Willow Heske

Willow Heske (Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center – DWRC): Willow graduated from Rutgers University-Newark with a BA in history. As the daughter of two union workers, Willow strongly believes that labor organizations play a crucial role in forming modern democracies and that unions can provide an important first step towards socio-economic development. At the time of her fellowship, Willow was pursuing a Master’s degree in International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Her concentration was on international security policy with a focus on conflict resolution and modern state formation in Africa and the Middle East. She was also studying the Arabic language.



AHLAN WA SAHLAN

30 May

I am finally settled in Ramallah and I must say that of all the Advocacy Project Fellows this summer I am definitely the luckiest one. I am replacing my dear friend Eliza’s position as a Peace Fellow with the Center for Democracy and Worker’s Rights (DWRC) here in Ramallah. Thanks to Eliza’s work last summer, I have been welcomed with open arms. And thanks to Eliza, I had everything figured out before I arrived. Eliza’s roommate from last summer has arranged almost everything for me. I can’t really explain what it was like to finally meet him. Between endless hours of G-Chat over the past 3 months (which included some much needed help with my Arabic homework) and everything Eliza has told me about him, it was like being reunited with someone I already knew and loved. At the DWRC, everyone wanted to talk to me about Eliza. “Sadeeqa Eliza, Sadeeqa Eliza” (which means Eliza’s friend) is all I heard for the first hour of my first day on Thursday. And so, because I am Eliza’s friend, I have been welcomed with open arms.

But I think Palestinians welcome everyone this way. It is nearly impossible, or at least extremely difficult, for anyone from Ramallah to have met me at the airport in Tel Aviv, or even in Jerusalem, so Eliza’s roommate directed me to ask someone to borrow their phone and call him when I got in to Almanara, which is just minutes from his house in Ramallah. I couldn’t quite imagine someone just giving me their cellphone. But before I even had both of my feet out of the cab in Almanara I was surrounded by six people asking me if I needed help with my bags, if I knew where I was going, if I was hungry, if I needed anything at all. What I really need, I told them, is a phone. Six cellphones were simultaneously thrust at me. This is Palestine. It is home to the most generous people on earth.

I know most of you reading this want to hear about my experience with the checkpoints. I am not going to tell you about it. Regardless of whatever hassle I might have, for me the checkpoints are nothing. At the end of the day my life and my livelihood is not dependent on getting through. For hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers, getting through the checkpoints to go to work means everything. It means the difference of a daily wage, whether they can support their families and offer their children a future. For me, the stakes of being stopped, questioned or detained are not even remotely applicable. My job with the Advocacy Project and with the DWRC is to advocate for these workers, and so it is their experience I will be telling you about.

It just so happens that Eliza’s old roommate is from the village of Nilin. Right now, there are plans to build the separation wall through the village of Nilin, which will confiscate 2700 dunums of the villagers agriculture land and completely surround the village, cutting off Nilin’s access to schools, hospitals, markets, and of course, the majority of jobs. Nilin is a village of 5,000 people, most of whom are employed outside of Nilin. The construction of the wall will seriously jeopardize the economic survival of nearly 30-40% of the workers in Nilin, who are currently employed in Israel.

The village has been organizing all kinds of non-violent protests against the wall for the past two weeks, which included calling for a general strike. Today, which is Friday, we went to Nilin for a demonstration. Close to 300 people prayed on the land that belongs to them, and their fathers before them, and then walked up to the site of where the wall will be built. Along the way, there were black pits of soot from where the Israeli Army has already started burning the olive trees. It is an incredibly difficult situation, there is no good way to describe what the people of Nilin will face if they lose their livelihood to the wall.

But in Palestine, even in the most compromising situations, there is always hope. In Nilin, I made my new best friend, a third grader who attends primary school in Ramallah where her father works. Her English and my Arabic are on the same exact level, and so we sat under a 100 year old olive tree exchanging new words and email addresses. When I got back to Ramallah she had already sent me an invitation to chat. And so, here in Ramallah, in Nilin, in all of Palestine despite everything else there are always these beautiful things, these things, in the words of Darwish, that make life worth living.

Posted By Willow Heske

Posted May 30th, 2014