Fathi gets a job in Gaza

By: Dag Tuastad, University of Oslo.

It was a happy day for the small Palestinian family in the Maghazi refugee camp in the middle of Gaza. Their second eldest son, a long time affiliate with the Fatah youth, had finally got a job. The family needed a breadwinner as the father of the family had died during the second intifada. ”So what will he do,” asked a visitor the mother of the house. ”Well, he will not do anything,” answered the mother. ”But where will he work?” ”He will stay at home.” ”He will be in security, working for the Palestinian Authority (PA)?” ”Yes, exactly.”

Fathi would thus be one of the 70 000 staff employed by the PA in Ramallah who get paid in order to do nothing. If they go to work, they lose their salary. The system was introduced after Fatah was driven out of Gaza as Hamas seized power in 2007, ending the standstill that followed Hamas’ election victory in 2006. As part of the boycott of Hamas in Gaza the PA agreed with western donors that PA staff employed in Gaza would continue to get paid as long as they did not do any work for the Hamas government there. And so all the PA staff working within the security sector, the education sector, the juridical sector and the health sector went on a strike paid by the PA and their western donors. The interesting point with Fathis new job was that the PA keeps on recruiting new people in Gaza, to do nothing.

The boycott of Hamas has hurt the population in Gaza hard. By 2010 70 % of Gazas population had an income of less than a US dollar a day, and one third of the children suffered from anemia. ”We need to make the Palestinians lose weight, but not to starve to death,” said an advisor to the Israeli prime minister when the blockade against Gaza was introduced in 2006.

One of the hardest hit groups of the blockade is Gaza’s schoolchildren. As PA-employed teachers sat at home, no qualified teachers were there to teach the children. Hamas eventually replaced the PA teachers with their own staff. But these were poorly educated, and were recruited by being Hamas affiliated. And so the level of education has sunk like a stone in Gaza. Meanwhile, as the new teachers employed were Islamists, the teaching has become more ideological. The effect of the blockade in the educational sector has thus been poorer quality of the education, and a more Islamist oriented teaching.

The fact that Gaza’s children in this way have become the main victims of the boycott policy, have made some international agencies react. UNICEF has initiated courses to post-educate the teachers employed by Hamas, and so have some international NGOs, including Norwegian ones. The irony for Western taxpayers is that these agencies and NGOs are largely funded by the same countries that pay the salaries of the PA staff, the ones not working in Gaza. First the PA teachers are paid not to go to work, then the teachers hired in their place are paid to attend courses to increase their competence, both paid by the same Western donors.

When doing nothing is your job, it affects your self-esteem.

When doing nothing is your job, it affects your self-esteem. Staying home, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea all day, is not the kind of role model children look up to. Passivity also creates domestic tensions. “I cannot stay at home without quarrelling with my wife, she does not want me around anymore,” a man told me in the Bureij camp in Gaza. But this one was among the lucky ones, as he later found a job with an international NGO. He now has two incomes. He is not the only one. Among the paid-to-strike-teachers many work as private teachers. They are paid by the more well-off families in Gaza to teach their children, as the families are not pleased with the low standard of the public schools run by Hamas. The PA-teachers are thus paid twice, not to teach in public schools, and to teach privately.

The donor community have been aware of the problem of double incomes for the PA-staff they pay in Gaza. So they have made some restrictions. One was to cut the financial support the Gaza work force got for transportation. Why pay for transport when the staff anyway did not go to work? The cuts led to angry protests by the strikers in Gaza, a western diplomat said. He also said that during his last visit he had observed an angry demonstration, and asked what it was about. It was families protesting that they had lost their PA salaries, he was told. Well, they had lost their salary because they were not in Gaza, and thus not able to pick up their salary in person. When it was demanded by PA and the donors that the employees paid not to work in Gaza had to pick up their salary in person, it turned out that as many as 3000 of the work force had left Gaza. The demonstration observed in Gaza was from their angry family members now protesting that they did not receive the money anymore.

The intention of the ”pay-not-to-work-policy” was to hurt Hamas. But the effect is the opposite. The sustained boycott of Gaza may have hurt Gaza’s civilian population, but Hamas has gotten more and more entrenched into the power corridors of Gaza. They have established their own administrative system within every field of governance, not to talk about the strengthened position of Hamas’s security people. The boycott policy has led to a cementation of the Gaza – West Bank political separation, and consequently the practical obstacles for a Palestinian reconciliation appears to be almost insurmountable. Those in position do not want to let go off their positions, especially is this the case within the armed forces. Moreover, Hamas has now their own funders, from Iran to Qatar. Thus, the Western donor community has been instrumental in sustaining the Palestinian split but have meanwhile made themselves irrelevant. Moreover, negotiations between PLO and Israel have become futile. It has no meaning for Israel to negotiate with the PLO as long as PLO does not control Gaza. PLO cannot deliver security as long as Hamas controls Gaza. Thus, the PLO cannot offer the Israelis what they demand.

John Higley and Michael Burton have noted that for democracy to prevail, an agreement between political elites, i.e. those political forces strong enough to influence decisions, is a prerequisite. Encouraging democracy would thus mean to have Hamas and Fatah agree on the basic rules of democracy, like agreeing on the election system and that the consequence of elections is that the winner gains power while the loser loses power. The boycott against Hamas and the rewarding of a policy sustaining the split is thus contrary to the very foundations of building a democratic state.

In Maghazi, Fathis family were happy to have a new job for their son, but they were not proud.