution. They have no armed section, and are in favour of mass peaceful protests, around the wall etc. The meeting was very moving as it contained both the wives and children of the assassinated people.

3/4/08

Last night the Israelis raided the Al Bireh Municipal offices (This is the other half of Ramallah). Hamas won the Al Bireh Municipal elections. They also raided the Chamber of Commerce, which also has a majority Hamas. They stole as much Municipal material, including hard drives, as they could, trashing a great deal of other things. Yet again showing their attitude to elections. This goes alongside the stealing, a couple of months ago, of all the food at an orphanage for 2000 children in Hebron, because it was run by an Islamic charity. Two weeks ago a Japanese student lost an eye, when he was hit by a "rubber" bullet at the demonstration at Beilin. These villagers won an Israeli High Court decision, that the Wall should be redirected. Yet just as everything else in Palestine the Israelis, in reality, make no concessions. All of this in the "peaceful" West Bank.

5/4/08

Public Sector workers were on strike throughout the West Bank, on Thursday. They are complaining about the three months back pay that they are owed, which is only gradually being paid back. Last Sunday there was a demonstration of Bank and Insurance workers outside the main arab Bank Office. These workers are complaining that they are paid in Jordanian Dinars, and this has dropped in value the same as the dollar, in other words, they have lost nearly 20 per cent of their pay. This is the case for most private sector workers, who are paid in either US dollars, or Jordanian Dinars. Alongside this all these workers are losing out with a rapid rise in inflation. Remember also there is no fallback in terms of social security. The whole situation is one where people spend the whole of their time just trying to earn enough to survive. But still they fight. I looked through the pages of an Arabic Daily Paper Al Ayyam, and all but two of the photographs were of demonstrations, sit downs at settler roads etc. What a cheek of those people that say why don't the Palestinians try peaceful protest. More and more banks seem to be opening here. All Jordanian. It seems most are designed to take money out. Expatriate money has been squeezed ever since 350,000 Palestinians were chucked out of Kuwait, and the Gulf, at the time of the first war.

6/4/08

This morning (Sunday) I had an interview with the General Secretary of the El Bireh Municipality. It was in his office, that was raided by the Israelis 3 nights before. The Israelis were there from 12-4.30 in the morning. The door was forced open by drilling the lock. It took 2 days just to clear up the mess, and they still don't know what papers they took. They also took the server for the buildings internal cameras. Considering these offices are only used for municipal services, one would have difficulty understanding the reason for the raid. The only explanation could be that there are 9 Hamas Council members, 4 Fateh and 2 supporters of the PFLP. So the Israelis just want to mess up the functioning of the Council. El Bireh is really part of Ramallah/Elbireh, but is now slightly larger than Ramallah. The Municipality is not allowed to use half of its land, by the Israelis, it has to go to them to get permission to use its own waste dump. It is surrounded by a settlement on one side, a military base on the next (Beit El), then Qualandia checkpoint, and last Ramallah itself. Much of its land was stolen for 'Greater Jerusalem'. It serves 45,00 people, and has 220 workers. Up to now they have relied on the fact that 50% of El Bireh people live in the US, and so they get finance from them. Until the Nakba the population was only 5,000, this immediately became 15,000. The municipalities refuse to take responsibility for the refugee camps, like Al Amari, and Qualandia, which are serviced by the UN But they do help the soceities within them. After leaving the municipality I went to Arura village. This is about 25 Kilometres from Ramallah, it had taken my lift an hour and a half, because he had been stopped for 1 hour at Atara Checkpoint. Lucky for me we went straight through. The village is in area where there are no settlements, except one on the edge. This one is new, it started with a mobile phone mask, then houses to protect it, then the whole mountain top, then Palestinians were banned from using the two nearest mountains. So a security barrier for Orange, or is it an excuse? The village has a new clinic, donated by Oman. This clinic has to cover 50,000 villagers in the North Ramallah area, because they have difficulty getting to Ramallah hospitals, because of the Atara checkpoint. The problem is they don't have finance for an X-Ray machine an ambulance or other instruments. The whole area is covered with Olive trees, and on a clear day you can see the Mediteranean. I walked round looking at the anceint houses, the village is more than 1000 years old, and has Olive trees from Roman times. On the way back it came on the radio that tomorrow there was another 1 day strike by municipality workers, this to be followed by further action.

