Some 2,000 Palestinians angry at the rising cost of living flooded the streets of Hebron on Monday, as a general strike halted public transport across the West Bank. Clouds of black smoke poured into the air across the Israeli-occupied territory as furious demonstrators set light to tyres, kicking off a second week of protests against the spiralling cost of living, high petrol prices and unemployment.
The demonstrators took to the streets in the early morning, blocking main roads with boulders and burning tyres. Later they threw stones at cars, the municipal building, the Palestinian police and Israeli troops.Public transport was at a complete halt throughout the West Bank as union leaders called a mass strike over the rising cost of petrol which has risen from six to eight shekels per litre in the past two months.
With no buses, minibuses or taxis in operation, the streets were empty, and private cars were also barred from entering towns and cities by makeshift roadblocks. At the Qalandia crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem, small groups of bus and taxi drivers were on the lookout for any strike breakers.
Some of the wider context:
There have been increasing numbers of demonstrations across the West Bank in recent months. On Saturday refugee camps in the Ramallah area protested against the rocketing cost of living. Last month public sector workers received only half their salaries, and this month they have been told their pay will be staggered into two payments. This is creating huge discontent.
Two elements are fuelling the protests. There is the fact that prime minister Salam Fayyad has tried to tie the Palestinian economy to that of Israel—with disastrous results for the Palestinian poor. Fayed was previously a financier with the International Monetary Fund and is committed to pursuing a neoliberal economic strategy on the Occupied Territories.
But there is also the Arab Spring, which has deeply affected the Palestinians. The latest popular protests reflect a significant working class response to the combined pressures of austerity and occupation—and open up a potentially exciting new phase in the Palestinian struggle.