Beurocrats and Olive Oil Soap

Nov. 26

Today we traveled to Nablus and then to Jenin. During our travel we passed through 7 checkpoints and saw on the hilltops where the Romans had built their symbols of conquest, settlement after settlement. From the hilltops, the settlers descend to confiscate farm land, first by burning and uprooting Palestinian crops. It is important to understand that Palestinians are not allowed to farm or build near the settlements. At the entrance to one of the settlements was emblazoned a Star of David, a figure now used in the context of oppression. The village which once had an Arabic name now has a Hebrew one.

On our way to Nablus, our guide Mitri told us that if you do not stop at a checkpoint after being asked, Israeli soldiers will shoot at you.
In Nablus we met with the Palestinian Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). The PGFTU is allied with the AFL-CIO, and is closely linked to the Palestinian political party Fatah (a similar relationship to the AFL-CIO's with the Democratic party). Entering the building we noticed photographs from the 2008 May Day celebration, the worldwide day for decent work. We met with one of the key organizers of the PGFTU, who told us about people fighting to control their electricity, the difficulties of uniting various Palestinian unions.

While we were in the PGFTU, we exchanged pleasantries with a delegation of socialist unionists from Belgium who are working on a petrochemical project, training workers in computer skills and project management.
Next we met with another high-ranking member of the PGFTU, the general secretary Sa'ad Shaher. He welcomed us to the “house of the worker.” The PGFTU then gave each of us kaffiyeh's made of satin, emblazoned with the PGFTU logo. Shaher mentioned “we can see apartheid everywhere, even regarding the source of water, right before your eyes, occupation is everywhere.” Shaher reiterated points previously discussed in other meetings about the crippling unemployment in Palestine, caused in large part by the occupation.

We asked the PGFTU about its supposed lackluster of the campaign to boycott Israeli products. This week, articles have been published about PGFTU's lack of full support for the boycott, and about its ties to the main Israeli union, Histadroot. Shaher stated that the PGFTU fully endorses the boycott.

In closing, the PGFTU mentioned that in January 2010, the PGFTU will be going on a speaking tour of the United States. We offered to host them in Philadelphia. Their topics will be education and training of unionists, health and safety concerns, and the issue of occupation as it affects workers.

Once we left Nablus, we headed to the refugee camp Jenin to meet with the Union of Women Workers. The Union of Women Workers offers a cooperative for local artisans (who make olive oil soap, bags, pottery, wall art, and other goods), and works to offer parents affordable daycare. The union seeks to alleviate poverty for women, which is difficult given the economic conditions. One representative told us that Palestinian women suffer politically, economically, and socially. The Union of Women Workers focuses on handiwork as a means of employing women, though there is hardly a market. They hope to sell their handiwork internationally, especially their olive oil soap (which we bought and have used to great effect). The Union is looking to raise a few thousand dollars to buy a machine for making olive oil soap, which would greatly improve their productivity.

After the meeting we drove through a part of town that Israel had demolished in 2002. The streets had been rebuilt to be wide enough to fit a tank.

That night, a few of the delegation members celebrated Eid in the home of a friend who lives in Ramallah.

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