A strike which began this past Saturday by the Palestinian teachers'
union has now expanded to include nearly all sectors of the Palestinian
government, as well as banks and private industry. The strike is
intended to pressure and shame the international community into lifting
an economic blockade on the democratically-elected Palestinian
government that has been in place since March, and has prevented
government employees from receiving their salaries.
The Palestinian Authority, put in place in 1993 in accordance with the Oslo Agreement with Israel, is ostensibly the government for the occupied populace, although Israeli authorities maintain strict military rule over Palestine (the Gaza Strip and West Bank), territories that they have occupied since 1967.
Over 200,000 Palestinians are employed by the Palestinian Authority in some manner, providing the only means of livelihood for up to one third of the population. Combined with the Israeli blockade on Palestinian imports and exports, and the denial of access to Israel, where many Palestinians hold jobs, the blockade has been devastating to the Palestinian civilian population. In Gaza, things are even worse than in the West Bank, as most of the territory has been without power since Israeli forces bombed the two power plants, the only electricity sources for the population of 1.3 million, on June 27th.
Teachers began their strike just before the school year was set to begin, leaving hundreds of schools closed and children without their teachers.
In an interview with the IMEMC, Jamil Shehadeh, head of the Palestinian teachers' union, said, "The teachers' strike is open and ongoing until the issue of teachers' salaries is resolved."
Since the teachers' strike began Saturday, other government employees soon joined in, as well as the private sector. Today, Tuesday, a general strike was declared across Palestine.
Some within the Palestinian government have called the strike an internal attempt to undermine the Hamas-led Palestinian government, in order to install a government more favorable to the United States and Israel (in this case, the Fateh party, led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas). But according to Jamil Shehadeh of the teachers' union, "We aren't against any government, any party, we are for the interest of the teachers and the national interest."
The strike comes in the midst of tension between the two major parties, with an aide for the Palestinian President telling Reuters yesterday that the President would consider a coup of the Hamas government by the end of the month.
"If the performance of the government continues like this, President Abu Mazen will use his constitutional powers to fire the government and pick a new government," said Azzam al-Ahmad, head of Fatah's parliamentary bloc, using Abbas's nickname.
"I expect that he will take this decision before the end of this month. He should do it, otherwise we will be destroyed," Ahmad told Reuters.