Opinion: Seeing the reality of life in occupied Palestine

Visiting the West Bank with an international trade union delegation was inspiring and motivating to campaign and fight for justice for Palestinians

Christina McAnea with the international trade union delegation to Palestine

By UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea

Travelling from Amman in Jordan to Ramallah the administrative centre of the Palestinian West Bank, as I did recently, gave me a first-hand view of the grim reality of being in an occupied territory.

I was there in the last week in May as part of an international trade union delegation, at the request of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), pictured above.

It was the first time all eight international union federations had come together, representing over 200 million workers across 170 countries.

I was there as part of Public Services International (PSI) along with PSI general secretary Daniel Bertossa.

We all travelled in a minibus through a mountainous desert landscape, passing the Jordan River, through Jericho to Ramallah.

We saw many Israeli settlements on high ridges, distinctive because of the protected barriers and telecoms masts.

The Israeli presence is everywhere in the West Bank. It is clear that the Israeli government controls all the borders, all the roads, movement of people and goods as well as money and even the flow of water.

Roads are closed and checkpoints appear at will, making life difficult for ordinary Palestinians.

While there, we met ministers and President Abbas from the government of the Palestinian Authority run by Fatah. Gaza is controlled by Hamas.

The president was clear “we are against killing civilians, whatever their background”.

He condemned the killings on 7 October 2023 and the devastation and death toll inflicted on Gaza and in the West Bank. He asked for the trade union movement’s support in getting recognition for the State of Palestine.

I also met Palestinian workers, including those providing public service, and hearing about their daily lives and challenges had a huge impact. Workers only get paid for 2-3 days per week as there is no money for public services, while they face daily challenges in just moving around.

Everyone told stories of journeys of just a few kilometres taking hours because of Israeli checkpoints, and described the fear and worry about their families and friends in Gaza.

Everyone spoke of the need for help in rebuilding Gaza and supporting those still there.

All of the union federations are calling for an immediate and lasting ceasefire alongside increased aid.

But, daily life, of course, often comes down to simple things. I spoke to a public service worker from the Jenin refugee camp and his dream was for a night where he didn’t worry about Israeli soldiers coming into the camp and for a small patch of ground where he could play safely with his children. Such modest dreams yet so out of his reach.

On my return journey to Jordan, at the border crossing, this was once again under the scrutiny of Israeli guards – even though this is not Israel but Palestine.

I felt inspired and motivated, more than ever, to campaign and fight for justice for all Palestinians.