Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 14.09.2012:
13 September 2012
Toine van Teeffelen
We didn’t know this Monday whether Tamer had school. Some schools, like Jara’s, decided not to open at all, knowing that even if they would open, few students would come. We kept Tamer at home and in fact after a few hours the Freres too sent its students home. The strike in the West Bank against the rising prices of living was fairly complete; shops, institutions and public transport stopped working.
Jara peeped through the window to watch a long row of honking trucks passing the street, the fronts and sides covered by cardboards with slogans against the rise of prices and also against the Authority, prime minister Salam Fayyad or president Abou Mazen. The last stayed in India last week and was asked by one of his hosts there why he did not return home when faced with such unrest… A few days earlier youth from the refugee camp ‘Azza in front of our house threw bottles and stones on the street and here as elsewhere in Bethlehem, the protests got an element of vandalism. A taxidriver told Mary that violence was the only thing the Palestinian Authority understood. However, such remarks aside, there was a general outcry among the public as well as among responsible figures against vandalism such as violence against signs on the street or against stoplights, tiles and other public objects. “Here we have the Palestinian spring,” somebody mocked.
The economic problems are obviously related to the dependency of the West Bank from Israel, for water, electricity, fuel, border passing, markets, raw materials, even the collection of VAT taxes at the border. Mary’s sisters and brother from Paris, here the previous weeks on visit, feel that the Bethlehem shop prices are comparable to France, while of course, the salaries are much lower than in Israel or Western Europe. So when the Authority pays the salaries of its employees with a month or more delay, or when it raises taxes, or allows the fuel prices to rise, there is a strong reaction as most people don’t have savings. In fact, during the last few years many have been encouraged to take loans against relatively cheap interest rates, to buy a car, for instance, adding to the deceptive image of an economic bubble. However, financially they are broke now.
There is more talk among people of leaving. Partly because of the absence of a state (if you change Fayyad or Abbas, says Mary, their replacements will be equally dependent on Israel), partly because of the lack of prospect for a (just) peace and economic growth, and partly because of a feeling that people are not well presenting and fighting for their demands. Yet a family member who lives abroad says that when he would have the chance, he would come and live here, despite all his criticisms on what he calls the addiction to power of the Palestinian political parties. Somehow there is this magnet to the homeland…
Tamer says: “Why are we dependent on Israel? It’s not Israel’s business, how we live.” He starts to become inquisitive.