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.


06 Jul

This past week I took my first real trip to Jerusalem for a meeting with theFriedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation to discuss their support for DWRC and the independent labor movement within Palestine. At the end of August DWRC, with the help of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, will be hosting representatives from the German Trade Unions to discuss strategic support for independent labor unions within Palestine.

The timing of my meeting was particularly interesting, as the International Labor Organization (ILO) had just released a report on The Situation of Workers in the Occupied Arab Territories. While the report was quite comprehensive in assessing the effects of occupation on the labor movement in Palestine, it lacked a critique of the labor movement itself, and failed to address the political alignment of labor unions within Palestine or the domestic difficulties independent labor unions in Palestine have encountered.

Last year, DWRC established the Federation of Independent Unions- Palestine (FIUP), the first independent labor coalition within Palestine. The goal of the FIUP is to increase the collective bargaining power of Palestinian workers by creating a coalition of labor unions that advocate solely for workers’ rights. Because social security and social welfare legislation in Palestine is virtually non-existent, and because the trade unions that currently exist too often serve political rather than social purposes, there is a great need for the union services FIUP can provide. However, in Palestine, as I have too often observed, people have a hard time getting what they need.

Last year FIUP was denied the proper paperwork to establish itself as an independent union, including the documents necessary to establish a bank account, thus rendering its formation ineffective. Although the Palestinian Authority suggested that FIUP reapply for approval in the future, the Ministry of Labor indicated that they would not be approved until the PA passed a new labor law, which has seen no progress in the past year. To the best of my ability I expressed DWRC’s frustration at the current standstill over FIUP’s status, and how until the PA issued FIUP the documents it needs to establish a functioning union the independent labor movement remained tied by internal bureaucracy.

In Palestine everything, both internal and external, is an uphill battle. It’s exceptionally frustrating at times, but it is nice to know that Palestinians aren’t completely alone. The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation assured me that they would do everything they could to advocate for the approval of FIUP, which, inshallah, will happen sometime soon.

Speaking of which, inshallah has become a permanent part of my vocabulary here. I think I used this term quite often when I was home and when I was in Arabic class, but it wasn’t the same. I would say, inshallah I will not fail another Arabic quiz. Inshallah I will finish my wajib so I can go to bed before 3 A.M. Inshallah I will get a seat on the subway. Inshallah I will make it to econ recitation.

I don’t think I really understood inshallah before I came here. So I will tell you some of the things I say inshallah for now.

My colleague at DWRC, Rula, who I was supposed to be working with shoulder-to-shoulder all summer was diagnosed, out of nowhere, with cancer. She was one of Eliza’s favorite, most beloved co-workers at DWRC last summer. In fact, when Eliza first got to Palestine she stayed with Rula’s family. Inshallah Rula will come back to work, but I know this won’t happen.

And my favorite place in Palestine, quite possibly my favorite place on earth, has been living under a military curfew for over a week. Ni’lin has been completely occupied by the Israeli military. All the entrances have been sealed, people cannot leave the village to get to work, shopkeepers cannot open their shops, women cannot buy the necessities they need for the kids who melt my heart. You are not allowed to walk in the streets. Hindi has stayed at his family home in the village to shoot video for Al Jazeera International and network with international media, who have actually been fantastic at drawing attention to the severity of the situation in Ni’lin.

On Saturday my friend Emma and I were allowed entrance into Ni’lin, despite the military curfew. The villagers had planned a demonstration for Saturday at 6 P.M. They had planned to break the curfew to fly 200 Palestinian flags over the construction site of the wall. This never happened. I can’t properly explain what did happen, so I won’t even try. What I will say is that for a long period of time it didn’t look like Emma and I would be leaving Ni’lin, but eventually we did leave and now I just hope we can still go back.

Inshallah, tomorrow a group of us from Ramallah will be allowed to enter the village to bring food relief and medical supplies. Inshallah the people of Ni’lin can have a normal life.

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Posted By Willow Heske

Posted Jul 6th, 2014

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