Visit to Palestine - April 2011

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".

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.