Palestine: One Man’s Fight for the Right to Work
By: Linah Alsaafin
Published Saturday, June 2, 2012
In the upscale Ramallah area of al-Masyoun, which is home to extravagant hotels such as the Movenpick and high rise cafes, one man has for a month been solidly protesting from the early morning to late at night outside the offices of Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Tareq Mahmoud Abu Jweid decided to undertake this act after exhausting all means of trying to find a job. He placed adverts in newspapers, filled out many job applications, tried to talk directly to future employers, and finally appealed to the PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Office who transferred him to the Prime Minister’s office.
Tareq, who is 31 years old and suffers from a physical disability, went to university in Morocco where he studied law on a scholarship. After he came back to Palestine in 2005, he worked as a private lawyer for two years, a period during which he also married, bought a car, and opened up his own firm in his town of Dura, Hebron.
However, health problems in his pelvic and spinal regions exacerbated his disability and with 83 percent of his motor skills affected, he was bedridden for six months. He quickly found himself in debt and was forced to sell his car to pay off the bank loans. Yet that was still not enough, and his debts kept soaring, especially after his firm was shut down.
“I used to make between 500 to 600 shekels (US$130-$155) a day,” Tareq recalled. “If I had continued to work for another two or three more years, I would have paid off my debt. If it weren’t for my brothers, who helped me out greatly, I would have spent up to twenty years in prison.”
PA policemen stand guarding the entrance of the Prime Minister’s office. The police have treated Tareq far better than he had expected them to. They are sympathetic to his cause, and always bring him tea and coffee. They let him use their bathroom inside the building and look after his stuff, too.
Tareq’s space is a few meters away from them, with a chair and a billboard covered in copies of his degree and signs with Article 13 of Law Number 4 of 1999: “All governmental and nongovernmental institutions should employ no less than 5 percent disabled workers in appropriate vocations.” Another sign says, “The building of a state should come with establishing a human being first. Where are the plans to find the people work and to get rid of unemployment?”
The economic illusion that Salam Fayyad’s state building institution policy brought about is easily challenged on the ground. Despite an “increase” in economic growth, unemployment rates in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have risen, with the economic boost, as Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah noted, being attributed to foreign donor aid which has resulted in a state of dependency and being a subsidiary of the Israeli occupation.
During thirty days of protesting, not one official came to talk to him; it’s been mostly heads of offices, secretaries, and the head of Security Forces.
Tareq had called the president of the Lawyer’s Union, Hussein Shabaneh, who listened briefly and told him that the union cannot do anything for him because he would have to pay up to 780 Jordanian dinars (US$1,100) in order to get his practicing certificate and become a member.
Dura is a three hour drive from Ramallah, which makes it difficult and costly for Tareq to travel back and forth. During the recent mass prisoners’ hunger strike, Tareq would spend the night in the prisoners’ solidarity tent in the city center. After the hunger strike ended, the PA took the tent down and now Tareq sleeps in an office for a taxi company which is open 24 hours a day.
“I’ve only been back to Dura once, after 25 days,” he said. “Someone offered me to drive me to Dura and bring me back to Ramallah.”
He vowed not to return to his wife and 9 month old baby boy until he becomes employed.
“Some employers would look at my condition in ignorance and dismiss me, completely ignoring the fact that I hold a university degree and have work experience. It’s come to this point, where I have been standing for a month outside the prime minister’s office, who apparently still hasn’t seen me yet,” he added, with a flash of bitterness in his eyes.
Last Wednesday, May 23, Tareq was referred to the Ministry of Social Affairs who offered him financial aid but he refused and stressed the point that he didn’t want money but a job. It also marked the day that the local media finally took an interest in his case after a group of young people visited Tareq and then pledged their support and began to pressure the local media for coverage. A Facebook group in Arabic called “We are all Tareq and You have the Right” has over 2,000 members, with pictures uploaded daily and updates and comments from Tareq himself.
“The experience I gained from being exposed to the institutions and ministries here,” Tareq said, “is that the problem is not with the capabilities, but rather with the administration. Many people are unfairly employed over others because of an intermediary.”
The young men standing around him sarcastically tell him one sure way to get Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s attention.
“Get a red ribbon and some scissors, and Salam Fayyad will come running to the opening of the ‘ceremony,’” they scoffed.
After 31 days, the undersecretary of the prime minister, along with the Minister of Justice Ali Khashan, finally met with Tareq, and he signed a six month contract with the Ministry of Justice. Tareq emerged victorious.
On his way back to Dura, Tareq summarized his struggle in claiming his rights. “I’ve said before that my protest came as the last straw. It was either that I get a job or this will end up as a black page in my journey of demanding my rights back, which will cause problems for the PA’s ministries.”