PA purges Hamas-linked educators

Exclusive: Firings intended to undermine group’s influence in W. Bank.

By
March 29, 2010 03:04
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas

mahmoud abbas 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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The Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank has over the past two years fired hundreds of school teachers and imams suspected of being affiliated with Hamas, Palestinian sources in Ramallah disclosed on Sunday.

The firings are seen in the context of the PA’s efforts to prevent Hamas from taking control over the West Bank.

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The teachers and imams have threatened legal action against the government on the grounds that their dismissal was “politically motivated.”

In a related development, PA “military courts” in the West Bank have begun sentencing Hamas supporters to various terms in prison. The PA had come under criticism for holding hundreds of Hamas supporters and activists in custody without trial.

In the most recent case, a court in Hebron sentenced Hamas activist Muhammad Fataftah to 34 months in prison. Fataftah was detained by PA security forces in the West Bank shortly after he was released from an Israeli prison.

He was one of scores of Hamas men who have been detained by the PA security services almost immediately after being freed from Israeli jails.

On Sunday, the PA security services in Hebron detained Imam Zeid al-Juneidi and university student Wajdi Taha Abu Sneineh, who had both spent time in Israeli prison for membership in Hamas.



Another two Hamas activists were detained in the Hebron area by PA security agents shortly after they were freed from Israeli prison. They were identified as Abdel Fattah Jreiwi and Mamoun Natsheh.

A source in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that the crackdown on the school teachers and imams was aimed at undermining the Islamist movement’s influence and preventing it from extending its control beyond the Gaza Strip.

The source said the PA wanted to make sure that the schools and mosques in the West Bank were not being used as podiums for political activities on behalf of Hamas or other radical Islamist groups.

“We are determined to fight against incitement and political activities in mosques and schools,” the source explained. “This is part of our obligations under the terms of the road map.”

Another source said that over 1,000 school teachers and more than 300 imams have lost their jobs since the beginning of the clampdown.

The source acknowledged, however, that not all those who were fired had ties to Hamas.

“Many of them were fired because they don’t support Fatah and the Palestinian Authority,” the source said. “Others were fired because they had become too religious and there was fear that they would one day join Hamas.”

Last week, the PA Ministry of Education fired Hadeel Mafarjeh from the school she was teaching at in the town of Beitunya, west of Ramallah. Mafarjeh was sacked only two weeks after she was accepted to the job. Her colleagues described her as a devout Muslim who knows the Koran by heart. They insisted that she has no links to Hamas or any other Palestinian faction.

Other teachers said they were dismissed after they refused to work as informants for various PA security services.

An English language teacher from a village near Ramallah told the Post that he was summoned one morning to the headquarters of the PA General Intelligence Service in Ramallah, where he was asked to spy on his colleagues. When he turned down the offer, he was fired from the school.

“I don’t belong to any Palestinian organization,” the father of three said. “They fired me only because I refused to work as an informant for them. These are the same techniques the Israelis used back then.”

Some teachers have been dismissed only because their family members were suspected of membership in Hamas. A female teacher from the Bethlehem area was fired after six years on the job because her husband had been arrested by the PA security services for allegedly being affiliated with Hamas.

“[Prime Minister] Salam Fayyad is fighting Hamas at our expense,” said a 38-year-old teacher from Nablus who was fired in 2008 for the same reason. “The innocent people are paying the price.”

Representatives of the dismissed teachers recently wrote to several human rights organizations asking them to endorse their case, but to no avail. They also wrote a letter to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, asking him to raise their case in future “reconciliation talks” between the Islamist movement and Fatah.

An official with the PA Ministry of Education said the decisions to fire the teachers were taken by Palestinian security officers and not by the ministry.

“We act on instructions from the security services,” the official told the Post. “We don’t ask questions when it comes to security matters.”

The crackdown on the West Bank mosques is spearheaded by Mahmoud Habbash, the PA’s Minister for Religious Affairs. Habbash, a former resident of the Gaza Strip, previously belonged to Hamas, which says it kicked him out a long time ago for financial corruption.

In the past two years, Habbash’s ministry has fired more than 300 imams who were suspected of being affiliated with Hamas or who had delivered fiery sermons during Friday prayers.

In addition, the ministry has banned imams and other religious figures from using the mosques to deliver “private lectures” about Islam and Shari’a.

Some imams and students who participated in such seminars found themselves either jobless or behind bars.

One Hamas imam, Majd Barghouti, a resident of the Ramallah area, died in a PA prison last year. His family insists that he had been tortured to death. The PA continues to deny any wrongdoing.

Moreover, the ministry, which controls more than 800 mosques in the West Bank, has imposed severe restrictions on sermons delivered during Friday prayers. Almost all the preachers are asked to seek approval in advance for their sermons, to make sure that they don’t contain fiery or anti-PA rhetoric.

“Fayyad can’t close down the mosques, so he’s getting rid of the preachers who don’t support the Palestinian Authority or who dare to voice criticism,” said an imam from Tulkarm who was fired seven months ago.

The Hamas government on Sunday denounced the PA’s “arbitrary firing” of civil servants for political reasons as illegal and unacceptable. It said the mass dismissals proved that the Fatah government does not want to end divisions and achieve unity with Hamas.

A spokeswoman for the Fayyad government did not respond to the allegations despite repeated requests from the Post.   

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