Palestine Protests: Occupation Economy Falters

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Palestinian protesters burn an effigy of prime minister Salam Fayyad during a demonstration against the high cost of living in the southern West Bank city of Hebron on 4 September 2012. (Photo: AFP - Hazem Bader)

By: Fadi Abu Saada

Published Friday, September 7, 2012

A few days ago, a Palestinian from Ramallah tried to set himself on fire to protest the dire economic conditions in the West Bank. Soaring prices, high taxes, costly fuel, and low salaries are pushing Palestinians to take action.

Ramallah - Seven in the morning is when rush hour starts on the main roads of Palestinian cities. Students head to their schools and universities and working people to their jobs.

But yesterday was not like any other day. Thousands of trucks and taxis blocked road junctions connecting the towns of the West Bank.

The Union of Transportation Workers in the West Bank went on a full strike between 7am and 9am, continuing with a partial strike for the rest of the day.

Taxi, bus, and truck drivers were protesting soaring fuel costs, which ultimately led to higher prices for major food products.

The strike led to heavy traffic jams in the morning rush hour, with hundreds of thousands of students and workers experiencing delays.

The drivers promised to repeat the strike next Monday – for a full day and throughout the West Bank – if the government of Salam Fayyad does not consider their demands to bring fuel prices back to what they were before the last increase.

Al-Akhbar asked several residents and activists in the West Bank about the popular mobilization taking place against soaring prices.

“I believe that people have the right to express their opinions peacefully. The situation has become unbearable,” Ahmad al-Barghouti declared.

The political class is confused and “there does not seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a rupture in the social situation in all directorates and inside every family,” he continued.

“Where do you start? There is unemployment, inflation, poverty, clientelism, and preferential treatment, not to mention the occupation and daily abuses from settlers. Then there is an extremist right wing government [in Israel] and a wall that suffocates the people,” he explained.

Barghouti said he believed these conditions to be “pressure tools that will lead the street to erupt, whether against the high prices or in a third intifada against the occupation. It could be over a list of popular demands leading to a real revolution to overthrow the [Palestinian] Authority (PA).”

Sami Awad from Ramallah said he feels “a widening gap between the people and the PA. People do not feel a part of the authority, and the authority does not represent the wishes and aspirations of the people.”

He indicated that “the absence of elections, a real democratic process, unity, and a common vision for the future are part of the problem.”

“I support the people’s right to protest peacefully for their causes. I am in favor of this mobilization, not just because I want to blame and complain, but to participate politically. It is our responsibility to confront such challenges, in order to create a better future. We have to stop dealing with the symptoms and look into the real reason behind the economic crisis,” he elaborated.

From occupied Jerusalem, Roline Tafakji told Al-Akhbar that “the demands to overthrow Salam Fayyad are irresponsible. Those who know about the agreements signed by the PA will discover that Fayyad was not present. He is merely a scapegoat before the local elections.”

“The scenario will be as follows. Fayyad will be toppled and the burdens of the Paris economic agreement [signed in 1994 and aimed at coordinating economic ties with Israel] will be blamed on him. Then, politicians will start promoting incomprehensible ideas and win the local elections,” she said.

“I prefer that we call for the downfall of the Paris economic agreement, instead of burning pictures of Fayyad and calling for his overthrow or the resignation of his government,” she recommended.

Rami Deaibes from Jenin believes that “demonstrating is a legitimate right. It is a means of challenging the exorbitant prices relative to income...The situation now is that most citizens are hostage to their salaries and bank loans. They live under heavy economic and livelihood pressures.”

Akram al-Natsheh from Hebron was more direct. “The latest hike in prices broke the camel’s back. Palestinians have been living in a state of poverty and unemployment for too long,” he said.

He explained that “none of the promises were fulfilled, and nothing was gained except new taxes and exorbitant fees received by the PA on transactions. Over the past years, these increases accumulated and led to the current upheaval.”

Natsheh suggested that protests are becoming more popular by the day. Indeed, they could escalate, unless the PA takes immediate action.

Although the protests revolve around economic issues, he argued that they concealed an underlying resentment of the overall performance of the Palestinian government.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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