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Palestinian Professors’ Strike Ends Early

Palestinian university professors have ended a strike early after the education ministry indicated it would respond to some of their requests. But how the education ministry will get the money to meet those demands or which of them will be met is still unclear.

The crisis began when Palestinian university professors and other staff members started a two-week strike earlier this month, claiming that the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Education had failed to live up to labor agreements reached three years ago.

The faculty members and others said the ministry had failed to adopt new rules for cost-of-living allowances, retained taxes that they were supposed to cancel and refused to provide salary increases of 3 to 4 percent as promised.

“So far, none of these points of agreement have been implemented,” said Dr. Amjad Barham, leader of the Syndicate of Palestinian Universities Union. “Therefore, we decided to announce several days of work stoppages.”

The strike was slated to take at various times—February 8 -10, 15-18 and 21-25— at Al-Aqsa University, Al-Azhar University in Gaza, Al-Najah University, Al-Quds University, Al-Quds Open University, Arab-American University, Bethlehem University, Birzeit University, Hebron University, Palestine Ahliya University in the West Bank, Palestine Technical University-Kadoorie and Polytechnic University.

“The already-high cost of living is increasing significantly every day,” said Abdullah Najarah, a law professor at Al-Quds University. “We have the right to guarantees for our financial future and our children’s future as well.”

At the beginning of the strike, the Higher Education Ministry did not appear to be willing to give in to any of the professors’ demands.

Anwar Zakaria, the assistant undersecretary at the ministry, said that, technically, no agreement had been signed between the ministry and the Syndicate of Palestinian Universities Union. Rather, the ministry had simply said it would try to respond to some of the union’s requests.

He added that the ministry couldn’t comply with an agreement if there was one, because it is suffering from a 43 percent shortfall in its budget.

“The Syndicate of Palestinian Universities Union should understand that and help the ministry by continuing this academic year,” Zakaria said, adding that union members were feeling the same financial pinch as the government. “The Ministry of Higher Education supports the universities as much as it can.”

But Nasr Youssef, an art professor at the Polytechnic University, said ministry officials had acceded to the union’s demands in a deal reached three years ago. Hiding behind bureaucratic excuses was unfair, he said. Now, because the officials declined to renew negotiations to respond to the union’s outstanding needs, faculty and staff had no choice but to strike to draw attention to their problems.

“A strike is the best way to implement employees’ rights,” said Youseff.

Almost 110,000 students attend universities where professors have refused to teach and other staff members have refused to work. Of the almost 7,600 employees in the schools, around 44 percent are academics.

Najarah said he and his colleagues didn’t make their decision to strike lightly. They don’t want to harm students, he said.

“We do care about the students’ interests,” he said. “We will make sure to teach them and do makeup classes.”

Thana’ Bozuih, a fourth-year civil engineering student at Al-Najah University, said the strike disrupted his studies.

“We have a class on Monday and we won’t have another class until next Monday, which means there will be a week between classes,” said Bozuih. “This makes the students forget the classes and their assignment because of the long period in between.”

Reham Al-Terawe, a fourth-year Birzeit University law student, said the union wasn’t thinking about students’ families, who sacrifice to send their children to school, when it started its strike.

“Some students’ parents struggle a great deal to pay school expenses for their sons or daughters,” said Al-Terawe. “The university closed its doors without paying any attention to the students and their economic situations.”

From the professors’ viewpoint, the strike has been a success as the ministry said it would reconsider their salaries and exempting an end-of-service bonus that professors get when their contracts finish from income tax. The ministry has not explained how it will overcome its financial crisis and secure the needed budget.

Professors are back in their classes now, but their students are not sure if the disruption is over or not.

“We don’t know whether or not we can have days off,” said Aseel Hassan, a second-year student at Hebron University, given the classes that have been missed. “The semester might be extended, and we would have make up classes on the weekends. This would create chaos.”


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