Teachers, Police Clash Outside Labor Court Hearing

A confrontation broke out between police officers and striking teachers demonstrating outside the National Labor Court in Jerusalem yesterday, as deliberations over the state's request that the court send the high-school teachers back to work stretched into the late evening.

More than 100 teachers protested outside the court yesterday.

At around 9 P.M. one demonstrator moved a police barricade slightly, and in response the officers arrested him using force, teachers said. Dozens of teachers poured into the street and blocked traffic after that.

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 and finance ministry 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 this."

The courtroom erupted, bringing the proceedings to a halt for several minutes.

Erez returned to the demonstrators outside, telling them, "The Education Ministry crossed the line. It's a black day for the education system. We will not forget and we will not forgive Education Minister Yuli Tamir for treating Israeli teachers this way. There will be no dialogue with that woman. She betrayed the teachers. She is worse than [her predecessor] Limor Livnat.

"If we are being beaten outside and they want to return us to work using court orders, we will give them a fight. Up to now we've behaved politely, we haven't burned tires or blocked roads, but the government is behaving like cannibals with us," Erez continued. If back-to-work orders are issued, "The fight won't be over," Erez said.

"Each one of you is a soldier," he told the demonstrating teachers, "our methods will be different and maybe they won't love us."

Teachers at the scene expressed their solidarity.

"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 advance 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 tomorrow night. If no agreement is reached by then, the state will seek back-to-work orders for all 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 teachers two alternatives: If they join the first stage of the reform in secondary education, they will receive a raise of 8.5 percent, in exchange for one to three additional work hours each day. Alternatively, they can maintain their current terms of employment and receive a 5-percent raise.

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 issue must be taken up in 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 instruction hours cut over the past several years.

"The only issue standing in the way of ending 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.