This morning the delegation met with the PLO executive committee member, Saleh Ra'fat, at the offices of his party, the Palestine Democratic Union (FIDA). Mr. Ra'fat reiterated many of the points outlined at previous meetings, especially pertaining to the impact of the occupation. Ra'fat elaborated on the points of Gaza and East Jerusalem, stressing the importance of East Jerusalem in any comprehensive peace. Another UN Resolution has been proposed, endorsed by the Palestine Democratic Union, reaffirming previous resolutions pertaining to the Palestinians' right of return, and their right to live in freedom. This resolution will also include a demand for the end of settlement building.

Looking to the future, Mr. Ra'fat plans to discus the new UN resolution to all the international committees of the UN and to FIDA's contacts in the US, so as to encourage the resolution's impact.

After the meeting, we met with the Independent Youth Union (IYU) which organizes young people between the ages of 12 and 35. Three members of this student and youth group discussed their programs with us and we had an opportunity to engage in a rich discussion on the similarities and struggles of youth all over the world.

The IYU membership is comprised of FIDA party members as well as those that are politically independent. The IYU, with 5,000 members at 7 universities, is comprise of a general Secretary, branches, and branch secretaries. Each branch has its own activities that are specific to their situations. The organization has three levels: freedom seats for students between 12 and 15 years old, a student office for university students, and IYU General for graduates and those who are not attending university. The IYU develops civic and political programs with the intent to improve conditions for Palestinian youth.
According to the IYU, the youth in Palestine face unique problems under the Israeli occupation. The checkpoints, numbering in the hundreds, make traveling even short distances difficult. Because of this, according to IYU, many university students are forced to relocate to their college town, frustrating the tight-knit family structure and putting additional financial strain on families. This strain is added to the barely-affordable tuition costs, which rise every year at the demand of greedy administrators. Education is of tremendous importance to Palestinians, with 92% of the population pursing some form of higher education, and the youth see education as a tool of struggle against the occupation.

Unemployment in Palestine is rampant, and students find it nearly impossible to find work. Average salaries are low, especially compared to the cost of living, and most must take a loan from the bank in order to live. The dire economic situation is in part caused by the occupation, which brings with it restrictions on commerce and a whole host of other issues.

One initiative that the IYU is pioneering is a census to determine the nature of the Palestinian job market, the levels of unemployment, and the interests of Palestinian graduates. IYU seeks to bring together companies, investors, and youth in order to find a solution to the problems of unemployment in Palestine. Because recent graduates find it tremendously difficult to find jobs, many leave Palestine. This initiative will hopefully be able to direct students to a field of study with a robust job market, and thus alleviate the problem of unemployed youth.

Other initiatives include programs for university students, such as supplying textbooks and putting pressure on universities to offer financial aid. Already 12 scholarships have been granted for study abroad in Cuba and Italy, with potential for Algeria in the future.

IYU supports student direct action. Examples in the past have included strikes against increased tuition costs. Teachers at Palestinian universities, whose salaries are meager, have also gone on strike and have stood in solidarity with the students. The IYU is trying to unite students beyond political divisions in order to become a more powerful voice against university bureaucracies.

The IYU conducts workshops focusing on democracy, socialism, secularism, and combatting the cultural and psychological inheritances of the occupation. These are the main values they work on, and while there are objections to this approach, the students find that it resonates with their situation. Cultural values include: how to help the elderly, how to struggle against occupation, how to stand up for your rights as a worker, and how to embody forgiveness.
Leadership development is integral to the movement. The IYU has institutionalized a self-sustaining process that develops leadership skills and prepares new youth to replace those that age out of the organization.

The IYU has membership in both the West Bank and Gaza. Members in the West Bank have only fax, telephone, and email to communicate with their comrades in Gaza. Members in the West Bank participate in campaigns of solidarity with Gaza, such as demonstrating against Israeli aggression and sending material aid. The IYU fully supports the boycott of Israeli goods, and adopts a similar economic perspective to the Federation that a boycott would divert money from Israel to the local Palestinian economy.

The IYU holds a national conference every January, during which their leaders are elected. Their motto is “change ourselves before we change society.” As such, the IYU strives to have equitable representation among their leadership.

The IYU seeks to build bridges with similar organizations abroad. One next step for the IWW is to connect the IYU with student groups, particularly those who are working towards divestment from Israel. More workers are fighting for permission to go into Israel. Workers in Israel are suffering,
After the IYU we held a meeting with the General Workers Union (GWU) of Palestine which organizes construction, public service, health, textile, print media, education, and agricultural workers. The GWU has ten branches, and in the Gaza Strip alone the GWU organizes 14 unions. The GWU also has branches in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Kuwait and Oman (and all are made up of Palestinian refugees). One of the GWU's main focuses is East Jerusalem, where they are struggling to defend human and workers' rights.
The GWU works to educate and rehabilitate workers, in part by lobbying the labor ministry for vocational training services.. In Palestine there are no unemployment benefits, and because the unemployment rate is so high (40% in the West Bank and 75% in Gaza) many families are suffering. The government also does not provide health coverage, and issue the GWU is striving to remedy. This year, more than 300,000 Palestinians received health insurance from a program pioneered by the GWU. Another labor law that BDS wishes to see enacted is a program to create jobs for handicapped workers.Because of the war in Gaza, many people became handicapped.

The main goals of the GWU are to organize workers into unions, and to educate unionists about the labor law and other laws. The GWU is now focusing on health care and negotiations with the Palestinian Authority about laws protecting workers. GWU is also looking forward to developing relationships with friends in Arab countries and to develop projects together with allies in America and other countries.
According to GWU, because Palestine is not an independent state, Palestinians have little power. Members of the boycott, divestment, sanctions movement see it as a civil struggle against Israeli occupation. Peace organizations inside Israel must struggle with us. The GWU has relationships with peace activists in Israel, and believes that grassroots pressure must be applied to Israel. The GWU is calling on friends and unions from all over the world to support their struggle.

According to GWU, though it is difficult for Palestinians to work in Israel (because it is forbidden) many do out of necessity, because there are not enough jobs to be found in Palestine. According to GWU, Palestinians who travel to Israel to work must pay special taxes, but do not benefit from any of the government programs that Israelis do. For BDS, the success of such a measure depends on Palestinian workers groups working inside Israel. Have lawyers to help with cases, but their power is limited. 5 workers have been killed and 30 wounded because they crossed the border illegally into Israel, because the driver was being chased by police and got into an accident.

When we were leaving, a member of the GWU invited us “to meet again when we celebrate the independence of the Palestinian state.”


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