Palestinians take to the streets to protest economic woes

West Bank demonstrators call for resignation of Prime Minister Fayyad; Gaza graduates storm Hamas education ministry building

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A Palestinian demonstration in Ramallah, July 3, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
A Palestinian demonstration in Ramallah, July 3, 2012 (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Rising commodity prices and endemic unemployment prompted Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank to take to the streets on Tuesday, in an unprecedented series of public protests.

Dozens of truck and tractor drivers demonstrated in the West Bank city of Hebron against the rise in commodity and fuel prices, driving their heavy vehicles in procession to the Ibn Rushd roundabout in the center of town.

‘These protests will not affect Fayyad’s government. The government is hostage to Israeli policies’

Some trucks bore signs reading “the people demand toppling the prices,” evoking anti-regime Arab Spring slogans. The demonstrators called for the resignation of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s government for its failure to subsidize basic products and curb price increases.

Basem Ezbidi, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University, said that while they were trying to raise government awareness to their suffering, the protesters were fully aware that the Palestinian Authority was powerless to act, and that it was Israel that effectively controlled their economy.

“These protests will not affect Fayyad’s government,” Ezbidi told The Times of Israel. “The government is hostage to Israeli policies.”

Ezbidi said that Israel maintains its economic control through the Paris Protocol of 1994, which established the economic relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority as part of the Oslo Peace Agreement. Under the protocol, Israel collects taxes on behalf of the PA and can withhold them at will. Israel also controls Palestinian international trade through air and sea ports.

The August salaries of government employees have not yet been paid, Ezbidi added, noting that, in any case, “the salaries are insufficient to cover people’s commitments.”

On Tuesday morning, a 42-year-old father of 10 from the Al-Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, Khaled Abu-Rabee, attempted to self-immolate inside the townhall of Dura, a suburb of Hebron.

Abu-Rabee, a former Palestinian policeman, had been arrested by Israel numerous times, the Ma’an news agency reported, and could not find a job upon his release from prison.

Gaza, too, experienced unrest on Tuesday, as dozens of university graduates, both men and women, stormed the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Education, chanting “The people demand employment for graduates.”

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh promised during the first meeting of his new government on Tuesday to make “electricity, drinking water, health and infrastructures” top priorities of his government.

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