Palestinian workers and youth are on the march


DELAYS in Palestinian Authority employees salaries are unacceptable and government workers’ concerns must not be ignored, a union leader said last Tuesday.

Government employees union director Bassam Zakarneh called on the Palestinian Authority to update workers on the situation and ensure banks, electricity and water companies made concessions for late payments.

The Palestinian Authority labour minister said Saturday that due to the government’s worsening financial crisis, public sector salaries would not be paid on time in July.

Zakarneh said in a statement that the union had not been officially informed wages would be late.

If the PA delays salaries without coordination, then the union also has the right to reduce employees’ working hours without coordination with the PA, Zakarneh said.

‘We don’t hope for that,’ Zakarneh said, adding that the union would wait for the government to invite the union to discuss the issue.

‘We know that the PA has been going through a tough time since its establishment and that the finance minister didn’t come up with any new ideas about this matter.’

If the government had reached its borrowing limit, employees reached their limit months ago, the union official said. ‘We shouldn’t take into account the government’s deficit and ignore the deficit of the employee.’

‘Is the government’s role limited to announcing delaying the salaries without giving an explanation or solutions for employees?’ he added.

Israeli and Palestinian officials said on Monday that Israel had sought a $1 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund for the Palestinian Authority to prevent its financial collapse.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the IMF turned down the request because it did not want to set a precedent of one state getting a loan on behalf of a non-state body.

Palestinian Authority security forces are among those whose salaries will be delayed.

They provide valued cooperation with Israel under the terms of the Oslo Accord.

Meanwhile the people of Ramallah are still discussing last Tuesday’s march through the city against the Oslo Accords.

The demonstration on Tuesday ended without incident but it followed two others that police had violently dispersed.

Palestinians took to the streets to demand a new Palestinian strategy.

It was not clear last Tuesday if the groups organising the last three demonstrations had plans for more.

One factor will be the outcome of an inquiry into the violence of the police, and the Palestinian Authority is urging the public to give the panel a chance to work.

The PA minister of interior addressed a group of journalists on Saturday morning and told them he was serious about implementing any decision taken by the committee.

That protest, by the Palestinian journalists syndicate, was held separately outside the Ministry of Interior.

A number of press freedom groups in Palestine and abroad have blasted the PA over the violence, which followed a series of violations of press freedom in March.

According to a government source, police were under orders to allow the protesters to reach President Abbas’ compound.

‘The streets are open to us today, and that’s the result of a political decision. They realise the violence before made them look bad,’ said Ali Nakhle, a student.

Police have generally stayed away, as the Palestinian Authority seeks to cool tensions after the previous weekend’s violence.

A protest leader says he believes a decision was taken from the top not to intervene this time.

Among the faces at Saturday’s demonstration was Bassam Tamimi, the Palestinian protest leader held for over a year in Israeli custody and released this spring.

Tamimi, a leader in the popular struggle against settlements in Nabi Saleh, said that he was ‘really happy’ to see people protesting and called the youth ‘the hope of our future’ saying ‘we are all here for our rights.’

At a meeting of the Palestinian Authority cabinet last Tuesday evening, ministers affirmed their commitment to freedom of expression ‘in accordance with the law’, an emailed statement said.

It said an investigative committee formed by the interior minister into the violence the previous Saturday and Sunday has already started working and will submit its recommendations to avoid future incidents.

The committee will also ‘hold those involved accountable to any violations of the law.’

Last Saturday’s protest ended back in Manara square after reaching the presidential headquarters without incident.

The origins of this movement of rebellious and revolutionary minded young people who are opposed to the devlopment of a Palestinian bourgeois ruling class was in the 17 February 2011, group of young activists, who gathered in one of Ramallah’s nondescript cafés to plan for a revolution.

Some already knew each other, others didn’t. They initially focused on transferring efforts on social media to action on the ground, with the aim of reigniting the Palestinian street into demanding its rights from the oppressors once again.

This was the overture to the short-lived ‘15 March’ movement, as it was dubbed by the local media after the event that took place on that day last year.

The movement called for national reconciliation and used the rallying cry of ending the Hamas-Fatah division. Large protests took place in Gaza City and in Ramallah, where they were subsequently taken over by Hamas and Fatah supporters and security forces, respectively. Many of the 15 March protesters were roughed up.

The movement petered out relatively quickly, and on the surface it seemed like that was that, just another unsuccessful minor chapter in Palestine’s history of factions, youth groups and political blocs.

Before the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, different activists had contemplated arranging a big event on a particular day.

Hamas’ stronghold on the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority’s control over the West Bank severely stifled freedom of expression and curtailed individual rights, creating a tense atmosphere not unlike that of the state of a would-be ruling class.

Youth activists were determined to break through the mold of autocratic rule by their own leadership.

As the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt emerged, a few solidarity protests were organised by activists in Ramallah. Demonstrators were harassed by the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security forces.

A protest or demonstration couldn’t take place in the West Bank without getting an approval or a license of some sorts from the PA.

At the same time, many Facebook groups and pages against the Fatah-Hamas division and Israeli occupation began to appear, boasting tens of thousands of followers.

Somehow, the date decided on for the protest was 15 March. The two main organising groups with assertive roles were in Gaza City and Ramallah.

Activists in Gaza decided to base the event around ending the division between Fatah and Hamas, which harmed them more than it did the Palestinians in the West Bank.

Two days before 15 March, a hunger strike and sit-in by the youth began at Manara Square in Ramallah’s city centre. Activists got wind of news that Fatah, along with other political parties, was planning to co-opt the event. Therefore, a pre-emptive action was necessary in order to convey the message of the need for PNC elections louder than the parties’ mantra.

Maath Musleh spent 21 days on hunger strike. There were initially nine hunger strikers, but dozens more slept at Manara Square. Some were politically affiliated, others were not.

Musleh achieved seniority in the tent set-up because of his commitment to the hunger strike. The hunger strikers began to form their own dynamics, and pushed forward two more demands: the release of all political prisoners held by Fatah and Hamas, and an end to the propaganda wars implemented by both factions against each other.

Tents were set up in the centres of Nablus, Bethlehem, Jenin and Gaza City.

The groundswell is not just in the West Bank. The 15 May Nakba Day protest commemorating Israel’s 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was coordinated with Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, with some of the protesters succeeding in crossing the borders to Palestine.

Later on in the year, in Haifa, a group with a large followers’ base called Hungry for Freedom originated from the September-October general prisoners’ strike.

‘The right message should be directed to the appropriate place. We need to regain the situation of directly confronting the occupation because that will cost Israel dearly, as well as uniting all Palestinians.’

Regardless of all the accusations of being a failure, 15 March managed to bring the cause back to the rest of the Palestinians. The past year involved an ongoing process of experimentation, always subject to adaptation and evolution.

The street has become a place of expression of people’s interests, and community organising has built awareness and injected Palestinian society with the spirit of volunteerism and resistance that Salam Fayyad’s bourgeois state-building policy managed to corrode. For all of the revolution’s imperfections and trials, Palestinian youth are putting us all back on the course to liberation.