The West Bank Teachers’ Strike: Revolution in the Making?
On Saturday, 12 March 2016 after a one-month strike, the Palestinian teachers in the West Bank returned to work (and Christian Peacemaker Teams-Palestine resumed its school checkpoint accompaniment.) The teachers were striking for fairer wages and in general more respect by the Palestinian Authority (PA) officials. An enormous amount of money in the PA budget, much of it donated by foreign funders, goes to its security apparatus. Still more is lost to corruption and the inflated salaries of upper-echelon PA officials. The teachers were calling for their salaries to reflect the respect that other public sector employees receive.
Team members spoke to a tour guide in ‘Idna village about his opinion on the strike and he said he was calling it “a revolution.” If the strike had happened in any European country, he said. It would have brought down the government. When teachers planned to converge on Ramallah for a 7 March demonstration, PA officials warned bus companies they would lose their bus licenses if they chartered buses to teachers. Hebron friends reported to the team that PA police set up checkpoints on the day of the demonstration and checked buses and shared taxis for teachers on the day of the rally. CPT Palestine’s project support coordinator was in one of these taxis when she entered Ramallah and the police asked in any teachers were inside. The driver reported he could have been fined 500 shekels (129 U.S. dollars) if he had been transporting teachers. (Ten thousand teachers managed to make it into the capital by arriving the night before.)
After the PA agreed to the teachers’ demands, they went back to work with deep suspicion. They had ended strikes before based on promises that never came to fruition. CPTers, stopping by the Ibrahimi School on 24 March, asked the principal if the PA was making good on its assurances. He said that the promises to meet their demands were still just talk. He also showed the CPTers a table of figures, noting that a twenty-two year veteran teacher in his office makes 2451 shekels ($639) a month. But the Palestinian Authority is telling the European Union that he is making 4500 shekels ($1174) a month. As a principal with eighteen years in the system, he makes 2252 shekels ($587) a month. The PA tells the European Union that he makes 4711/$1229 a month. The teachers want to know where that difference in their salary is going.
A new teachers’ strike will have a negative impact on the students, particularly those who are in their final year of school and must sit for the Tawjihi exams, which determine whether they will get into university. But the Palestinian public seems to have united behind the teachers. And this unity may have implications for Palestinian society beyond the teachers’ strike.