7/4/08

I went to the new office of the Federation of Democratic Trade Unions today. It looks like the strike in the Education, and civil ministeries is complete. This includes all the teachers in the public schools. They are also going on strike tomorrow from 12, and will be demonstrating outside the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday. Meanwhile all the parties in the Assembly, which is boycotted by Hamas, because 40 of their members are in Israeli jails, have declared their support for the strikers. As I earlier reported, the workers are owed backpay, their pay is often late, and it is reduced in value because of inflation. The strike is by a union, that is independent, not part of any federation, but in talks with the independent federation. The Health workers are not on strike because they have not yet completed their negotiations. The strike was provoked by the threat of court action, and docking wages. Prime Minister Fayad has been on TV saying their is no way he will pay the strikers. Yet again these strikes show the criminal activity of international federations who only talk to the PGFTU, which organises nothing, and boycott the independent unions which are constantly on strike. Earlier I spoke to the Deputy Minister of Education, and he argued that money for projects were coming in to Fayads Govt. and therefore it was not time to defeat it. On the street the govt. appears at an all-time low. Mainly because it has nothing controlling it, the assembly can't vote because it is inquorate, without Hamas, and so it is solely a Govt selected by Abbas.

8/4/08

One point I need to make about Al Amari Camp: It is not only run by the UN, but its size is designated by them, it is not allowed to grow, and anybody who leaves can lose their refugee card. This applies to all Palestinian camps, including in the Lebanon.

This morning I set off to visit Hebron, in the South. My start was delayed by the Taxi running in to the back of a young drivers car near Qualandia. This led to forced stoppages, being surrounded by a gang of about 50 youths before we got going again. The journey to Hebron takes about one and a half hours, without interruptions. The driver has to take mostly back 'Palestinian' roads. these can be hair raising. We were lucky we went through checkpoints quite easily. The landscape is stunning, except that throughout the journey you see settlements. When you see Maale Adummin, it is like a sceince fiction scene, dominating the horizon. All these same buildings, but even in a decent Sceince Fiction film it is not all new.

As one starts to enter the outskirts of Hebron there is a sign saying that this is a Palestinian Authority Area, and Israelis are not allowed to enter "By Israeli Law". What a joke, they should have added, unless in an armoured vehicle, or a car with an Israeli number plate. I first had a discussion with a Palestinian Activist about Hebron. Its population is 200,000, add in the surrounding villages, and this becomes 750,000. It was always the commercial and industrial city of Palestine. But now this has been changed, at least 100 shoe factories have closed, and this goes for clothing, and other industries. All caused by the Israelis activities. The City is divided into two. There are the Palestinians, and the 400 Jewish Settlers. The settlers have 5,000 soldiers defending them. There were no Jewish people in 1967, but in 1969 they started to move in. They gradually stole Palestinian homes, and created a settlement within the city. The soldiers then closed down sections of the old city markets, and closed whole streets. They set up checkpoints, and divided off 60,000 of the Palestinians from the rest of the city, with the settlers in between. So these people now have difficulty going to hospital, getting to work, and often the Israelis close off the water and electricity.

The Israelis have also closed schools (one of which I saw), they have recently been attacking Hamas schools, orphanages etc. They keep making raids, arresting people and making life hard, closing shops and stopping normal activity. Often people have to get out using the roof tops. But the people are the same as in Ramallah. There are 15,000 students here, and many of the young people go to colleges outside. The Council has 9 Hamas members, and 3 Fateh. The teachers were also on strike Monday. Resistance goes on. I visited a womens' self-help group for women, making baby mattresses, and sewing. I then toured the Old City. The sight is unbelievable: sections are completely blocked off, there are checkpoints and metal detectors everywhere, and where the settlers have stolen the houses above shops, they have enlarged them. They throw stones out of the windows so the Palestinians have to put up netting, which doesn't help against liquids. Everywhere there are Israeli Army outposts protecting the attackers. One whole area has completely deserted streets, with only an occasional settler car. The Ibrahimi Mosque, the third most important Islamic site in Palestine, is controlled by soldiers. To go in I had to pass several checkpoints. It is often closed to Palestinians. The settlers are established in the grounds, and have stolen a huge building adjacent to the entrance. Of course the problem isn't just the 400 settlers within. The Israelis have allowed only two real exits to the City, and control all imports and exports. They have a stranglehold, and are expanding their settlement activity. I have pictures of all these things, and it needs to be seen to be believed.

