"A-sha`eb youreed esqat Oslo!" – "The people want the fall of [the] Oslo [Accords]!" – a paraphrase of the famous slogan of the ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions, has become a central slogan in the latest struggles in the occupied West Bank. A wave of angry protests and strike action by thousands shook the area at the beginning of the month against the unbearable cost of living and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) government, particularly its slavish acceptance of the economic arrangements and conditions dictated to it by the Israeli regime.
Another slogan, "Yalla irh’al ya Fayyad!" – "Leave already, Fayyad!" – paraphrases a revolutionary song against the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Effigies of the PA prime minister, Salam Fayyad, a former official of the IMF and World Bank and a current stooge of Western imperialism, were set on fire and in Hebron demonstrators threw shoes over a large banner carrying with his photo. In an attempt to isolate the protestors, he rhetorically declared a willingness to resign if that was the will of the people and it would “solve the economic problems". Already at the beginning of the year, Fayyad was forced by social protests to reverse decisions to attack public sector workers’ pensions and raise taxes, but this time the protests are more extensive and radicalised.
At the end of May, the PA reaffirmed its support for a complete monopoly by Israeli petrol corporations for the next two years. As petrol prices were raised by 7% and set at an all-time record in Israel (8.25 Shekels / €1.63 per litre of octane 95) on 1 September, they were automatically matched in the PA enclaves (excluding the Gaza Strip), where GDP per capita is about 15 times lower than the Israeli figure of $32,000 and unemployment is on the rise, estimated at 17%. In neighbouring Jordan, thousands protested against the decision of the government to increase petrol prices for the second time in three months, which was enough to scare King Abdullah with the spectre of a mass movement and to spur him to reverse the government’s decision. In Jordan, the price of petrol is less than half of the Israeli rate! As if the general rise in the price of food and basic products wasn’t enough, the PA’s VAT rate, pegged to its Israeli counterpart, was raised at the beginning of September from 16% to 17%, imitating the measure taken by the Israeli government. And yet once again, after months of delays in the payment of wages, the 150,000 public employees of the PA (including over 50,000 non-governmental employees in Gaza), providing a living for nearly a million people, didn’t get their shrivelled salaries for August, and were forced to pay the price of the PA’s deep fiscal crisis.
Youth against Price Rises
All of this was received with great frustration and revulsion on the streets of the occupied West Bank. Tragically, similarly to many such incidents since the Tunisian revolution, these sentiments were accompanied by some attempts at self-immolation. One of these was in Gaza by an 18-year old unemployed person from the a-Shati refugee camp, who died soon after (a parallel wave of bitter self-immolation protests among impoverished Israelis since July has taken three lives). However, at the same time, hundreds of Palestinian workers and youth were also beginning to organize a fightback from 4 September. The day after, thousands demonstrated across Palestinian villages, cities and refugee camps in the West Bank. Youth, some of them organized in the new non-partisan front "Youth against Price Rises" (شباب ضد الغلاء), were leading the stormy blockades of main roads and junctions, aided by rocks and burning tyres, shouting slogans against the Ramallah government and its corruption and agreements with Israel. Alongside Palestinian flags and some Keffiyes, there were also some protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks, which have become an international symbol of social protest. Significantly, truck and cab drivers stopped their work and blocked roads and the Palestinian Teachers’ Union initiated several protest strikes as well.
Demonstrators were not impressed with the attempts by the PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, whose term was supposed to end almost four years ago, to endorse the protests, seemingly hoping to use them as a lever for his symbolic re-run bid to the UN General Assembly at the end of the month for the acceptance of the PA as a non-member state. Abbas himself met with angry protests in early July, organized by another youth group, "Palestinians for Dignity" (فلسطينيون من اجل الكرامة), in response to his willingness to meet with the leader of the Israeli Kadima party, Shaul Mofaz. The latter was IDF chief of staff during the Second Intifada (2000-2005) and responsible for several horrendous and bloody onslaughts against the Palestinians. Then, the demonstrators, already shouting against the Oslo Accords, managed to stop this planned meeting but were repressed brutally by Abbas’s security forces, with some ending up hospitalized. To pacify the anger over the role of the PA security forces as subcontractors for the Israeli occupation, an inquiry committee was set up. This time, Abbas initially implied that no force would be used against protestors, and on the ground parts of his Fatah party intervened in the demonstrations, apparently trying to focus the anger around the non-Fatah Fayyad. Those tactics didn’t help in watering down the general anger towards the PA. In the north-eastern governorate of Tubas, the governor was hit on the head by stones in one of the demonstrations. Very quickly, Fatah activists’ focus on Fayyad was answered in demos with matching calls against Abbas. In some incidents, protestors turned their frustration against PA buildings and threw rocks at the PA policemen. They were met with tear-gas and batons. Dozens were injured in Hebron and Nablus.
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