September 2, 2006
Thousands of unpaid teachers went on strike, shutting down schools across the Palestinian territories on the first day of school. The government, crippled by international sanctions, has so far enjoyed public support as it weathers the 6-month-old crisis. Hamas, which took office in March after winning legislative elections, has rejected international calls to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, despite sanctions by Israel and Western donors that have bankrupted the government. Unable to pay the government's 165,000 workers, the strike viewed by many as a tactic by Fatah, the party activists stood in front of schools to enforce the strike. "This strike has nothing to do with the suffering of our people. This strike is politically motivated," Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Civil service and health workers unions joined the teachers in Saturday's walkout, putting a total of 80,000 workers on strike. Garbage collectors in Gaza City went on strike earlier this week, and mountains of trash have filled the air with a rancid stench. But with protests against the government multiplying in recent weeks, the teachers' work stoppage, disrupting the studies for 800,000 schoolchildren, could deal the toughest blow to Hamas, political analyst Hani al-Masri said.
Palestinian Education Minister Wasfi Kibha of Hamas claimed 95 percent of the schools in Gaza and more than 50 percent of schools in the West Bank had operated to some degree. But the head of the civil service union, a Fatah loyalist, said 85 percent to 90 percent of the teachers observed the walkout, as did employees of all other government offices, except police, utilities and state-run broadcasters. "We are not going to end our strike until the government responds to our demands,".
Many teachers in Gaza and other Hamas strongholds opposed the strike, but honored it because they were outnumbered by colleagues loyal to Fatah.
More than 1.1 million children are enrolled in nearly 2,400 Palestinian schools. About 800,000 attend state-run schools, while the remainder studies at private or U.N. schools that operated on the beginning of the educational year.