Is the PA 'cleansing' the public sector of opposition?

Is the Palestinian Authority 'cleansing' the public sector of opposition?
4 min read
30 April, 2018
The PA has forced hundreds of public sector workers into early retirement, in what many fear is an attempt to banish opponents.
Teachers in the West Bank demanded salary increases in line with inflation [Getty]
The Palestinian Authority has passed a law resulting in hundreds of civil servants and military personnel being forced into early retirement in the occupied West Bank.

"My performance was assessed highly - at 82 percent," said teacher Naser Hadidan, who was forced into early retirement after teaching for over 20 years.

"The bank took my entire retirement pay for my mortgage and I'm left with less than ten dollars," said another teacher, as countless public servants were made redundant, and left wondering what to tell their families, as they struggle to provide for their children.

Many fear the forced retirements are an attempt to cleanse the public sector of political opponments of Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah-dominated PA.

Following two months of forced early retirements, instead of heading to work every morning, Palestinian civil servants are considering peaceful protest outside the Ministers' Council in Ramallah - although many no longer even have the funds to travel to the seat of the PA. 
These decisions were not based on any professional standards or on any basis

Many of those forced to take retirement were active in the large-scale teachers strike in 2016, which demanded salary rises in line with inflation.

"Despite peaceful protests in front of the cabinet, no minister or official has come to talk to us and listen to the injustice done to us and our families by the retirement decisions," said Samad Sanobar, 30, one of the youngest to be made redundant. "These decisions were not based on any professional standards or on any basis."

The total number of those forcibly retired from the West Bank totals around 200, with most being employees from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health.  Sanobar described the firings as a "trial" process, with many more potentially made redundant. 

Issam Ibdeen, a legal adviser from the Palestinian Rights Foundation, said the process of forced retirement was a continuation of the renewed sanctions against Hamas in Gaza, launched by the Palestinian Authority last year.

When, in 2007, Hamas routed Fatah from the Gaza Strip in internecine fighting a year after the Islamist movement's victory in elections, the PA ordered its employees to stay home rather than work for the new government. But to retain their loyalty, it continued to pay their salaries.

However, in March 2017, the PA cut around 30 percent of civil and military salaries in Gaza, affecting around 55,000 people, as well as the suspension of electricity support and imposing additional taxes. In July, 7,000 military personnel were forced into early retirement in the Gaza Strip.
Mahmoud Abbas approved the appointment of 5,598 new employees last month

Ibdeen described the process as "snowballing sanctions" which deliberately target potential opponents, rather than random cuts.

"It should be noted that this forced retirement has nothing to do with any austerity measures - as Mahmoud Abbas approved the appointment of 5,598 new employees last month," Ibdeen said. 

Palestinian rights groups are pessimistic that the decisions of the PA can be fought by legal means. 

"The legal options are limited, especially after the Civil Service Law and the Retirement Law were passed, permitting the government to refer employees to retirement," said Issam Aarouri, director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid Centre.

"There is a case of a female employee who filed a complaint against her manager who she suspected of corruption, and the manager referred her to forced retirement.  In other cases the retirement procedure was carried out by a low-ranking employee... with less experience than the employee who was referred to retirement."
There are some groups that do not follow the official approach or line adopted by the PA... and there is a determination to get rid of them

Al-Aruri added there were limited means for change through the judiciary, as the Supreme Court of Justice consists of only one body, headed by Judge Hisham al-Hatto.

"It is a programmed campaign of political cleansing that began a long time ago to crack down on political and trade union activity", Hassan Khreisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told The New Arab.

"There are some groups that do not follow the official approach or line adopted by the PA... and there is a determination to get rid of them," Khreisheh said. "Forced retirement sends a message to other employees who may challenge the government, and this will also strengthen the authority of the heads of the institutions where the manager who does not like the employee will be referred to retirement." 

He added that this could also mean that banks were less likely to give loans to public servants for fear of them not being paid back. 

"The workers in the Gaza Strip have not yet been paid, even though we are in the middle of the month. No one knows where the country is going."

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