Ramallah is not a quiet city, its bustling streets alive with market stalls and street food. However the distracting sound of taxi horns echoing through the spider-leg roads around the city and into Manara Square was absent on Monday as taxi, bus and truck drivers called an all out strike throughout the West Bank that ground roads to a halt.
In the cities the silence was broken by thousands of protesters filling the streets to support the strike and protest the economic crisis that has developed within the West Bank as a result of unpaid pledges to the Palestinian Authority. Recently the Palestinian Finance Ministry officials reportedly estimated a shortfall of $1.2billion which adds up to a quarter of their annual budget. This has lead to PA employees, almost a sixth of the West Bank population in employment, not being paid their full salaries since June, never being sure whether they will receive any at all.
Civil servants have struck before and the unrest has grown in recent months as the Paris Protocol has linked inflation in the West Bank to that in Israel, preventing more than a 15% difference in prices for fuel and goods. Since 1994 when the Paris Protocol was signed, the last few months have been the hardest with the PA opting to follow suit with Israel instead of making smaller rises. Israel was hit with a wave of protests last year around the high cost of living. Tax, food, fuel and housing costs skyrocketed as the Israeli Government attempted to redress the financial balance with auserity measures aimed at the working class.
This link has pushed fuel prices in the West Bank to an all-time high and so it is no suprise that it was public transport workers that have lead the charge. Nasser Younis of the West Bank Union of Public Transport announced that 24,000 drivers were on strike on Monday and in Nablus, shops closed and most kindergartens shut their doors and joined the strike. Several Universities have also said that they will join the strike in the coming days.
This strike and the continuing actions and protests are particularly significant for several reasons, firstly they are creating debate amongst activists within Palestine about whether or not this is a useful expression of the anger in the region. Some are suggesting that it is a distraction from the fight against the occupation and that the energy would be better spent fighting Israel than the PA, whilst others are saying that the PA cannot be entirely separated from the Israeli government in any meaningful way. The PA is Israel's way of "outsourcing" the occupation, a group of limited power over only 40% of the West Bank and funded in large part by foreign donations. The distance between the views of the PA and the people could be clearly seen on Monday in Nablus, when the PA police force was sent out to supress the street actions and numerous protesters were injured in clashes that included batons and tear gas.
The strike and protests continue across the West Bank, with demonstrations in Bethlehem, Hebron, Jenin, Tulkarem, Jericho, Nablus and Ramallah. If you were to see street footage in the media, you would see images resembling those of the first Intifada in the late 1980s, but of course you won't see those images unless you look. One senior PA official told the press on Monday: "People on the streets are suffering from a lack of income, high prices and restrictions on movement," said Nabil Shaath. "This is a war against our total loss of political horizon. People are going back to struggle, non-violent struggle, and will eventually turn against Israel."
The truth in this is yet to be seen but we can be sure that these strikes are only the beginning.