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.



LIFE IS STILL REAL

23 Jun

I have received quite a few questions and comments from friends, family, and the Advocacy Project about the current ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, so I figure I will give you some insights into what appears to be all over the news in the U.S.

Palestinians in the West Bank are very concerned about the plight of people in Gaza. I hear this constantly. Whenever Gaza is mentioned it is always said “they suffer so much more than us.” As I mentioned before, the suffering in Gaza is something that I can’t even imagine. Even the worst things that I have seen thus far have no comparison. In Gaza, as I told you before, 700,000 people are currently unemployed. Gaza only has 1.5 million inhabitants, yetUNRWA estimates that 1.1 million of them are currently dependent on UN food aid. There are whole sections of Gaza that have been living without electricity or running water. Last week, my office in Ramallah had a conference call with our office in Gaza. When I asked my supervisor Raed how they were doing there he said, “In Gaza people laugh so they do not cry.”

Life in the West Bank, life in Palestine in general, is hard. This was one of the first phrases I learned here: الحياة في فلسطين حقيقية

It means life in Palestine is real. In Gaza, life is beyond this. So in regards to the ceasefire, most people I talk to have hope that it means that people in Gaza will be able to live. That they will be able to eat, that their lights will come back on, that they will have water, that their kids can go back to school, that they can get gas for their cars so that they can get to work, that private sector employment will return, that imports and exports will resume.

But ceasefire or no ceasefire, Gaza, and the West Bank, are still Palestinian territories under military control. The future of Palestine is dependent on the goodwill of political entities who are no closer to negotiating a sustainable Palestinian state (with sustainable borders and a plan for freedom of movement both within the West Bank and between Gaza and the West Bank) and who have no comprehensive plans for addressing the needs of the 4,562,820 refugees who live in a constant state of longing
الرغبة في الرجوع
waiting to return to their home.

So in the West Bank, there is hope that the ceasefire will start to alleviate the immediate suffering of the people in Gaza, but life continues to be real. At the DWRC, we advocate for workers rights. We offer training courses and seminars to increase workers skills, we work on legislation to strengthen the social security system for Palestinian workers, we run emergency unemployment programs, we offer free legal aid, we work on legislation to protect the rights of women in the workplace, and design programs to encourage more women to enter the workforce. We build independent labor unions within Palestine, which is exceptionally important because here in Palestine most unions affiliate with political parties and serve political goals. We seek to protect the rights of Palestinian workers employed in Israel, who have to pay Israeli union dues although they receive no benefits from either the union or the Israeli state.

And we work on poverty eradication. This is the hardest part. How do you eliminate a problem over which you have no control? In Palestine, poverty comes from the outside. It comes from the checkpoints that prevent people from getting to work, it comes from the settlements and the wall that takes the farmers’ land, it comes from the Israeli policies that control imports and exports, thus limiting private sector growth, from the policies that have recently limited the ability of Palestinians to get work permits in Israel, yet encourage the immigration of laborers from India, Eastern Europe, and South East Asia. To see the video we made and hear the voices of people suffering from these problems, please watch here:

Posted By Willow Heske

Posted Jun 23rd, 2014