Visit to Palestine - July 2007

18th July

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.

20th July

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.

26th July

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.

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.

27th July
The opening ceremony was held in the Ramallah Cultural Palace. The opening speaker for the new unions, Abdel Hakim Aleyan, said they did not want to carry out factional activity, but to try to advance workers against those who exploit them.
Then National and Islamic Parties PLO Executive member Saleh Rafah said trade unions should ensure political plurality, and he called for unity of unions, but on a democratic basis. He also demanded a state based on 1967 borders, with no
concessions, and called for Hamas to give their arms to Abbas. Hasan Barghouti for the DWRC, facilitators of the conference, called for the protection of "the dignity of the people." Ahmed Tawfiq, the Director of Labour Relations at the Palestinian Ministry of Labour, said that they have relations with all federations, and this one
consisted of real professional unions.

Speaking from Oxford and District Trade Union Council, Tony Richardson welcomed the formation of the new democratic unions, said that democracy was not a choice,and described the bureaucratisation of the long established British trade unions. He called for the new unions to control their leaders, and for them to make sure this
bureaucratisation doesn't happen to them. He said their main support from outside would come from those fighting in their unions against these bureaucrats. Tony also brought support from the National Twinning Network, which would help establish relations with their local counterparts in the UK.

The Conference then moved for their business to the Rocky Hotel. Throughout the day there were constant votes and vociferous discussion. The first issue was how the voting would take place. Some of the unions are quite long established, like the Hebron unemployed, and others very new. Nobody wanted to find themselves voted
down, so there were tensions. After about two hours it was agreed that voting in resolutions would require a two thirds majority; this vote was almost unanimous. It was then agreed that as far as the rest of the constitution was concerned the groups would all give their opinions to a sub-committee, which was then elected. Another
long discussion took place over the name, and it was agreed to keep Coalition, rather than federation. It was agreed that new affiliations would go before the full Executive. There would be a 15 person Executive, and 45 person National Council, the latter on proportional representation according to the size of the union. There were 105
delegates to the Conference. There had been much pressure from political parties and the "official" unions against attendance.

28th July
The National Council met to elect the Executive. Some people had met overnight, and made suggestions for a list. Here all kinds of tensions arose, some insults were exchanged, and a health union delegation walked out. Finally 18 names came up and everybody had 15 votes each, an Executive was elected, and the new coalition was

Some problems:
Gaza, which could not participate, and where there are clearly problems withfunctioning as trade unions;
Women: Only one woman spoke at the conference proper, although one, Khouled Asmar chaired the opening. There are also only three on the Executive. This is clearly a problem reflecting the society, but from my knowledge not so much in some of the unions, so hopefully this will change.I know many strong women in these unions.
Some comments:
This clearly is historic and democratic, these are the reasons for the tensions, they want to form a body that does things, and most of the unions have been on strikerecently, and all are risking a lot, with the occupation, and a violent authority and opposition. Although these unions have only limited experience, this means they are not yet bureaucratised, and so this could be a qualitative development. All praise the DWRC for facilitating this activity, they are trying for moves in this direction in Jordan, and their affiliates also in Egypt. All trade union activists should praise this development, and get connected with their Palestinian counterparts to see if they canbe of assistance. The DWRC website is