General strike against Israeli siege in Gaza —and against PA in West Bank

Shops and stores in downtown Gaza City closed their doors Feb. 23 as part of a general strike to protest Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip. Shop owners carried banners reading “closed because of the siege” in Arabic and English. Jamal al-Khoudari, director of the newly-formed independent anti-siege committee, said Gaza dealers and merchants have lost about $150 million since their imported goods have been held up by Israel’s blockade. Placing a monument for the victims of the siege in a public square in Gaza, al-Khoudari said “the siege [has] killed 99 people so far” with many more at risk. “Thousands of patients wait to have a number in the list of dead because they can’t go outside for further treatment and can’t have the needed medicine here.” (Xinhua, Feb. 23)

The Gaza general strike follows a similar action in the West Bank this month—strictly speaking over economic demands, but with clear political implications, as Amira Hass wrote for Haaretz Feb, 6:

A Palestinian public sector strike, such as the one that began yesterday and is expected to continue today, is the type of news that here is considered a purely “internal Palestinian matter,” lacking any media importance. But beyond the basic fact that the modest wage demands are a direct result of the policy of closure and economic attrition on the part of the true sovereign – Israel – the strike presents a genuine challenge to the stability and strength of Salam Fayyad’s government, and demonstrates the erosion of its public credibility.

The public sector has been the traditional pillar of the Palestinian Authority. Many of its West Bank employees are Fatah supporters, as are their representatives in the trade unions. While the rift between the Ramallah government and the Gaza government has improved the PA’s prestige among western countries, the dispute between the public sector and the Ramallah government reduces the PA’s ability to meet its commitments to the donor countries, and to the World Bank in particular.

Salam Fayyad, sworn in as the Palestinian Authority’s “emergency” prime minister last June, is a veteran World Bank and IMF bureaucrat, as his BBC profile points out. An ostensible political “independent” (neither Fatah nor Hamas), he is just the sort of supposedly “apolitical” technocrat beloved of elite global planners—the better to impose fiscal “discipline” on the surly masses. The political lines between the West Bank and Gaza look clearer every day.

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