“Where are you; don’t you know what’s going on?”
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“I’m busy with demolitions.”
“Forget the demolitions; checkpoints are surrounding every town.”
“You mean the army still thinks that’s a deterrent?”
“Forget the Jews; all the Palestinian Authority security services set up checkpoints this morning at the exits from the cities and the entrance to Ramallah/El Bireh, to prevent the teachers from attending a demonstration against the failure to honor wage agreements signed with them back in 2013. What have we come to? What have we come to?”
Yesterday, the PA security services set up rings of checkpoints in the Area A enclaves, where Israel allows the Palestinian police to carry weapons. They removed teachers from buses and threatened to confiscate their identity cards. The buses hired to transport the teachers were told to go back home. Taxi drivers were told they would lose their licenses if they drove demonstrators.
Those who did manage to reach the enclave of Ramallah and El Bireh ran into additional checkpoints there and got stuck in long lines of cars that didn’t move. In Ramallah itself, security personnel blocked off the streets between the Palestinian Legislative Council building and the Prime Minister’s Office.
By 11 A.M. yesterday, about 1,000 teachers had already gathered in Mahmoud Darwish Square opposite the Prime Minister’s Office. Hundreds of others were coming by foot from the nearby streets in an unending stream. Slowly, the square filled up.
“We, who can overcome the Jews’ checkpoints, can’t manage to overcome the PA’s checkpoints?” said teachers who came from the Hebron area. “We haven’t seen them setting up checkpoints to prevent the occupation [the Israeli army] from breaking into our villages and houses,” an angry caller said on a local radio station.
The protests and partial strikes resumed about two weeks ago. Ever since the mid-1990s, public-sector teachers have been trying to explain to the PA that their humiliating wages and benefits harm the students and the future of Palestinian society as a whole. Last Tuesday, an estimated 20,000 people attended a teachers’ demonstration in Ramallah. The PA security services arrested about 20 teachers and two principals and released them two days later. The PA’s claim that the demonstration was organized by Hamas was greeted with scorn by the teachers.
On Thursday, an agreement was reached with representatives of the teachers union, which is affiliated with the PLO and dependent on Fatah, the PA’s ruling party. But the teachers rejected the agreement, which wasn’t retroactive. On Saturday and Sunday, mosque loudspeakers broadcast orders to return to school, but the strike continued.
The teachers’ protest has brought more people into the streets than any protest against the Israeli occupation over the past five months, since the uprising of the individuals began. In the permanent temporary situation created by the Oslo Accords, Israel still dictates the dimensions of non-development in Palestinian territory through its control of the borders, of the vast expanse of the West Bank known as Area C and of Palestinian freedom of movement. But responsibility for coping with the impoverishment and unemployment falls on the shoulders of the PA, the buffer between the principal culprit and the people.
The demonstrators know this, but they also see the unfair distribution of the national income, regardless of how low it is due to Israeli restrictions. They see the excessive allocations to the security services, the waste and corruption, the preference given to cronies and the exorbitant salaries of senior officials. They have no expectations of the occupier. But they do have demands of the subcontractor that terms itself a government, a national authority and a liberation movement.
“The PA has gone crazy,” a teacher from Nablus who didn’t manage to get through the checkpoints said by phone. “It and its security services are acting as if the people were the enemy.”