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.


05 Jun

I have only been at work for a week and I already feel like I have done more than I do all semester (Arabic homework excluded). The DWRC is working on so many projects right now that there is very little time to bring me up to speed on everything. Rather, I have been thrust right in the middle of the Palestinian policy debate regarding occupation, economics, organizing, and labor rights.

My first day started out with assisting in the finalization of an open letter to be submitted to the UN High Level Conference on World Food Security. Dr. Hamdi, Coordinator of Legal Research at DWRC, is also the Director of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) in Palestine. In Palestine, food relief is not enough. Eradicating the food insecurity problem will only come through the change in the policies that have created it. Poverty and food insecurity in Palestine is not due to production. Palestinians are more than capable of taking care of themselves but are limited in their ability to achieve this because of the effects of living under occupation. Agricultural production and access to markets in Palestine is dependent on Israeli policies, and food insecurity stems from this systematic separation of Palestinians from their fertile land.

This past week, I attended two meetings the DWRC held with US based groups visiting Palestine to assess the situation on the ground and learn more about the contributions DWRC has made to eliminate unemployment, organize, and train the Palestinian work force. In both meetings, the groups were really shocked to hear how the standard of living, if you can even call it that, in Gaza has deteriorated. In the US, all our news about Gaza is politically motivated and doesn’t properly explain the humanitarian crisis there.

The DWRC has an office in Gaza, but everyone in my office in Ramallah keeps telling me how our colleagues there have their hands tied. Many of our colleagues in Gaza are unable to get to work. Due to the Israeli closure of Gaza’s borders, and the complete shut down of exports and imports, Gaza hasn’t received a fuel shipment since April 2, 2008. My supervisor, Carine, told me that people are running their cars on cooking oil, which has serious environmental ramifications, and as a result you need to wear a mask or cover your mouth when you walk down a crowded road. In the past, DWRC has run emergency unemployment projects in Gaza, but because of the Israeli siege, the DWRC cannot properly plan or implement any projects in Gaza to organize unemployed workers or alleviate the suffering there. This past year, 95% of the private sector closed down due to the inability to import raw materials for manufacturing, and then export a finished good. In Gaza, 700,000 people have lost their jobs. Over 1 million are dependent on UN food relief.

Here in Ramallah, which can sometimes feel like a bubble, it is hard to imagine this. Ramallah is a bustling society with markets everywhere you turn. There are tons of construction sites and beautiful buildings and views and tons of people who are just as busy as me. When I get home from work, there are always elaborate dinner plans that include all of my roommates, their friends, and tons of conversation and laughter. There is also an abundance of laptops, digital cameras, and other electrical devices in our living room, and everyone is always confused about which electrical cord belongs to who.

Yesterday my roommate Anan bought me a baby bunny. On the corner by our house they sell rabbits for consumption, which shouldn’t bother me at all, except for the fact that I had a pet bunny as a child, and ahibtu arnaaby ktheeran (I loved my bunny a lot). So now, in addition to several roommates and friends, and tons of electrical appliances for communication and information facilitation, our house contains Mish Mish Ahmadinejad, my black and white baby bunny.

With Mish Mish in my lap, we discussed the potential sustainability of a rabbit farming project in Gaza. They are definitely easy to grow, multiply quickly, and provide adequate nourishment. But we identified two problems: there is not enough produce to feed people, much less the bunnies, and then there is the problem of getting the bunnies in. Even bunnies as cute and harmless as Mish Mish are turned away at the border into Gaza.

Posted By Willow Heske

Posted Jun 5th, 2014

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