Opinion |

When Fury at the Occupier Is Futile, Palestinians Turn to Our Subcontractor

A Palestinian Authority minister dared criticize the leaders of the movement against the Social Security Law. It’s hard to describe the uproar that ensued

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Demonstrators in Ramallah against the Social Security Law hold up a sign that reads "My salary is red."
Demonstrators in Ramallah against the Social Security Law hold up a sign that reads 'My salary is red.'Credit: Nasser Nasser/AP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The seven Palestinian enclaves solution proves yet again how brilliant Israel's control strategy is. Rather than the Palestinians waging an organized, ongoing popular struggle against the colonial-settler power that threatens to wipe them out as a people (us), they are demonstrating en masse against our subcontractor (the Palestinian Authority) and against the law that is supposed to ensure their future: The Social Security Law, which is based on the principle of social solidarity.

Forget about the blockade on Gaza and the weekly March of Return protests: These are not generating any solidarity actions outside of Facebook for those who reside in the West Bank enclaves. Nor is the accelerated expulsion, with the High Court’s seal of approval, of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem, getting the public caged in their enclaves very worked up. The Jerusalem that is behind the walls and the bans on free movement is more invisible than the moon. And just as accessible.

>> Read more: Abbas will have a hard time ignoring the social protests in the West Bank | Analysis

And what about the Israeli outposts that keep sprouting up around the cages, outposts whose clear purpose is to run the Palestinian farmers and shepherds off their land? That’s in Area C. Far from the imagination and consciousness of most residents of the reserves.

Even the shock caused by the images of Israeli prison personnel and police preparing to wage an assault on prisoners in Ofer Prison only brought a few hundred people out to protest. Just a few hundred answered the call last Tuesday from representatives of the traditional political organizations and gathered in several cities with symbolic cloth masks to protect against tear gas. Most were anyway relatives of the prisoners or political activists paid by the month.

By comparison, last Wednesday in Ramallah, many more heeded the call of the movement against the Social Security Law to show solidarity with the prisoners. It was a brilliant move and the first of its kind by the organizers of this new movement, which is criticized by some for not focusing on Palestinian national causes. They demonstrated empathy for the prisoners and at the same time showed that their spontaneous movement is more authentic and potent than the traditional political organizations (that are under the PLO umbrella).

Demonstrators take the streets in Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/Reuters

When people come out to demonstrate in the main cities against a Palestinian Authority law but don’t march in the hundreds of thousands to the checkpoints or the offices of the all-powerful Civil Administration, they know what they're doing. The Palestinian public is demonstrating where it feels it has the ability to affect things – on internal matters between it and the PA. And in places where the Israeli military won’t open fire and kill, as it killed unarmed civilian demonstrators in Gaza. It's because the people want to live.

Such was the case three years ago with the impressive movement of governmental school teachers who demanded the right to democratic representation. Ultimately, and despite public sympathy the teachers had gained, Fatah’s security and political apparatuses put down the movement with threats and clever tactics.

But in 2018, the movement against the Social Security Law came together. The opposition to the law is an expression of a profound lack of trust in the Palestinian Authority, in its transparency and in the purity of its aims and actions. After all, at a time when the U.S. has ceased its donations to the PA, every opponent of the law is certain that the PA will seize the allocations to the social security program to balance the deficit in its budget.

Private sector workers have two main allies that the security services and the Fatah movement know they cannot subdue with their usual tactics: These are the large extended families, mainly in Hebron – which also own small and midsize businesses, and the owners of the big companies and businesses. The movement that opposes the law is continuing to demand that the law be revoked, despite it having already gone into effect: The movement declared a general business and trade strike that will take place this coming Tuesday throughout the West Bank. Employers’ support here is vital.

Nearly two weeks ago, Local Governance Minister Hussein al-Araj was caught criticizing the law’s opponents during a public debate. He claimed that one of the movement’s leaders lives in the Kiryat Arba settlement. It’s hard to describe the uproar that ensued. The big families in Hebron were furious and protested this accusation and the clear implication of involving collaborators. Fatah in Hebron called for the minister’s resignation and rumors later spread that he had resigned. The minister apologized for offending anyone and Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said he would form a committee to investigate the reported statement. These reactions show just how much the politicians fear the families of Hebron – a bastion of social conservatism but also a symbol of continuity and stability.

What does the broad opposition to the law tell us? What does the identity of the opponents say, beyond the suspicion that the PA intends to seize control of the money? The public at large does not believe that the institutions of the PA and the law that was inspired by the philosophy of advanced welfare states will genuinely ensure people’s futures in the form of pensions, old age stipends and maternity leave. The public would prefer to keep relying on what has always served as a social safety net – the extended family. So it was in the time of the Turks and the British, before the State of Israel, so it was after 1967, pre-Oslo and post-Oslo, and so it will be no matter what other upheavals await.

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