Everybody I spoke to demanded that British people act, because they feel our Government's responsibility.

9/4/08

I went in the morning to the demonstration of Ministry workers. This includes teachers, in an independent union. It was quite difficult to get to the demonstration, which was meant to be outside the Legislative Council Building. Police were everywhere, stopping people getting to the assembly point. Some soldiers from Abu Mazens' special force had been brought in from Jericho.

We got to where the strikers were in a roundabout way. As I said before their complaint is about the high cost of living, and the slow payment of back pay. The strength of feeling has been added to by the fact that Stooge Prime Minister Salim Fayed has taken the strikers to the High Court, arguing that they are affecting students. The High Court was supposed to decide today if the strike is illegal. This has made the strike much more important. All over the world people are feeling the effects of what the UN has said has been a 50% rise in the price of basics in one year. They have said that the food riots in Egypt, and strikes in Jordan will be followed by others. They are clearly right, and the US policy of stopping Govts subsidising basics, as has happened in Iraq will strengthen this. If the Palestinian authorities outlaw strikes, as in Egypt how will workers fight back? Anyway the demonstration showed the almost total opposition to the Abu Mazen appointed Government.

All the four blocs in the Legislative Assembly had their main members speak in support of the workers. This includes Fateh, and Mustapha Barghoutis' group. Only Hamas was excluded because their members boycott the Assembly, or are in prison. Workers spoke from the Independent Unions, and womens organisations. There were about 1000 workers in attendance. Caroline Johnson from the teachers union in Birmingham spoke in their support, saying she was on strike for 2 days when she got back, and I spoke saying that the right to strike was a vital democratic right. (First an elected govt is not accepted, then they move on the right to strike, next the right to speak? All in this 'fight for democracy'.) The workers vowed the strkes would go on. (pictures to follow).

In the afternoon I went to a meeting of the members of the independent bank union in the Arab Bank. This was the members in Ramallah, there were about 100. The bank union has about a 60/70% membership in the West Bank. The workers received a report of the negotiations with the bank, which is based in Jordan. The bank will only negotiate across all its branches, and the drop in the value of the Jordanian Dinar does not effect them in Jordan in the same way. The workers in Palestine are also paid in Dinars but the shops sell in Shekels, so they have lost 20% of their wages. The bank has offered a 6.5% rise, and pay 16 months pay, but this does not make up for inflation. They had a succesful 2hr strike on the 30th March, that is after the banks close to the public, and they do their paperwork. They agreed they would do the same again. The existence of these active independent unions in Palestine is of historical importance, and yet the trade union movement in the UK, France etc. has nothing to do with them, they will only relate to the PGFTU, the 'official' union, which was not present today, and takes no action.

11/4/08

I went this morning to Bei'Lin, the village near Ramallah, where there are weekly demonstrations against the Wall. Even though the villagers won, in the Israeli High Court, a decision that the Wall should be redirected, ie. not take quite so much of their land, everything goes on more or less as before. The court decision was not dated. So not only has a huge settlement been built on their land, but only a small number of villagers, on occasion, visit another large part of the land, by going through a gate in the Wall. I came on this demonstration last year, the settlement is bigger, and the demonstration, and wall, are in exactly the same place. The only difference this time was that the Israelis fired from the other side of the Wall. It must be said that the Wall, the army, and the protest demonstration are all on village land.

A notable thing about this demonstration, is that it brings together the Palestinians, who are at the front, Jewish demonstrators from Israel, and internationals. Today there were about 100. We marched from the Mosque, in the village, to the Wall/Fence. Palestinians stood on the fence, shouting and waving flags. One pulled open the first stage of the Gate, and this started the Israelis firing. It was a mixture of tear gas and rubber bullets. The rubber bullets started mainly when the young Palestinians started throwng stones with slingshots. Needless to say these are ineffective, but the rubber bullets aren't. An Israeli journalist received a hole in his leg, and was taken off to hospital.

