Earlier this month, large demonstrations erupted in the Gaza Strip to protest a decision by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to cut the salaries of its public and security employees in Gaza.
The PA, a donor-dependent semi-governmental body that governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank, have slashed the salaries of its employees in Gaza by 30 to 70 percent under the pretext of a financial crisis caused by shrinking foreign aid.
Palestinians condemned the PA’s decision, describing it as a “massacre of salaries”. On social media, the Arabic hashtag for ‘massacre of salaries’ was used as well as “Abbas robbed us”, referring to the president of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas.
— علي ريان | غزة (@alirayyyan) April 5, 2017
The photo speaks for itself. #Abbas_Robbed_Us #MassacreOfSalaries
On April 8, 2017, tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza City against the salary cuts. Protesters chanted for the PA’s Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to “go away” and called for the Finance Minister Bishara to resign.
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) April 8, 2017
They called for head of government Rami Al Hamdallah to resign… the protest of PA's employees in Gaza against the 30% cut of their salaries. #MassacreOfSalaries
Hamdallah defended the PA’s salary cuts in a press conference, saying that it was necessary to “manage financial crises suffered by the Palestinian government due to reductions in international funds.”
He further blamed Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, for exacerbating the financial crisis, alleging that Hamas “keeps its income for itself, while the PA has spent more than 17 billion dollars in the Gaza Strip during the last 10 years.”
Palestinian civil society organizations in the West Bank organized a sit-in in front of the prime minister’s office in Ramallah. However, PA security forces closed all roads leading to the building in order to thwart the protests.
The PA employs around 56,000 people in Gaza. After Hamas took over control of the Strip in 2007, Abbas demanded public employees to abandon their jobs and sit at home while still getting paid their regular salaries. Those who ignored the call and continued their work under the government of Hamas received little to no salary at all.
The PA's discriminatory decision deepens the political chasm between Hamas and Fatah, the party that Abbas belongs to and the largest faction of the confederated multi-party Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 2006, Hamas won parliamentary elections which lead to a conflict between them and Fatah, with the latter ending up controlling the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas controlling Gaza.
Following Hamas’ electoral win, Israel launched a crackdown, arresting up to 450 members of the party and keeping them in administrative detention. Recently, Palestinian protesters demanded an end to security coordination between the PA and the Israeli government following the killing of well-known activist Bassel Al-Araj in Ramallah.
Hamas called the salary-cut a “new conspiracy” against Gaza. Salah Al Bardawil, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said that Hamas does not accept to be threatened and will not “kneel to political pressure.”
The chair of the Palestinian Union of Public Employees in Gaza, Aref Abu Jarad, called this step “a crime” against tens of thousands of Palestinian families in Gaza.
The justification of the Council of Ministers that the PA is going through a financial crisis is a lie since cuts included salaries of Gaza employees only and not West Bank employees.
A number of Fatah leaders in Gaza have resigned in protest against the PA's unjust measure.
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov has also voiced his concerns over the decision:
Over the past decade, Palestinians in Gaza have lived through four conflicts, with no freedom, unprecedented Israeli restrictions, a dire humanitarian crisis, high unemployment, an ongoing electricity crisis, and the lack of political perspective.
While the Palestinian government needs to ensure its fiscal sustainability under increasingly difficult economic conditions, it is important that reforms or decisions to reduce expenditures are fairly distributed and made with consideration to the harsh conditions under which people in Gaza live.
The Gaza Strip has suffered from inhumane economic and living conditions as a result of a 10 year-long military blockade imposed by the Israeli government following Hamas's parliamentary elections victory in 2006 as well as the numerous Israeli wars or offensives on Gaza, the most recent of which was in the summer of 2014.
— نضال الوحيدي -فلسطين (@nidalalwaheidi) April 9, 2017
Caricature on the situation in Gaza. #MassacreOfSalaries