Mohammed Arafat | 17-04-2018
“I’ve become a beggar! The supermarket, the baker and the grocery need money from me since I haven’t been able to pay them for days now.” That was the lament of Ahmed Kahlout when he and the other approximately 55,000 Gaza employees of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) did not receive their pay this month. “I have no other source of income. I will die along with my six kids without any way to support my family.”
When Hamas seized Gaza during a battle with the competing Fatah party in 2007, the PA ordered its employees to stay home rather than work for the new government. But to retain their loyalty, it continued to pay their salaries. That is, until recently. In April 2017, the PA cut their salaries by 30 percent as it began ratcheting up a campaign to stir unrest against its rival. And this month, they didn’t receive their pay at all. Payments only were received for retired military personnel.
On March 19, Abbas announced he would take legal and financial measures to further tighten the screws against the population of the Gaza Strip as a way of forcing Hamas to give up control, but Egyptian authorities reportedly stopped him from declaring it a renegade territory. And Abbas claims the lack of payment this month was due to “technical problems.” Still, the speculation among the disenfranchised PA employees is that Abbas is moving ahead to strangle the population to punish against Hamas.
"Salaries were paid into banks in the West Bank but not in Gaza," said Arif Abu Jarad, head of the union representing PA employees in the Gaza Strip."There is a state of anger among staff in the Strip."
Will the salaries be restored? And if not, why would PA President Mahmoud Abbas destroy the loyalty of his (until now) dedicated employees?
“We have families and we buy goods,” speculated Gaza PA employee Abdul Majeed Watfa. “If we can’t buy food and clothes, the economy is hurt and ultimately that hurts the Hamas government. It also produces a lot more angry people.”
Sumaya Majed, another PA employee, agreed that “Abbas is trying to put pressure on Hamas, so it will hand over the Strip. But he’s not really punishing Hamas; we’re the ones who are punished!”
If cultivating a backlash against Hamas is indeed Abbas’ goal, it’s not achieving the desired effect. The PA employees in Gaza now are as angry at Abbas as they are at Hamas.
“Why would the president cut our wages when we are the only ones supporting him in Gaza? He shouldn’t touch our salaries because they are our rights,” stormed PA employee Mohammed Abu Namous.
“The big ass [Abbas] is punishing us because of the failure to reach an agreement with the terrorist Hamas,” bluntly stated Mohamed Hassan, a longtime PA employee who was born in Lebanon but moved to Gaza just after the signing of the Oslo Accord, signaling what he thought would be a more peaceful period. “I ran out of food, gas and money over two weeks ago and I have five children to feed. Abbas and Hamas are both destroying our life.”
Jamal El-Khodary, head of the Popular Committee against the Siege and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, called the salary cuts illegal. “Differentiating between PA employees based on residency or loyalty is dangerous. It's discrimination and tears apart the social fabric," he warned.
The nonpayment of salaries is just the latest in a series of sanctions imposed by the PA since last summer, including reducing financing for electricity supplied by Israel to Gaza and reducing the number of exit permits for residents needing medical treatment in Israel or the West Bank.
There still are a few PA employees who support Abbas because they say drastic actions are needed to topple Hamas—even if it hurts the people too. For example, Mona Elyan insisted Abbas should have taken these steps years ago since “they will solve the whole Palestinian-Palestinian division. Gaza needs a big change, and I believe cutting salaries is such a big change that will put an end to every problem in the Strip [which she blames on Hamas].”
But Elyan is unusual. Once their own salaries were cut, most PA employees no longer supported Abbas. In fact, a group of PA employees gathered for a protest recently in Gaza City’s Al-Nasser Street, closing it down. Mohammed Saa’d, also a PA employee, said cutting salaries altogether would destroy his life completely, since he supports three children in university and others in secondary school.
“My son and two daughters in university will surely be forced to stay at home if I don’t get my salary next month too. Their future depends on my salary. I have no one to complain but to God,” Saa’d said angrily.
Sumaya Khalil, who waited in vain at the Palestine Bank in hopes of receiving her salary, agreed, saying a total cut of her pay would be the “end of my damned life. Cutting it by a third already meant I didn’t have enough for me and my family.”
Posted: April 17, 2018
Mentor: Pam Bailey