Here in Bei'Lin you see it all, a settlement that contains the biggest concentration of Orthodox jews in the world, built on stolen land, and dominating all activities of the local people, together with the Wall that is a means of enforcing this domination, and to steal more land. Alongside this is the Israeli Army, the enforcers, and they have their special roads all along the Wall. Today, in the West Bank there were two demonstrations against Settler roads.

Conference: A Single State in Palestine/Israel, November 2007

Tony Richardson attended this conference, held on the 17/18th November 2007 in SOAS. Here is his full report.

Palestine Visit, July 2007

Tony Richardson reports again from Palestine:

18/7/07

The man who sat next to me on the shared taxi, from Jerusalem to Ramallah, works for Jerusalem City Council. He is a tax assessor. Jerusalem's city limits, as defined by the Israelis extends past the Qualandia checkpoint, so Palestinians, who are covered by the Palestinian authority, pay their council taxes to the Israelis, and get nothing in return, even their water comes from Ramallah,(which is true of the 'Israeli' side of the checkpoint), and the roads are never repaired.

The tax assessor showed me the aerial photographs, taken by the Israelis, which show any changes, in the buildings. He then goes and checks the actual number of rooms, size etc., and it is on this basis that the people get their bills, which they invariably pay. For good measure he complained about his humiliating treatment, by the Israelis, on his way back through the checkpoint, and he showed me the photograph, in his camera, of his house in Jerusalem that the Israelis demolished, because of his lack of building permission. He questioned whether there would ever be peace, and wished the Palestinians would organise a tax strike.

I meet up with my friend, a Fateh supporter, who gives me an assessment of the political situation. Only a small number of Al Aqsa fighters, in Ramallah, have sold their guns for 2000 Jordanian Dinars, which is fatehs system of disarmament. "What a humiliation for a fighter to sell their guns". None of the PFLP, DFLP or Hamas fighters have done so. The Al Aqsa people are then able to serve in the police, unarmed for 3 months, and then get guns again but under PA control. This way Abbas is putting Fateh even more in control. There are armed police all over the streets of Ramallah, enforcing the new 'no street parking' rules. About all they are good for! This is the decision of the new police chief, the 6th in 3 years.

My friend's assessment of Gaza is that Fateh collapsed so easily because of Dahlen, and his Death Squad enforcers, who weren't just used against Hamas. There are so many different groups in Fateh, following individuals, that they have no unity. He assesses that Hamas, who are organised, could take Ramallah in 3 minutes. The people are hostile to Abbas's collaboration with the Israelis. Fateh people also have the fear that any attack on Hamas in the West Bank could be reciprocated by attacks on Fateh people in Gaza. According to him Dahlen is getting out to Jordan, at Abbas's request, and his death squad is being sent from Ramallah to Egypt. In the meantime, in order to avoid provocation, Hamas has ordered its people not to organise any public activities. Mustafa Barghouti is also staying on the sidelines in order not to legitimise, or be connected to, either group.

With regard the children that the Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association is bringing over tomorrow: The Israelis have instituted new rules, as has the UK. For the UK everybody has to be fingerprited, and their eye print taken. For the Israelis they will not accept passports that have been issued since May, on this basis the children going from Abu Dis to the UK were stopped two days ago. People now have to do what they had to do before Oslo, and get a special security form signed by the Israeli security. So it is not only in Gaza that the border control by Israel has tightened. The forms for our kids were got this morning, from Beit El, and the Abu Dis kids are trying again, at Allenby, also this morning.

20/7/07

A woman working with the "Israeli Committee Aganst House Demolitions" last night showed me pictures of the house they were rebuilding in Anata near Jerusalem. While they were working the Israelis came up and knocked down another house, about 100 yards away, it took one and a half hours. They knock on the door and nobody in, so they pick the lock, throw out the furniture, drill to weaken the walls, then bulldoze it down. The ICADH workers had the basic structure back in 24 hours. A rich Jewish New Yorker has given them enough to rebuild 40 houses.

Today I went to the weekly demonstration at the wall at Bil'in. This is the focus of the local people, the internationals, and Jewish organisations from Israel. The Wall/Fence has been built here for a while, but the Israelis on the Palestinian side are still determined to stop protest. The wall has cut off large amounts of the village land, and it is scheduled for industrial building, as well as the expansion of the huge orthodox settlement on the Israeli side. We gather at the mosque, as the worshippers come out from prayers. We march down to the olive fields next to the wall. The young men and the Israelis are already there, the latter in big numbers.

