Thousands of teachers took to the streets of Ramallah despite the checkpoints erected by the PA security across the West Bank in an apparent attempt to limit participation. They chanted for dignity and justice, vowed to continue their strike until their demands of higher wages, better benefits and new representation are met.
For nearly a month, the majority of the West Bank’s 35,000 teachers have been on strike, leaving nearly one million students out of schools.
That discontent, Mr. Thrall said, reflects a lack of hopes for statehood or an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, anger at corruption in the Palestinian Authority, “just basic frustration that there is absolutely no process of democracy, or elections, or a functioning legislature.”
“Palestinians can tolerate a lot of things if they believe they are being led by a national liberation movement,” he noted. Otherwise, “absolutely they feel unwilling to live with all this.”
The teachers’ protest is revitalizing democratic processes and concepts (such as free elections, representation, changing leadership, freedom of assembly and organization) in a society bent under the yoke of one leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, and in which democratic principles and institutions have been silenced, Haaretz adds:
A temporary teachers’ coordination committee was elected to replace the leaders of the official teachers’ union, which is subordinate to the Palestine Liberation Organization. It was appointed in a shadowy process and its loyalty to Fatah and Abbas supersedes its loyalty to the teachers. …..The … demand for democratic representation is growing stronger. The Palestinian Authority leadership refuses to negotiate with the teachers’ elected representatives. Some 700,000 students – 87,000 of whom are preparing for their matriculation exams – are the strike’s main losers.
Trade unions are among the most significant institutions of Palestinian civil society not directly tied to any political party, notes the Solidarity Center, a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.
What is really happening is that the teachers are blowing the whistle on PA corruption… In other words, the striking teachers are exposing the PA as playing Western donors for suckers, writes analyst Khaled Abu Toameh:
They have accused the PA Ministry of Education of wasting donors’ funds and deceiving them by inflating the number of teachers. They claim that the list of employees (about 56,000) ostensibly hired by the ministry contains many fictitious names. These include teachers and administrative workers of the ministry. The teachers also accuse the PA of lying to the donors about their salaries. The information provided by the PA to donors claimed that the PA pays higher salaries to the teachers than the teachers actually receive.
The PA’s Finance Ministry has yet to publish the general budget for the years 2015 and 2016. The last time the budget appeared on the ministry’s official website was in 2014. The striking teachers and other Palestinians say there is something fishy about the Finance Ministry’s failure to make public the annual budget for 2015 and 2016. They call this a lack of transparency.
According to various sources, the donors’ request took PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah by surprise. He has referred the request to the office of Mahmoud Abbas and is now awaiting the president’s personal intervention in the developing scandal.
One report revealed that the PA leadership has formed a secret legal committee, headed by Palestinian official Karim Shehadeh, to prepare a reply to the donors about the discrepancy in the salaries. The committee has been tasked to avoid scandal and ensure that donors do not get to the bottom of the case.