Written by: Oday Abu Karsh

Today, Palestinian society is occupied with a new crisis at Birzeit University. This crisis has troubled many divisions of the Palestinian society and its social actors. Reconciliation movements from all sides - to the point of collision amongst the movement – have been working on bridging the gap between the university’s administration and its workers' union. As customary in similar crises, conciliators begin by observing the specific contexts of each crisis in the race towards developing conciliatory initiatives.

Perhaps I am not attempting to focus on the Birzeit University crisis as a case without a social or economic context or even as a single case experienced by the Palestinian society. I would like to see this as a new link in a series of demanding movements that the Palestinian society has been living and experiencing for years. Perhaps I am not exaggerating if I say that this series has dominated the political and social scene on a continuous basis since the great strike of the teachers’ union.

In addition to the teachers’ strike in 2016, the Palestinian society also witnessed a strike by the Palestinian Doctors Syndicate in response to the Palestinian Security Services interfering in the work of Gaza Strip hospitals. Two more strikes were held at Birzeit University and Bethlehem University, during which the disruption continued between partial and non-stop basis for approximately 75 days.
Meanwhile, 2017 witnessed less frequent strikes. A strike was implemented by the Palestinian Bar Association in response to a security service attacking a lawyer. Another strike was held for the Palestinian Medical Syndicate regarding job risks incentives, in addition to a strike by the Federation of Unions of Palestinian Universities professors and employees that was carried on for several days. Perhaps the most dominant strike in 2017 was the Palestinian political prisoner strike (Al Karamah Strike). This was a strike that continued for more than 40 days and was met with a movement of support through solidarity activities organised by all unions.

The number of strike days in 2018 decreased significantly. However, that year witnessed significant diversity in the striking activities beginning from the pharmacists' syndicate, along with student unions, the bar association, the doctors’ syndicate and the Federation of Unions of Palestinian Universities Professors and Employees. 2018 had nearly 28 strike days ranging between partial and comprehensive strikes. Additionally, there was an extended number of strike days in the private, civil and public sectors regarding the Social Security Law.

However, with the continuation of protests demanding the suspension of the Social Security Law, the numbers increased as universities, student unions and the private sector companies joined the movement recording to more than 70 strike days.

In 2020, despite the harsh conditions Palestine experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic, the social and political scene witnessed strikes by the Palestinian Bar Association, doctors’ syndicate and the Teachers' Union. Additional solidarity strikes were executed by some unions with each other as well.

The strike numbers increased again in 2021 which resulted in negative impact on civil peace and law enforcement in Hebron. In this year, students’ unions striked and began to lead the scene again.

Finally, 2022 witnessed the largest union activity since the beginning of monitoring. This year witnessed another broad strike of the Teachers’ Union followed by a broader movement in what was known as the teachers’ movement strike. Other strikes were carried out by the Engineers’ Syndicate, the Doctors’ Syndicate, the Drivers’ Syndicate in some governorates, some unions in universities and the Bar Association. Birzeit University witnessed two major strikes, holding the position of the highest number of strike days over the past six years. The first strike was for the students which lasted for more than thirty days. The second was the workers' union ongoing strike reaching four strike weeks. The overall number of days the operation at the university has been put on hold has now reached approximately 250 days. Additionally, this year also witnessed solidarity strikes between unions.

The following figure illustrates the patterns of the movements that lead to solidified strikes. The days illustrated by the figure include the true strike days. However, any cases of preparation or involvement in the movement that did not eventually lead to strikes were excluded.

 

 Although these movements may appear unrelated, the impact on society is inconsistent. This is especially the case since some movements are limited to specific groups, while others have had effects on the society as a whole. The prominent assumption is that motivations behind these demands have similar sources. This is known as the collective unconscious that regulates the behaviour of individuals and groups towards their regular perceived structures.

However, there is no evidence that the movements fueled or encouraged each other. This is contrary to the nature of the trade union organisations, which are supposed to guard the interests of their affiliates and members.

We have witnessed the entry of some unions into battles in which their respective members had no direct interests. This is applicable in in solidarity and support with other unions or as an expression of the street’s concern. Here, I do not deny the right of these unions to take the initiative in light of the representation shortcomings. On the contrary, these movements, in my opinion, represent the Palestinian society’s true needs.

Even though advocates of this solidarity do not hesitate to help in bridging the rift between the opponents, it should be known that they are not obliged to ensure the general system is capable of dealing with the demand before they even arise. However, this should irrevocably apply to decision-makers and public policies who are supposed to go beyond their roles by deeply analysing the causes of these demand crises. It is crucial to understand their nature and motives in order to find the necessary solutions for them. Removing a crisis from its context is the furthest thing a decision-maker should be doing since treating each case as a singular issue will create hostility.

Despite all the suffering from the occupation and the pandemic, the volume of these movements and their intensity are very dominant in the Palestinian society. Among a set of questions and concerns, perhaps the most important ones are the following:  To what extent could this situation last? Where is our tolerance rate? And how far can the decision-makers “runners” keep running between cases attempting to find separate solutions for each case rather than finding an overall solution?  

Despite all that is occurring, there is promise for a democratic space for the union work. However, each case has exclusionary trends. We were exposed to the accusations directed towards these movements such as poor timing, ease of obstruction and counteracting actions. Other accusations include acting against agendas, partisanships and factionalism. All of these factors lead to hostilities that are not easy to overcome.

The current situation requires an in-depth review at various levels and needs radical solutions that can be made properly. I anticipate the cost of the continuing strikes will affect the sovereign state and the future of its citizens. This will impact their access to education, health and justice services. It is crucial to note that those who will be most affected from these strikes are the poor and vulnerable groups.

The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not necessarily the opinion of the Association or donor.