As soon as we are in firing range the tear gas shells come over, kerchiefs and onions still can't stop the tears streaming, followed by the sick feeling. We scatter and regroup in the groves, more tear gas, some fires start and burn the trees and shrubs, we try to beat the fires out using olive branches. More tear gas shells, the wind turns towards us, the fire fumes as well as tear gas envelope us. Soon comes the shout for an ambulance, as a Palestinian is carried past us with a serious wound to the head, some say caused by a live bullet, others by a "rubber" covered metal bullet. In any case he is covered in blood as are the people carrying him.

We fall back to regroup, and go forward again, only to be driven back by more tear gas and rubber bullets coming from all angles. In the course of continuous toing and froing I see at least three more body injuries, caused by rubber bullets. Still the young men throw stones at the soldiers, and still the demonstrators go back. This goes on for nearly two hours, and believe me that amount of tear gas is painful, let alone the rubber bullets. There is an online Bil'in petition, as well as weekly demonstrations. The wall story will not go away.

26/7/07

Some discussions:

Woman from Al Amari camp ex Gaza, with family there: Re education, she makes the point that children are educated to the 9th year in the camp, then go in to Ramallah schools. Suddenly they are with richer students, and nothing is done to stop antagonism between the two groups. This follows in to the universities, so you don't just have inter-party conflict, but also city-camps conflict. Re Gaza, this is her and her family there's take on it: When Fateh moved back, under Yasser Arafat they set up prisons and did the same to their opponents as the Israelis had done in their prisons, so many Hamas people were tortured in the prisons, including the person who was elected the Minister of the Interior. Also during this time jobs nearly all went to Fateh people, The torture etc. only stopped when it was exposed by civil rights groups. When Hamas took over the Fateh people in the offices refused to help them. Then there was Dahlen, who any child in the street could tell was corrupt, and violent, and pro US. They collapsed because they were corrupt and loyal only to their individual leaders.

In a conversation with a Fateh member, to counter this, Hamas knew these things when they went to Saudi Arabia and set up the unity government. So Hamas still had grounds, but took a decision to move. I was also informed that although Marwan Barghouti called for the removal of Dahlen, who definitely has been sent away, he was on the same Fateh "Forward" list as him less than 2 years ago.

In discussion with a PLO Executive member he told me that the recent conference in Ramallah had sent the message to Hamas that they could go in to the called for PLO elections, only if they gave up their positions in Gaza.

In visit to Bir Zeit University I find that the person who was executed by the Israelis in the street in Ramallah outside the Nazareth Restaurant (reported on the Oxford Ramallah website) was a student there. I also find that there are now no students from Gaza, even though they offer courses not available in Gaza, because the Israelis will not let anybody out of student age.

Trade Union Conference tomorrow. I have learnt that the Government of Egypt has closed down the Offices of the Democratic Unions in that country, who were following the Palestinians lead.

28/7/07

Friday and Saturday 27/28 July 2007 saw a conference in Ramallah where the new 50,000 member Coalition of Democratic and Independent Trade Unions was formed. Mainly in the last 4/5 years, workers in Palestine have been forming independent and democratic unions, usually at first by forming workers councils in individual workplaces, and then by uniting these councils to form sector unions. They have often done this, with the assistance of the Democracy and Workers Rights Centre (DWRC). These unions have been meeting with some older democratic unions, and have now come together to form a coalition of such unions. They represent workers in finance, health, pharmaceuticals, higher education, kindergarten, telecommunications, municipalities, electricity, and the unemployed. More...

A Mother of Seven Prisoners

Report from Hekmat Bessiso, director of the Respond to Conflict project in the Al Amary Refugee Camp, Ramallah. Received 20/7/07.

Latifah Naji Abo Homeed, 61 years old, lives in Al Amary Refugee Camp in the city of Ramallah in Palestine. Of her 10 children, one was killed in 1994 by Israeli military & seven have been imprisoned by Israel. She longs to see them but has only their photos for comfort. She has asked to be taken to prison herself so that she can live with them.

