Abu Samir, a Palestinian government clerk in his 50s, was milling around fruit and vegetable stands in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Monday, thinking twice before approaching them. “I count how many shekels I have in my pocket before going up to a stall,” he said.
He ended up buying cucumbers and tomatoes that he decided to put out the money for, even though they had gone up in price. “I couldn’t get near the fruit. I just don’t have the money,” he lamented.
And Abu Samir isn’t alone. Thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in a number of West Bank Palestinian cities this week over the increased price of basic goods. On Tuesday, another protest is planned in Bethlehem that is expected to attract thousands of people calling for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to intervene to bring down prices.
The price of fruits and vegetables has recently skyrocketed. For example, a crate of eggplants that had been selling for about 30 shekels ($9.40) is now going for 130 shekels. The cost of a crate box of zucchini went up from 40 shekels to 140 and green fava beans went from 15 shekels per kilo (2.2 pounds) to 100 shekels.
As a result, many Palestinians who used to buy vegetables by the crate have now been forced to purchase them in smaller quantities. In recent weeks, the price of milk, soft drinks, gasoline and electricity have also gone up considerably. That affects nearly every Palestinian family since the average wage of West Bank Palestinians is estimated at 1,800 to 2,000 shekels per month.
Palestinian Authority sources attributed the increases to price rises in Israel and said the Palestinian government is in no position to subsidize prices due to its own financial crisis. “The increases are related to the import market and trade agreements, including those with Israel,” one source said.
A senior Palestinian government official attributed the Palestinian Authority’s financial crisis to delays in the transfer of financial aid that had been due to be arriving from Europe and Israel’s partial payment of tax receipts that it collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf. The situation has resulted in pay cuts to government bureaucrats, who have not been paid their full salaries for several years, the source said.
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But such explanations don’t satisfy the average Palestinian on the street. Thousands protested the price hikes under the slogan “We want to live” at a demonstration Monday in the center of Hebron, which is considered the trade hub of the West Bank.
One of the protest organizers, Mohammed Abu Srur, told Haaretz that the call to take to the streets came from the bottom up. “Bethlehem has been paralyzed for almost two years due to the coronavirus and its implications on tourism, and now we need to deal with a wave of price increases like this,” he said.
“They tell us that it’s all over the world, but we aren’t like the rest of the world. We are living under occupation and under a large number of limitations. On one hand, there’s no livelihood or income and on the other hand, there are price increases of tens of percent.”
In an effort to address the demands of the protesters, the Palestinian economy ministry has announced that it has approached the dairies and producers of dairy products asking them to absorb the increased cost of raw materials to head off price rises, at least until after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts at the beginning of April.
But that hasn’t convinced many Palestinians, who intend to continue to demonstrate. As one Hebron resident put it, “We’re only going downhill, and the government is having a hard time providing answers.”