Police, Teachers Clash, Halting Labor Court Hearing on Strike

At least one protestor arrested; J'lem teacher: I never thought I'd see police beat teachers like this.

At least one person was arrested Thursday evening as police clashed with striking teachers outside the National Labor Court in Jerusalem, temporarily halting the court's hearing on the current crisis in negotiations between teachers and the government.

More than 100 teachers were demonstrating outside the court when, according to the teachers, one demonstrator moved a police barricade slightly and was arrested by force. Subsequently, dozens of teachers poured into the street and blocked traffic.

Secondary School Teachers Association Chairman Ran Erez, who was inside the courthouse, joined the demonstrators when he heard about the incident. He returned a few minutes later, with an angry outburst for Education Ministry and treasury officials.

"It's all because of you," he shouted at Education Ministry Director General Shlomit Amihai and Finance Ministry wages director Eli Cohen. "Because of you teachers are being beaten now. Now the attempt to handcuff the teachers begins," Erez said.

Amihai responded: "We're not the ones who are responsible for the situation."

The heated confrontation brought the proceedings to a halt for several minutes.

"I came to demonstrate tonight because maybe the prime minister, who lives nearby, will realize that the education system isn't functioning, that society is collapsing, and that this is more important than Annapolis," a Jerusalem high school teacher outside the courtroom said.

"Back-to-work orders are not the way to get us back to school," another Jerusalem teacher, Alexandra Hadar, said. "For too many years we've been working in accordance with the dictates of morality and responsibility. We are not the enemy, the treasury is the enemy, it prevents the advancement of education."

Regarding the incident outside the courtroom, Hadar said, "I didn't believe I'd ever see police officers beating teachers so violently."

Representatives of the State Prosecutor's Office had offered to conduct intensive negotiations with the teachers' union through Saturday night. If no agreement is reached by then, the state will ask for back-to-work orders for all the striking teachers. In its response to the court, the state indicated that more than 3 million classroom hours have been lost due to the strike.

The state is offering two alternatives to the teachers: If they join the first stage of the reform in secondary education, they will receive a raise of 8.5 percent (in exchange for between one and three additional hours each day). Alternatively, they can maintain their current terms of employment and receive a wage hike of 5 percent.

The teachers argue that the state is not their direct employer, and since the Union of Local Authorities is not party to the latest request for back-to-work orders, the requests must be taken to the various district labor courts. They also say that the government is continuing to avoid giving a straight answer to the teachers' demand for a reduction in class sizes and the restoration of tuition hours cut over the past several years.

"The only issue standing in the way of an end to the strike is how much money the government is willing to invest in ending the dispute. The government has money and it's a matter of priorities," a representative of the teachers said during the session.