Latifah remembers how her son Nasr loved to play with his first son; his wife delivered his second child while he was in prison. She misses Basil's jokes, Naseir's kindness, and Muhamed's helpfulness. Her youngest, Jehad, was always missing his older brothers, and now he, too, is a prisoner, awaiting his own conviction. Sharif is engaged and dreams to be free and marry his bride. Islam was known for his beautiful eyes; many girls tried to win his attention by being nice to Latifah. Latifah does not attend any weddings because she is afraid she will not be able to control her tears. She despairs that she will die before she can witness her own sons' weddings.

Though Latifah has not given up hope that her sons and other Palestinian prisoners will be freed, she often feels that no one remembers them and no one is fighting for them. She prays, searching for the strength and patience to endure life under Occupation and the unending separation from her sons. The home Latifah shares with her husband has been demolished twice in the last ten years. She and her husband, 67 years old, have recently opened a small candy store in their home to try to earn money and fill their free time.

This is the story of countless Palestinian women, who hope for the freedom of their sons, husbands, and brothers with every breath.

Palestine Visit, April 2007

Tony Richardson and three other ORFA members visited Palestine in April 2007. Tony's emails which follow point to the daily hardship of life in the region:

2/4/07: Ramallah

Back in to Ramallah from Jerusalem. Today we go to the demonstration in Al Manara Sq, about Alan Johnson. All the local media is there, as well as a lot of international reporters. They have agreed a three day strike, and will only report about the Alan Johnson story. Speeches are made, condemning the kidnapping, and most people hold the position that it is a blow to the Palestinian cause, if journalists are attacked. Up to now it has been the Israelis who have injured journalists, and we hear of one, who has just come out of hospital after 3 months, who was shot by the Israelis in Ramallah. We learn, at this point that we have just missed a demonstration, at the ministry, of striking health workers. They are demanding unpaid wages. I then go to the local branch of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, they of course describe the horrible problems of workers, with the high levels of unemployment, and still problems of getting to work through road blocks. Also the problem of the wall stopping particularly agricultural workers. The Oxford Ramallah Friendship delegation then go down to Al Amari Refugee Camp, in Ramallah, to help pick the eight children, who we are bringing over in July. The choosing is hard, because there are a lot who fit in to our criteria, of poverty, hard family circumstances, through martyrdom, or imprisonment, and doing well at school. With the help of the women's centre, and our friends it is done. We then head back in to Ramallah. Here we attend a meeting of our supporters in Ramallah. It turns in to something different, in that leading members of several of the new unions have been invited. I will produce a full report of this later, but it is a historic development. Many of these bodies were in embryo on my first visit 4 years ago, and they are now going to form their national federation in July. They are working in the most difficult conditions, and are carrying out various actions, one described hunger strikes, speeding up production when there is shortage of materials. The hospitals have had long strikes, and forced negotiations with ministers. The newest formation is of unemployed workers, they pay 15 shekels (£2) to join, and they organise conferences, demonstrations, as well as help with healthcare etc. This is the first unemployed union in the middle East, although one is now being started in Egypt. These are the poorest workers, and the Palestinian authority tried to block their formation arguing it was against the existing Jordanian laws. They were told that unlike other unions they did not represent a sector. But after a large conference, attended by a minister they forced recognition, and could now open a bank account. They already have 10s of thousands of members, and are looking for support from trade unionists in Europe. We finalised our meeting with preparation for Thursday's twinning conference in Ramallah, and finally went to eat.

3/4/07: Nablus

This is a different kettle of fish. We get a bus from Ramallah, not too much of a problem, getting to Hawara checkpoint, at the entrance to Nablus. This is also quite easy to cross, but the first sign of how desperate things are is the fact that taxi drivers seem to want to fight over our custom. So we decide to walk. We pass Balata refugee camp, where that morning a leading militant had been seriously wounded in an Israeli raid. When we get in to town we walk in to the old city, there are no Europeans whatsoever, we go down a backstreet, where we are confronted by a gunman, a bit scary, but he lets us pass. We decide to stay in the main streets, and after a coffee, and then a meal we arrange to meet a political activist. We go to the wrong building, and whilst on the street are greeted by four young fighters, who shake our hands, but are obviously checking us out. A guide on the street explains that they are wanted by the Israelis, and that this is a city under siege. When we go to meet our contact we notice that as well as the fighters there are many different sections of the armed Palestinian forces. At the Fide offices our contact explains that conditions are particularly bad for any kind of business, there is 70 per cent unemployment, because people with money have got out, to other cities, or countries, this explains the huge amount of building in Ramallah. This also shows that the Israelis don't just want three Bantustans, but they want some worse off than others. 4000 of the 11000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are from Nablus. There are daily raids, and not even the Arab press reports all the incidents. Most of the media is in Ramallah, this is why the Israelis don't want anybody going in to Nablus, so they can do what they want. We decide to head back to Ramallah. The checkpoint is easy for us because women and foreigners go out of a separate exit. I don't like doing this, but we need to stay together.

