Safety for ordinary people – even in Palestine

A blog post by Cyrene Martinsson Waern, international secretary of LO Sweden, on her direct experience of the terrible reality in Palestine.

Last 25-26 January, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop for young Palestinian trade union leaders in Ramallah, which was held in the frame of a joint project between the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), LO Sweden and the Olof Palme International Centre.

The first day went very well. We discussed trade union matters such as minimum wages, women’s opportunities in the labour market, the right to organise, organisational health and safety. Everyone was very motivated and taking part actively.

But on the second day, Palestine’s reality invited itself to the workshop and reminded us of how difficult Palestinians’ everyday life can be...

It was the morning of the 26th of January. We had kicked off the day with an exercise on ways to talk to employees about the reasons for organising in a union. Suddenly, a participant left the session. One could immediately feel how the atmosphere in the room was gradually changing as more and more participants started to pick up their phones. Updates were coming from the city of Jenin in the West Bank. Israel launched an attack. Nine Palestinians were killed. Tear gas was thrown into a paediatric ward. The events led to the announcement of a national mourning and a general strike.

We had no choice but to stop the workshop. Everyone’s mind was somewhere else. Three participants were from Jenin. One of them was trying to reach his family unsuccessfully. Those who were from other cities were worried too. They knew from experience that the riots could spread. They also knew that they could get stuck at the checkpoints on their way home – another reminder of everyday life in Palestine…
Israel’s attack in Jenin risked triggering a spiral of violence. It could be followed by retaliatory actions from violent extremist organisations who are tapping into the desperation of young men who are lacking faith in the future.

Indeed, the night following the attack turned out violent. Seven people were shot dead outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem.

It can be difficult for an outsider to understand the reality Palestinians live in. And yet, the aspirations of Palestinian women and men are not much different from those of workers around the world: a peaceful life, with decent jobs that provide for daily expenses, and the opportunity to move freely in and outside of your country.
The world cannot quietly look the other way while the violence continues. It must demand compliance with international law and Israel must respect it!

Through union solidarity, trade unions play an important role in supporting Palestinian workers’ fight for better working and living conditions, democracy, and freedom. The right to freely organise for decent working conditions is one of the pillars of human rights and contributes to a more equal and democratic society.

The world cannot turn a blind eye to what is happening in Palestine. Safety for ordinary people – even in Palestine!