Teachers listen to Hamas
Debilitating the educational and health sectors in Gaza is Fatah's new strategy for bringing down Hamas -- a strategy that is failing and will likely backfire, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Click to view caption|
Palestinian youth watch a boat carrying foreign peace activists leaving Gaza last Thursday
Amer Boreik, 42, came back to his home in Al-Maghazi Refugee Camp in Gaza at dawn, just as his wife finished preparing the morning meal for the first day of Ramadan. For the past 10 days, Boreik, who runs a non-governmental organisation, hasn't been home before dawn. He is busy running one of the numerous emergency committees the Ismail Haniyeh government set up to tackle strikes in the education sector. The strikes have been called by a Ramallah- based, Fatah-controlled labour union.
Boreik has been asked to bring in teachers to keep the schools running. He is pleased with the results. Eight of the 10 schools he is supervising are now fully staffed, and the remaining two are almost so. Boreik says that at the beginning of the strike, 80 per cent of the staff stayed at home. "But thanks to the effort exerted by the emergency committees, schools in Gaza are now operating to near full capacity."
The Ramallah government told teachers that they wouldn't be paid unless they stopped going to work, Boreik said. "We talked to every single teacher and told them that the Haniyeh government would pay their salaries regularly and in full." The majority of teachers went back to work, and some were replaced with fresh college graduates.
The Palestine Teachers' Union (PTU), a non-elected body controlled by the PLO, called the strike. Palestinian factions in the past accused the PTU of being a "pawn" in the hands of the Ramallah government. A year ago, elections were held to form a rival labour union, the Palestine Teachers' Syndicate (PTS). Hamas candidates won and are now in control of the PTS.
Mohamed Al-Masri, a teacher, said the Ramallah government of Salam Fayyad is threatening to cut off the salaries of teachers who fail to abide by the PTU-organised strike. The teachers know that the strikes are politically motivated, but they are obliged to comply. PTU Secretary- General Jamil Shehada denies the charge. He told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Haniyeh government was transferring many teachers to distant schools and demoting school principals.
Hamas security forces have taken control of the PTU headquarters in Gaza. Shehada added that Hamas has arrested several teachers for organising the strike.
PTS officials dismiss this account. Speaking to the Weekly, PTS Deputy President Iyad Aql said the strike was a political gimmick. "A professional strike would have started with professional demands followed by gradual actions of protest." For example, the teachers could have issued statements, organised sit-ins, or held a one-day strike. To hold a strike for five days with no warning is unacceptable, Aql added.
The PTU is unelected, Aql charged. Shehada, the PTU leader, never worked as a teacher and is just an employee in one of the Ramallah government's departments, Aql said. He pointed out that the PTU took no action when the Fayyad government discontinued the pay of 1,000 retired teachers in Gaza and 6,000 new teachers in the West Bank and Gaza -- nearly 15 per cent of the teachers' workforce.
Fatah, Aql stated, has arrested dozens of teachers, tortured them, and fired them from their work. "Where were Shehada and his union when the teachers were being arrested?" By contrast, the PTS was formed through elections in which 60 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza teachers took part, which makes it the only association entitled to speak for teachers, Aql added.
Mohamed Abu Shoqeir, deputy minister of education in Haniyeh's government, told the Weekly that he telephoned Shehada and asked him to release the name of one school principal who had been demoted by Hamas. Shehada had no answer to that, Abu Shoqeir claimed. He added that Hamas is not in the business of firing school principals. Nearly 80 per cent of school principals are from Fatah, and Hamas has no desire to replace them, he pointed out.
Abu Shoqeir said the Hamas security services took control of the PTU headquarters following the bombing on the Gaza beach, a precautionary measure applied to dozens of other buildings.
One week after the teachers went on strike, the Health Workers Association, based also in Ramallah, called for a strike "in solidarity with the teachers' demands". Bassem Noeim, minister of health in the Haniyeh government, told the Weekly that Ramallah-based officials called doctors and nurses and told them to stop going to work or else. Some were told that their dependents wouldn't receive treatment abroad unless they comply.
Analyst Nehad Al-Sheikh Khalil says that the attempts by the Fayyad government to disrupt life in Gaza may backfire. Mahmoud Abbas's presidential term will expire 9 January 2009. Fatah officials are provoking Hamas ahead of upcoming elections, Khalil said. Indeed, Fatah may "declare Gaza a mutinous region, disband the legislative council, and then hold elections," he said.
So far, Hamas has been able to ride the storm. Haniyeh's government says that it can pay the salaries of those employees who come to work and has kept the schools running. It is likely to do the same in the health sector. At that point, it may turn out that the strikes have more invigorated than weakened Hamas.