4/4/07: Ramallah and Al Amari Camp

Easier day today. Wonderful lunch with Janet Michael, the Mayor of Ramallah the first Woman Mayor of a major city on the West Bank (are there many in the Middle East?). She describes their problems, and like all the people we meet stresses the need to lift the European sanctions. It is interesting that the Hamas councillors voted for her to be Mayor, against the Fateh candidate, she stood as an independent. We then head off to the Al Amari camp again, to see the parents of the children, to confirm that they are happy with our plans. They explain that after the last group of kids came everybody wants to come, and they trust us, in fact they say why not bring the mothers. It looks clear that we have managed to steer clear of any particularly group, in relation to the picking, and therefore have developed this trust. Back to Ramallah, for a Mozart Concert in the Boys School, and performances by the London Choir with the Jerusalem Choir. A far cry from the streets of Nablus.

5/4/07: Twinning Conference in Ramallah

We often use the term twinning, but the conference is clearly about linking, people to people. There are over 30 delegates from the UK, plus a touring football team. There are about 70 from Palestine. This is the fourth such conference, and it has clearly taken off. The only person stopped by the Israelis at Tel Aviv, was held for three days, she was a Moslem woman. Janet Michael opened the Conference, and there were speeches from a political unity organisation, and from an NGO. The first workshop was on the Wall, which though good meant that the conference took a while to get going. But once the practical workshops started it was clear that there was a great enthusiasm for this kind of work. In the report back discussion there was some debate as to whether one includes all political parties, or concentrates on the left. A final statement was made, and contacts exchanged. There will be a full report on www.twinningwithpalestine.net.

Good Friday 6/4/07: East Jerusalem

Got taxi from Ramallah hotel to city centre. Main road was blocked off by the preparations for a huge Hamas demonstration, and rally. Walked to bus station. We then got bus to Jerusalem. At the Qualandia checkpoint all the Palestinians have to get off, and go through luggage check, as we have a lot of luggage we decide to stay on board this time. The guards come on the bus to check international passports. Five elderly religious black South Africans, two of them nuns, don't have stamps on their passports, because they came from Saudi Arabia and there is a policy of not stamping these. So after going through several different levels of 18 year old guards, who cannot understand why nuns would wish to go to Jerusalem on Good Friday, they are made to get off and join the Palestinian checking procedure. So when we got through the Palestinians were waiting for the bus, and we never did connect with the S.Africans again. They must have felt they were in a time warp. The result of this was an hours delay. As we got close to the Old City in Jerusalem we were stopped again, and rechecked. Another delay as the soldiers phoned through about some of the identity cards. This is meant to be a half hour journey, but without any real incident it took over three times that.

7/4/07: Ramallah

Meet unemployed workers in the morning, they need computers, and any other help. Any ideas would be welcome. It is possible to bring over second hand laptops. The unemployed get no social security, just sometimes maybe a thousand from each region get 100 dollars a month for 3 months, and then a different thousand. The state used to give a couple of thousand social work for a month, again for three months, but this policy has stopped, and they are trying to get it reinstated. we then went to the Easter religious march through town. This is led by huge Scout Marching Bands, including muslim troops. At the front of one of the bands are pictures of martyrs, who were in the band. All are highly nationay, led by Palestinian flags. (These were the only kind of processions the british used to allow). Then came all the religious dignitaries, on their way to receive the flame from Jerusalem. Now head off to camp for final meeting with the kids, and photo shoot.

Ramallah Visit, June 2003

This diary paints a vivid picture of Tony Richardson's visit to Ramallah in June 2003.