Palestinians are tired of the high costs of living in the West Bank. Resentment at high prices that appeared on Facebook has spilled over into the streets over the past week. Protests throughout the West Bank’s urban centers culminated on Monday, with the biggest show of popular discontent since the governing Palestinian Authority came to power 18 years ago. The main cause of this anger is the government’s decision to increase the cost of gasoline by eight percent, even though inflation has led to increasing food prices.
The protests were triggered by the death of a Gaza teenager
, who set himself on fire on September 2. Aged 17, Ehab Abou al-Nada worked 13 hours a day for 30 shekels (about six euros) in order to help his family survive. His suicide is reminiscent of that of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian produce vendor whose self-immolation set off the Jasmine Revolution in January 2011. On Wednesday, a resident of Ramallah also doused himself in gasoline, but was stopped by security forces before he could set himself on fire. Hussein Qahwaji
, 37, had called for the Palestinian Authority to reimburse a trip to Jordan that he made in an attempt to find medical care for his five-year-old daughter.
Throughout these protests, Palestinian demonstrators chanted Arab Spring slogans, urging their prime minister to “get out”. Many hold the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister Salam Fayyad responsible for the rising costs and consier him to be corrupt. Effigies of the Fayyad were even burned in Hebron. Adding to the difficulties Fayyad faces, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, did not immediately come to his defence
, and, surprisingly, even said he believed the “Palestinian Spring” had begun. Many protesters perceive this position to be a political manoeuvre to get more popular support.
Protesters in Ramallah on Monday.
The protestors are also calling for the abrogation of the Paris Protocol. This protocol is an annex to the Oslo Accord of 1993 and requires imports into the Palestinian territories to be subject to the approval of Israel, which controls the borders. It also stipulates that the Palestinian value-added tax be pegged to the Israeli currency, putting the Palestinians at a disadvantage compared with other Arab countries.
The protests over the rising cost of living also happen against the backdrop of a very challenging economic environment: about 20 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank are unemployed.
Protesters calling for Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to step down in Ramallah, on September 5.