gaza salaries biz 88 298.
(photo credit: AP)
Gaza's public employees are getting paid on one condition: Stay home.
Such is the irony of life in the Gaza Strip now that Hamas is firmly in charge. The Fatah government in the West Bank is delivering salaries to most of Gaza's civil servants as long as they don't work.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's movement doesn't want its money propping up Hamas, which violently seized control of Gaza in June. But neither does it want to punish Gaza's mostly pro-Fatah 90,000 civil servants whose salaries form the backbone of the already badly bruised economy.
The result is a lot of inactivity. And many - fearful for their safety in a Hamas-dominated land - aren't pleased about their holiday from work.
Abu Samer, a former security official in the prime minister's office, spends his days channel surfing and Internet browsing in search of news that might offer hope that Hamas's rule could be short-lived.
Mustafa, a senior police detective until Hamas's takeover, plays cards and watches TV much of the day and says he's "very bored." Abu Osama, a Fatah-allied out-of-work border official, says that since the takeover, he's gone from smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day to two. He's finds himself snapping at his two children.
"If you're in a good mood, your mood is reflected to your family," said the 39-year-old Gazan.
Gaza's beaches are packed these days, especially at night. Many out-of-work civil servants have taken to hanging out at the beach until the wee hours of the morning - then sleeping until late in the afternoon to avoid daytime boredom.
Abu Nasser, a local anti-drug official under Fatah, said agents for Gaza's new Hamas rulers recently stormed his house, confiscating documents, his car and a pistol. He's still collecting his salary from Fatah, but staying at home. When Hamas asked him to share his expertise about fighting narcotics, he refused.
The two-headed Palestine created by Hamas's putsch has given rise to one particularly surreal distortion: For a year, Gaza's public employees went to work but didn't get paid. Now most are getting paid but not working.
An international aid boycott imposed after Hamas won parliamentary elections early last year left the Palestinian government unable to pay most of its 175,000 employees, whose salaries provide for about a third of Palestinians. After the June coup, the boycott no longer applied to the West Bank's Hamas-free government, which has resumed paying salaries.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Fatah of using the payments "to cause our movement to fail in Gaza." The money has provided a lifeline for the impoverished strip, however.
And some observers wonder whether it might prolong Hamas's hold on power, by letting out some of the steam of the Gaza pressure cooker.
But Abu Samer predicted the payments "will increase people's loyalty" to Abbas.
Overall, Gaza's economy is suffering badly under Hamas's rule. Israel has closed off the strip's borders to all trade, allowing in only humanitarian aid.
Fatah's instructions not to work apply mainly to the roughly 50,000 people who comprised the Fatah security forces in Gaza, "because we don't want them to be a tool in Hamas's hands to hammer and suppress the Palestinian people," said Palestinian Cabinet Minister Ashraf Ajrami. He said the instructions also apply to Fatah employees who have been harassed or harmed by Hamas.
In practice, few public employees outside the health sector are working. And the dismissal and arrest of a pro-Fatah doctor at Gaza's largest hospital has called even the health workers' participation into question. Gaza's schools have been on vacation since Hamas's takeover, and it's not clear if teachers will return to work when school resumes in September.
Cash-strapped Hamas is currently paying the salaries of at least 10,000 public sector workers who are loyal to the Islamic movement, but few Gazans trust its assurances that it can pay the wages of employees who return to work.
Jehad Hamad, a political science professor at Gaza's al Quds University, described the distress felt by disenfranchised Fatah members in Gaza, like a neighbor who was a senior police commander in the former regime.
"People used to have to knock on seven doors to reach him. Now you can find him drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes on the street ... and not one person says hello to him," Hamad said. "I said to him, 'This is not your time.'"