“We are being treated as if we were criminals”, said Ayed Al Azzeh, shaking his head. A schoolteacher from Bethlehem, Ayed is one of thousands of public-sector teachers across the West Bank who have been striking since February 10th.
The strike comes after teachers claim the Palestinian Authority (PA) failed to follow through with wage increases, promised after strikes in 2013. Apparently teachers’ salaries have been frozen for the past few years, despite rising living costs.
The average teacher’s salary in the West Bank does not usually exceed 3,000 shekels (NIS) per month – or $766.70 – according to local news source Ma’an. However, the average expenses of a Palestinian family per month amount to approximately $1,333 – meaning that many teachers struggle with financial shortfalls.
“I have three children who are at university; they have to travel from our village to their lectures every day. This alone costs almost the entirety of my wages; I only get 3,100 NIS a month”, said Jamal, a sports teacher from a village near Nablus.
“The worst of my students who drop out of my classes go on to earn more than me, because they join the army or the police”, he sighed, continuing to describing how he has to supplement his teaching work with odd labour jobs to make ends meet.
With the absence of a union divorced from government control, many teachers are demanding the realization of basic workers’ rights, starting with democratic elections in the Teacher’s Union.
Approximately 20,000 protestors demonstrated in Ramallah upon the launch of the strike in the largest gathering since Arafat’s death in 2004, initiating a government crackdown on any further attempts of mass mobilization.
Despite the efforts of the Palestinian police and army, an estimated 15,000 protestors gathered in Ramallah for a second time on Tuesday, demanding the government meets their demands.
“The strike and security checkpoints set up by the PA are unconstitutional and are in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law – particularly the right to freedom of movement, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to freedom of assembly and association”, a Legal Research and Advocacy officer at Al Haq said to Mondoweiss.
“Following the ratification of international treaties, particularly the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the PA is under further legal obligation to ensure that the teachers are provided with their right to enjoy just and favorable conditions of work”, she added.
The government’s management of the strike has sparked anger, and it seems that the recent strike has touched a chord with many who have long-felt discontented with the PA.
In an exclusive video for Mondoweiss, teachers at Tuesday’s protest reveal the obstacles they had to overcome merely to be present, and why they are resolute to continue the strike until the government concedes.