GAZA: Hundreds of tertiary education staff in the Gaza Strip are set to strike this week after facing eight months of extreme salary cuts and threats of forced retirement by the Palestinian Authority.

The approximately 831 academic and administrative staff of in Gaza will be striking because the Palestinian Authority withdrew most of their salaries eight months ago, leaving them with between 20 and 25% to survive on ever since.

The Palestinian tertiary institution staff have now decided to call on the universities they work for to pay 25% of their salaries from now on, until the Palestinian Authority restores their salaries to their normal levels.

The problems for the tertiary education workers began in April this year, when the Palestinian Authority unilaterally slashed the salaries of all staff working at universities and other tertiary institutes, leaving them without enough of a wage to survive on. Every month since then, the staff have been shocked to see the same pattern repeated – for eight months in a row now.

Despite this, the staff have continued to report for duty every day and work to the best of their abilities as usual.

As local Palestinian media have reported, the situation worsened for the staff in August this year when Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas then decided that all 831 tertiary education personnel would be placed, along with other civil servants in Gaza, on early retirement. This despite the fact that most of the academic staff are under the age of 50 and had never expressed any wish to retire!

None of the staff were given any valid reason for this unjustified action and could only note reports by Ma’an News that the decision seemed to be motivated by a factional hatred on the part of the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) for Hamas, after PA spokesman Yousif al?Mahmoud said that it was a temporary move seeking to pressure Hamas to hand over control over the small coastal enclave to the PA.

The academics then wrote to the President of the European Commission, Jan Jonker, to protest this draconian action, which appears to have had some effect because on 26 August 2017, the Palestinian academics were then suddenly informed that they would be “re?hired”.

However, this came with a bizarre proviso – they would be “re-hired” but would no longer be paid salaries at all – instead they would only get the monthly pension that they would have received after retiring, which is less than 25% of their salaries.

Effectively, all university workers in Gaza have been forced into early retirement but are still expected to work ? for a fraction of their former salaries.

All measures taken against civil servants based in the Gaza Strip amount to a form of collective punishment based on a policy of exclusion of a particular component of the Palestinian people. They have also been strongly condemned by major Palestinian human rights organisations.

It is a heinous action to deprive predominantly young people of their inalienable right to education. Supporters of the tertiary education staff believe that this action of educide must be seen in the light of the brutal 69 year old occupation and colonization of Palestine by the Israeli regime and the ongoing and barbaric Israeli siege of Gaza, which includes a total ban on imports of basic goods and exports of all Palestinian goods, severe restrictions on construction materials and cooking gas, and the obstruction of hundreds of gravely ill Palestinians every month, who have been referred for medical treatment to Israeli or West Bank hospitals, according to the Gaza?based Palestinian Committee for Human Rights.

The petition, which will be run online and also signed in hard copy and delivered to Palestinian embassies and consulates around the world, calls on Palestinian PM, Rami Hamdallah & Education Minister, Sabri Saidam to cease their punishment of Palestinian university staff in Gaza, permanently revoke any threat of forced early retirement, pay the full salaries with immediate effect and back pay the staff the salary amounts that have been confiscated since April 2017.

It is the sincere hope of those petitioning that the PA will reverse the punitive measures they have taken against the Gaza Strip, in general, and against the education and health sectors in particular, as these measures punish the civilians and threaten their lives in a way that violates all international norms and conventions that lay down obligations on governments to respect human dignity. The Palestinians of Gaza have already suffered enough under the brutal 69 year long Israeli rule and ongoing siege.

The euphoria created by reconciliation deal signed two months ago after Hamas’s decision to dissolve the Administrative Committee, which was used as an excuse by the Fatah-led PA to justify the punitive measures taken against the residents of Gaza, has led to no change whatsoever in the lives or ordinary Gazans! The PA has not taken any concrete step to revise those punitive measures.

A petition has been launched calling for urgent intervention.

( Anna Majavu is a Palestine solidarity activist and currently a PhD journalism candidate at the University of Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand)