Over 100 people gathered to commemorate May Day in the Al Fasaeil Park north of Jericho on May 4. Those present were Palestinian workers and activists from Area C, women residents of East Jerusalem, WAC-MAAN members from the Triangle area, members of Green Course and Israeli friends of the WAC-MAAN Workers Advice Center and Sindyanna of Galilee fair trade organization, which initiated the event. The location, a natural, beautiful forest that serves local Palestinian residents for social occasions, was deemed the ideal place to ease arrival of the Palestinian workers prevented from entering Israel, as well as for the Israelis who are prevented entry into the Palestinian areas.
The message combined the struggle for workers’ rights together with the call to build a just and egalitarian society. Clear support was given to the struggles of the Arab peoples for liberty, primarily those by the Sudanese and Algerian peoples, who recently succeeded in bringing down long time dictators. Additional emphasis was placed on joining the global call to struggle against climate change and for a green and participatory economy.
These two subjects are intertwined. The rapid economic change that results from development of new technologies has far-reaching implications for the working class. On the positive side, technological advancement is capable of improving the situation of humanity and marching the world forward to a more just division of the wealth – in other words, to make lemonade out of lemons. On the other side, however, as long as economic and political power remains in the hands of massive multinational companies and right-wing, nationalistic governments that deny the threat of the ecological disaster, there is real danger. We already see that the lives of the planet’s inhabitants are in many cases a nightmare of natural disasters, we see destruction of the urban fabric, and waves of immigration.
The event commenced with a panel discussion, after which participants divided into five workshops. Both the panel and discussions were accompanied by simultaneous translation to Arabic and Hebrew, allowing every person to freely express herself and himself.
The panel was opened by WAC-MAAN’s Executive Director, Assaf Adiv, who described the work of WAC-MAAN amongst workers, particularly Palestinian workers in the settlements. He noted the struggle to attain a collective bargaining agreement in the NA Metal Industries in Mishor Adumim. If achieved, this will be the second such agreement with Palestinians from the territories who are employed by Israelis. Adiv praised the courageous stance of workers from the Jericho region vis-à-vis their employers. He further noted WAC-MAAN’s participation in the struggle for forging a green and shared economy on both sides of the Green Line, which can present an alternative to the Israeli apartheid regime currently ruling the West Bank.
Wafa Tiara, WAC-MAAN’s coordinator for working women in the Triangle region, began from the fact that when she struggles to integrate women into the workplace, she cannot ignore the violent reality that many Arab women experience in society and the scourge of murder perpetrated on women by their families. “We can only eradicate this plague by removing the ‘social protection belt’ that male murderers receive,” she said. Tiara later referred to the need of female workers to understand the changes taking place in the labour market, and as an example she presented the project of hydroponic agriculture, in which WAC-MAAN women members in the Triangle are involved together with Sindyanna of Galilee.
Mohammad Salah, chairperson of the workers’ committee of NA Metal Industries, related the circumstances which caused the workers to organize, as well as the support they received from WAC-MAAN, which obligated the employer to negotiate with them and prevented arbitrary dismissals of workers active in the organizing. At the end of Salah’s presentation, the WAC-MAAN executive director presented to Salah and to the head of the Zarfati Garage workers’ committee, Hatem Abu Ziadeh, a symbolic pen and small notebook that can easily be put in the pocket of work clothes to enable real time documentation of what is occurring in the factory. Adiv noted the contribution of Abu Ziadeh as a leader active in recruiting new workers, noting that WAC-MAAN promotes leaders in the field and not those who receive benefits and privileges.
Mor Gilboa, Executive Director of Green Course, addressed the organization’s main mission to promote environmental justice that will improve people’s lives. Gilboa said the organization is working intensively in light of the climate crisis, floods and drought that are causing millions of refugees around the world who cannot continue living in their places of birth, noting “Nature knows no national boundaries. Climate change affects those living in Tel Aviv and those living in the West Bank. That is why we have to unite here in the Middle East to build a reality that is better for all of us.”
Odeh Miali, a Palestinian trade union activist from Ramallah, told those present about the joint experience he had over 30 years ago with the main activists of WAC-MAAN and the Da’am party, who were partners in the struggle during the First Intifada. He described the struggle against the occupation as a stage in the building of an Israeli-Palestinian partnership for an egalitarian and democratic society that would provide an equal chance to everyone.
Yacov Ben Efrat, Secretary General of the Da’am party , noted the central slogan of Da’am during the elections – “Green economy – one state”. He noted that climate crisis has a fateful effect on the region and described how years of drought in Syria concentrated hundreds of thousands of refugees in the big cities, without infrastructures and livelihood, which provided the backdrop to the eruption of the popular revolution against the dictatorial and corrupt regime of Assad in 2011. Ben Efrat clarified that in front of the government that is imposing an apartheid regime – meaning for Jews everything and for Palestinians nothing – Da’am demands the establishment of one democratic state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. The green economy is not a fad, he said, but a basis on which to build a new and sustainable society, far from the economy of gaps and corruption. “There is no escape from seeing the Palestinian people as an equal and full partner. We do not demand that the Jews give up anything, but they must stop preventing the Palestinians from enjoying the development of resources.”
In the second half of the event participants divided up into five workshops: 1. Solar energy led by Muhammad Al Helu from Ramallah, an entrepreneur in the field of solar energy and founder of the Palestinian Solar and Sustainable Energy Society in the Palestinian Authority. 2.Hydroponic agriculture, led by Yoav Tamir, who leads WAC-MAAN’s work for development of economic and technological innovation and its assimilation in Arab communities, particularly amongst Arab women. 3. Environmental and Social Crisis in East Jerusalem, led by Att. Mu’in Oudeh and Faten Oudeh, residents of Kafr Aqab, with an emphasis on the neighbourhoods beyond the Separation Barrier; 4. Struggle against climate change by Mor Gilboa, executive director of Green Course, focusing on ways to promote local organizing against destruction of the earth. 5. Promotion of fair trade led by Hadas Lahav and Hannan Manadra Zoabi from Sindyanna of Galilee fair trade organization.
Following the workshops, participants enjoyed a hot meal prepared by members of the Christian Women’s Association of the Jericho YMCA, which for several years has cooperated with Sindyanna in exporting agricultural products from the Jericho area to the British market.
Following are brief reports from three of the workshops:
Solar energy as an engine for economic advancement of Palestinian society
Mohammad Al Helu, a resident of the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, is the founder of the Palestinian Solar and Sustainable Energy Society. The subject was completely new for most of the workshop participants, which included workers – women and men – from Jericho, Jerusalem and the Triangle. Al Helu explained the need to move without delay to renewable energy, built primarily on the sunshine, and which is abundant in the Middle East. Its advantages are numerous: 1. The energy is non-biodegradable as long as the sun shines, and no regime can change it. 2. It does not pollute and allows for reduction in the greenhouse effect that threatens the very existence of humanity. 3. Producing electricity from the sun is much cheaper. 4. It allows any citizen or group of citizens in a building, neighbourhood, village or city to produce electricity independently, to assemble and to transfer surplus electricity from one manufacturer to another that suffers from a lack of electricity. 5. It transforms the consumer into a producer of electricity who enters into an agreement with the electric corporation and sells it surpluses in such a way as to release the electricity market from the control of a monopoly that raises the price of production.
He added that the Palestinian Electric Company produces about one-fifth of the electricity it supplies consumers, and receives the rest from the Israel Electric Corporation. It is clear the Palestinians living under occupation would be happy to end this dependence on the Israeli electric company, but the situation still requires a lot of work. In response to a question by Yaara, a member of Green Course who participated in the workshop, Al Hilu explained the obstacles to the expansion of solar energy production: 1. Unwillingness to invest the initial amount required to apply for a loan from the bank and pay it back over five years, even if payments are convenient. 2. A conservative approach and fear of innovation, as well as a lack of confidence in banks, institutions and the electricity company, and insecurity about their livelihood that will enable them to meet their payments. As an example of the conservative approach, Al Helu told of an attempt to use solar energy to illuminate Wadi Nar – a road connecting Ramallah and Bethlehem which bypasses Jerusalem and greatly extends the journey. It turns out that all the solar panel installations were stolen by local residents, who thus impaired their ability to arrive more safely and quickly from place to place because of misunderstanding or distrust. In conclusion, Al Helu said that unceasing education and public awareness are needed.
Struggle against global warming
In this workshop led by Mor Gilboa, Executive Director of Green Course, Gilboa described the dangers of global warming and noted that in many countries there is an awareness and growth of influential public movements that alter the public’s attitude to the climate crisis. In Israel, Gilboa noted the success of the “People’s Climate March” in Tel Aviv, where 7,000 participants marched this year, the largest since Green Course first began organising the event. Gilboa specifically noted the global awakening of high school pupils leading the fight against global warming and organizing a global pupil’s strike, which will also take place in Jerusalem on May 21. The students will demand a) Promotion of the rapid and just transition to 100% renewable energy by 2030. b) Promotion of a law prohibiting the sale of disposable plastic, as is the case in many countries around the world c) Closure of lanes for private cars and opening of lanes for electric buses. d) Imposition of high taxes on animal products, as the animal food industry is a leading and central factor in the climate crisis and greenhouse gas emissions. e) Teaching in-depth curricula on the climate crisis in all grades 1-12.
Arab women who participated in the workshop told of the neglect and ignorance in their villages. One of the participants related a story about a supermarket owner in her village who burns trash within the neighbourhood , creating smoke and pollution that harm all residents. A high school student from Tel Aviv who participated in the workshop related the deliberations of her and her friends in the last student strike in March, and their decision not to take part in the strike for fear of disciplinary action. She promised that next time she would enlist her fellow students in the strike. (After the May 1st session this young participant indeed convinced her schools’ chief principle to allow his pupils to participate in the strike)
Struggle against the social and environmental disaster in East Jerusalem Attorney Mu’in Ouda and activist Faten Ouda, a couple who live in Kafr Aqab, north of the Qalandiya check point, guided this workshop in which they described the situation in their Jerusalem neighbourhood situated beyond the Separation Barrier. They described it as a living hell, in which residents are forced to live with mountains of garbage. More than 120,000 Palestinian residents live beyond the Separation Barrier, representing some 18% of all city residents, but the budget allocated to them is miniscule. In their distress, residents turned to the courts so the latter would obligate the municipality to provide them with services, including the provision of water, education, environment and culture. Despite several unequivocal rulings, the municipality and responsible government authorities continue to ignore their legal obligations and court orders. When one of the Israeli participants asked why they don’t stop paying taxes to a municipality that does not serve them at all, Attorney Ouda taught her a chapter on the laws of life under Occupation. In East Jerusalem and the neighbourhoods beyond the Separation Barrier, people don’t pay municipal taxes to receive services, but to prove they are Jerusalem residents. Those who fail to prove their residency are denied medical services and national insurance payments.