PA Sanctions Crush Public Jobs, Compound Electricity Woes in Gaza

Electricity shortages in the Strip continue as thousands of public school teachers, health care workers and other public servants are thrown into job insecurity

A Palestinian woman washes dishes by candlelight in her kitchen in Beit Lahiya, the Gaza Strip in July 2017.
MOHAMMED SALEM/REUTERS

Electricity shortages continue to plague the Gaza Strip, while sanctions imposed on the Strip by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have thrown thousands of public school teachers, health care workers and other public servants into uncertainty about the future of their jobs. 

The inhabitants of Strip have had to make do with less than half the daily supply of electricity that they need – 208 megawatts instead of 500 – which translates into a mere four hours of electricity out of every 24. Israel continues to sell the Strip 70 megawatts a day, but this too falls short of the 120 megawatts it once sold.

Electricity lines from Egypt, which are meant to supply 28 megawatts a day, often break down.The way fuel is transported to Gaza from Egypt does not allow a regular supply to Gaza’s power station. According to a Palestinian source, the Egyptian authorities pledged to a Hamas delegation in Cairo about two weeks ago that they would add electricity lines and supply the Strip with another 50 megawatts.

In July, the Palestinian government in Ramallah announced its intention to impose early retirement on 6,145 public sector employees age 50 and above, who receive their salary from the Palestinian Authority. No date has been set for their retirement, no names have been mentioned or how many employees in each ministry will have to go. The figure represents more than half of the 11,000 public sector employees who continued to work in Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007 and they include essential services such as education and health. Because of the age factor, many of them are officials with seniority and experience, including for example, school principals. 

After the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Abbas demanded that all public sector employees remain at home as a condition for continuing to receive their salary, in the belief, apparently mistaken, that this would lead to the fall of the Hamas government. Now too, the early retirement announcement is a means of pressuring Hamas.

The retirees would receive a monthly pension of between 40 percent and 70 percent of their salaries, depending on seniority, that is, between 1200 and 3000 shekels a month ($332–$830).

After the announcement in Ramallah, the Hamas government interviewed thousands of candidates for the positions that will be opening up, mainly in the education system. But the lack of an official date and names of retirees makes finalizing things difficult. 

Teachers are relatively easy to replace, while finding experienced physicians to take over, especially specialists, is difficult. The Palestinian Health Ministry employs 1,869 doctors, among them about 900 who receive their salaries from Ramallah. 

Some physicians have said they will refuse to take early retirement, so as not to damage further the already weakened health system in the Strip. Doctors who continue to work under Hamas face loss of their pension rights. However, talks are reportedly underway between senior Hamas and Fatah Abbas supporters in Gaza to allow some essential doctors to continue working. 

Palestinian Authority security personnel in Gaza, all of whom are unemployed, have already been forced into starting the process of early retirement. 

These harsh steps are meant to make things difficult for Hamas financially, politically and image-wise. Since the “tunnel economy” collapsed in Gaza after the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Cairo in mid-2013, Hamas has been able to pay only 40 percent or 50 percent of its public sector salaries and has sometimes delayed payment for months. If Hamas now has to hire some 6000 employees to replace the retirees, it will face an additional burden.

Nevertheless, last month, Hamas showed signs that its financial situation had rallied slightly – paying 60 percent of salaries. This was made possible due to additional income from the import of fuel from Egypt for about the last six weeks.

Hamas and Egypt have agreed on the import of about 800,000 liters of diesel fuel for private and public use, about 600,000 liters for the power station, and another 300,000 liters of gasoline for private use. The entire amount has not been able to be transported by trucks from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, a means both expensive and unwieldy, which some believe will not be tenable for long. But meanwhile, Hamas is taxing the fuel at a rate of one shekel per liter, thus insuring itself an income of a few hundred thousand shekels a day (a liter of diesel fuel sells in the Gaza Strip for 4.36 shekels and a liter of 95-octane gas, for 4 4.87 shekels).