West Bank protests at living costs turn violent

 

Days of demonstrations against the high cost of living turned violent in Hebron yesterday as protesters smashed windows and attempted to storm a government building.

The violence showed that the unrest, initially supported by Palestinian leaders in hopes of drawing international attention to the struggling economy, risks backfiring and morphing into a broader movement against the government.

"Nobody is able to live, except the big officials," said Sami Saleh, a 57-year-old taxi driver who supports his family of eight on a £400 monthly salary. "We have to pressure this government to change," he said.

As he spoke, youths hollered and cheered as they set tires alight behind him, sending plumes of black smoke into the air and blocking the main road from the West Bank city of Ramallah to the nearby city of Jerusalem. Nearby, striking taxi and bus drivers scribbled the word "taxi" on a donkey in yellow paint.

The most heated clashes occurred in Hebron, where hundreds of protesters smashed the windows of a municipality building with rocks. The crowd tried to storm the building but was thwarted by riot police who fired tear gas and beat back some of the demonstrators. Later, protesters tried to attack the police station, prompting a pitched rock-hurling battle between police and demonstrators.

There were no injuries. But the violence was significant because it targeted a symbol of Palestinian self-rule. Usually, Palestinians reserve their anger for Israel, which captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war and wields overall control of the area.

Most of the rage has been directed toward Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a US-educated economist who oversees the government's finances. But at least part of the anger appeared engineered by Fayyad's powerful rivals in the Fatah movement led by President Abbas.

The unrest was reminiscent of the mass demonstrations of the Arab Spring that topped aging dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and sparked civil war in Syria. While there is no sign that the protests are approaching that level, they nonetheless are the largest show of popular discontent with the governing Palestinian Authority in its 18-year history.

In Hebron, about 50 men hurled shoes at a large poster of Fayyad that had the words "Depart, Fayyad" scrawled underneath. Hurling shoes is a deeply insulting move in the Arab world. They then tore down the poster, stepped on it and burned it.

Fayyad says the troubles are beyond his control. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, is grappling with a sharp budgetary shortfall because the US and Arab countries that sustain it haven't delivered promised aid money.

Finance Ministry officials say donors owe $1.2 billion (£750m) in pledged money, more than a quarter of the government's annual budget. The authority, by far the largest employer in the West Bank, hasn't been able to pay full salaries in months.

"There are no magic solutions," said Nour Oudeh, a spokeswoman for Fayyad.

The troubles have been compounded by the global phenomenon of rising fuel and food prices.

"It's just not possible anymore with the rising prices. Salaries don't cover a month," said Osama al-Azzeh, a 21-year-old university student in Bethlehem. He said his older brother supports him, their stepmother and four young sisters on $540 a month working as an electrical salesman.

Fayyad, a political independent, is respected internationally for cleaning up the corrupt practices of previous Palestinian governments and for putting international financial standards in place in the West Bank.

But his efforts over the years have antagonized many in President Mahmoud Abbas' dominant Fatah movement. Fatah activists were the driving force behind the early protests last week, in part to embarrass Fayyad, Abbas' most formidable rival.

Abbas himself has expressed sympathy with the protesters, but made clear that he would not tolerate violence. Monday's events suggested that the frustration may run deeper than thought.

The Palestinian Authority was formed in 1994 under what was supposed to be an interim arrangement with Israel while a final peace accord was negotiated. But negotiations have repeatedly faltered, and two decades later, peace remains elusive.

The demonstrations have underscored the limits of Palestinian self-rule.

The Palestinian Authority governs the daily affairs of most Palestinian civilians in the West Bank. But some 60 percent of the West Bank remains under full Israeli control. Even those areas governed by the Palestinians are subject to Israeli security control.

Donor dollars are crucial because Palestinians have an economy hampered by Israel's control over the West Bank's borders as well as limited movement inside the territory. Security checks over exports and imports hamper the ability of Palestinian manufacturers to buy cheaper products elsewhere and raise the price of exports.

An easing of some restrictions in recent years pushed economic growth toward double digit figures. But international economists say the upturn cannot be sustained unless Israel releases the Palestinian economy from its shackles.

Israel hasn't done so, citing security concerns, and the growth has been tapering off.

Israeli officials have kept their distance from the latest Palestinian unrest. The Israeli military said the demonstrations were "internal Palestinian events," but said it was prepared "for any eventuality."

Palestinian protesters have demanded government subsidies for basic goods like food and fuel, a minimum wage, the repeal of a recent round of tax hikes and the cancellation of a Palestinian trade agreement with Israel.

But economist Samir Abdullah, a former Cabinet minister, said it would be difficult to cancel the economic agreement because the Palestinians badly need tax revenues from the agreement.

Compounding the government's problems, the Islamic group Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since ousting Abbas' forces there in 2007. The Palestinians hope to establish a state in both territories but have repeatedly failed to reconcile.

While Hamas officials gloated over Fayyad's misery, they recently announced their own package of reforms to help unemployed Gazans find work. Last week in Gaza, a young man committed suicide by setting himself on fire, despairing over his unemployment and poverty.

"Life for people is extremely difficult," said Samia al-Botmeh, a development specialist at the Birzeit University in the West Bank. "I think people could have tolerated that if there was a political opening, if there was some hope. The fact that the two are totally hopeless makes it very frustrating for people."

AP

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
football
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: SEN Jobs Available Devon

Infrastructure Lead, (Trading, VCE, Converged, Hyper V)

£600 - £900 per day: Harrington Starr: Infrastructure Lead, (Trading infrastru...

Software Solution Technician - Peterborough - up to £21,000

£20000 - £21000 per annum + Training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Software Solutio...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering