Ramallah – The Palestinian Authority announced on Wednesday that it was cutting the salaries of tens of thousands of government employees in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
The decision to cut the salaries by 30 percent deepened the divide between the West Bank and Gaza — two territories that the Palestinians hope to turn into an independent state — and increased hardship in already impoverished Gaza.
It also sparked a wave of criticism and accusations that the PA was targeting Gaza, abandoning it and paving the way for separation from it.
PA employees in Gaza were shocked to find that their salaries have been slashed by 30 percent in what the government described as a temporary measure.
In the West Bank, government spokesman Youssef al-Mahmoud said a reduction in foreign aid had forced the Palestinian Authority to cut Gaza salaries. “Without this step, the government cannot pay the salaries of its employees,” he said.
He explained that the step was also brought about by Hamas’ actions in Gaza where “it has rebelled against the constitutional court, activated the administrative committee that has started to act like a parallel government and continued to collect taxes without depositing them in the treasury.”
Affected workers expressed shock, anger and frustration as they gathered outside Gaza banks. In Gaza City, nearly 200 people joined a protest outside a Bank of Palestine branch. “The salary is our children’s right,” said one of the banners.
“This cut has worsened our situation. I don’t know how I will get by until the end of the month. Shall I beg?” said Rizq al-Haddad, a former maintenance worker at the Health Ministry.
Al-Haddad, a father of 10, supports his family on a salary of about 2,200 shekels, or $600, a month. That income will now drop by nearly $200 a month.
“Our situation was desperate even before they made the cuts,” he said in his dilapidated two-bedroom home.
Other employees announced that will go on an open-ended hunger strike to protest the salary cut, while a number of others submitted their resignation.
Legal experts meanwhile deemed the PA’s measure as illegal, warning that it may have a “very negative” economic impact on the Gaza Strip.
Aaref Abou Jarad, head of the public employees union, said: “The salaries massacre represents a political, administrative and legal divorce between the Palestinian Authority and Gaza.” He urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to cease the “arbitrary measures.”
Abou Jarad and others believe that Palestinian Premier Rami Alhamdulillah could not have taken the decision to cut the wages without the green light from Abbas.
The decision caused criticism from within Abbas’ Fatah movement as well, with central committee member Jamal Muhaisen saying: “Any measure the government takes against Hamas’ policy in Gaza should be directed against the group, not the PA employees and their salaries.”
Fatah central committee member and the movement’s Gaza Strip official, Ahmed Halis, called for an immediate expanded meeting to tackle the salary cut.
Hamas condemned Wednesday’s salary cuts. “This is an unjust and non-national decision that aims at creating crises and tightening the grip on our people in the Gaza Strip,” spokesman Abdullatif Qanou said in a statement.
The internationally backed PA, which is based in the West Bank, ordered all of its roughly 50,000 workers to step down after Hamas seized power in 2007. But it has continued to pay the salaries of the former policemen, teachers and civil servants.
Hamas, which hired more than 40,000 people to fill the gaps left by the absence of the PA workers, also struggles to pay its employees.