Mountains of garbage, billowing smoke, have been concentrated across the streets of Gaza the past few days. However, the uncollected garbage heaps are not cannot be attributed to a lack of municipalities or labor force in the coastal region.
One third of the 1.4 million-strong Gaza population is in the labor force that may be more aptly described as an ‘idle’ labor force, and there are 25 municipalities tasked with sanitation.
Also, there are high-tech electricity, water and telecommunications networks in the Gaza Strip, believed to be the most advanced in the region.
No single part of Gaza City, even the most urban Al-Rimal area, is devoid of garbage because of the general strike the city’s municipal workers have jointly staged with hundreds of thousands of other civil servants throughout Gaza’s 25 municipalities.
An environmental crisis might emerge in the coastal area, exacerbating an already struggling economy caused by an international embargo that is based on interest-oriented politics.
The organizers are aware of the strike’s catastrophic impact. However, what can they do when their salaries have not been regularly paid over the past seven or eight months? What can they do when a large number of them have become unable to pay even for transportation?
It’s definitely not their own problem, or their employer’s (the Palestinian Authority) problem — it’s a problem of politics that knows no boundaries.
A 53-year-old Gaza municipal worker and a father of seven children, sitting just a few meters away from the tent where Gaza’s mayor and head of the municipality council, Majed Abu Ramadan, is sitting in as well, was pleased to speak out.
Khamis Miftah, says, ‘Neither me nor my fellow workers are striking for the sake of striking; can you imagine, we have not been paid our salaries for the past six months. Can you imagine we have become unable to pay for the transportation to travel to our work?’
Miftah, while sitting on a bench in the Jundi Al-Majhoul Park in central Gaza City, sighed, ‘I have two wives and seven children to care for; I am now unable to secure the basic expenditures for the house. Simply, we want to live. We want to live; that’s our demand and that’s why I am striking today’.
In a large sit-in tent, where mayors of Gaza Strip municipalities are protesting the financial crisis, the head of their council described the situation as disastrous on many levels — including the financial, environmental and social levels.
‘We now have 360,000 municipal employees and workers walking off of their jobs because they have not been paid their salaries over the past seven or eight months. This will definitely lead to a disaster, yet the financial situation is already so dire,’ says Abu Ramadan.
Asked whether there have been any financial commitments by the Palestinian Authority to solve their crisis, Abu Ramadan replied, ‘It seems that the embargo and siege being imposed on the Palestinian government, though it’s now a unity government, has contributed largely to this crisis. No single penny has been transferred to us.’
On Wednesday, more than 80,000 PA public civil servants joined the municipal workers in a similar move, speaking out loudly about their increased suffering due to salaries gone unpaid over the past 13 months.
On Monday Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas embarked on an international tour in ten capitals in a bid to garner support for his unity government, which aims to respect past signed agreements with Israel and put an end to the embargo on direct contacts with the cabinet members, irrespective of their political affiliation.
The next day, President Jacques Chirac of France, where Abbas first stopped, voiced concern over the Palestinian situation and declared that the embargo should be lifted.
The Quartet (comprised of the United States, United Nations, European Union, and Russia), right after the installation of a Hamas-Fatah cabinet, reaffirmed the embargo until this cabinet recognizes Israel and renounces violence.
In March 2006, the Quartet imposed an economic siege on a Hamas-led government, which won the internationally monitored January 2006 parliamentary elections.
The economy of the Palestinian territories has been grossly affected by this embargo, with an estimated poverty rate of eighty percent and an unemployment rate of approximately seventy percent, according to the latest figures.