In August 2023, a delegation of seven union officials and labour lawyers undertook a week-long study tour through Palestine. The tour was hosted by the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (APAN) and Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the global justice organisation of the Australian union movement.
I was wearing two hats on the tour: both as a union officer working at Victorian Trades Hall Council in Melbourne, but also as an elected board member and honorary secretary of Union Aid Abroad, a new role for me but one that brings me great joy – I’m an internationalist to my bones.
The study tour took us through Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nablus and Ramallah, as well as villages and towns through the West Bank. We met with unions ranging from the ITUC-affiliated and internationally recognised Palestinian General Federation of Trades Unions and their counterpart, the Histradrut (Israeli union peak body); through to the tiny, newly-formed WAC-MA’AN union in Israel organising Palestinian workers in the Israeli industrial zones.
Travelling through the West Bank, it is impossible not be hit in the face by the endless military presence, the foreboding giant concrete wall that looms over you, the threatening checkpoints, the expanding (and again recognised by Australia as illegal) Israeli settlements, and the apartheid state in front of you.
Women’s cooperative as glimmer of hope
A highlight of the trip was visiting a women’s cooperative in a village not far from Ramallah, which receives APHEDA funding to support the collective of women to grow and manage their own produce for sale. The women have overcome challenges ranging from sexism in their community (a neighbour blocked the road to their crop farm, and it remains blocked) to access to water, supplies and storage facilities. But the women were truly mighty and fierce, and despite language barriers, it was clear our 2 groups meeting brought a touch of international solidarity as we laughed: when it came time for photos, the women put their fists up in the air before I even suggested it.
The women work with a Palestinian NGO, MA’AN Development Center (different to the union mentioned above), who provide training and support, for example on collective decision-making in cooperatives. MA’AN is one of Palestine’s largest national NGOs and proudly APHEDA contributed their first $50,000 over 30 years ago when they were just getting set up. They now have over 200 staff working across West Bank and Gaza.
Aid as solidarity
Australia’s international aid program under the relatively-new Labor Government has a specific agenda, and with that comes a focus on nearest neighbours, the Indo-Pacific region. Palestine, in West Asia, is a long way from this. Africa and the Middle East will continue to rate as locations for Australian aid, but they are definitely feeling second tier right now in terms of priority.
That said, after years of cuts from the Liberals, Minister Penny Wong and Pat Conroy, as International Development Minister, has restored and indeed increased funding in Palestine which is huge positive step forward. Aid programs though, axed under the Liberals, are yet to be restored and an internal departmental review of our aid in the West Bank and Gaza is currently underway. I urge Labor to restore aid development programs in Palestine – this is what our solidarity can and should look like.
Political solidarity is important too, and although a commitment to recognise Palestine as a state sits on the books for ALP national policy, a timeline to when that will happen seems ever elusive. The policy passed again through national conference last month uneventfully, which seems a sign of the times, and the normalcy of it: some 140 countries have already recognised the state of Palestine.
Language matters and the words we use in international diplomacy matter. We might seem insignificant down under, but particularly for Palestinian-Australians, who often hide their roots as they go about their daily life, how we talk about Palestine matters deeply – and sharing stories of what I saw in Palestine is another, final piece of solidarity too.
Danae Bosler is a life-long unionist, member of the APHEDA Committee of Management and Chief of Staff at Victorian Trades Hall Council