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Palestinian teachers on strike—against the real ‘occupier’

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second, front left) visits a Palestinian school in Bethlehem in March 2007. Credit: UN/Evan Schneider.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second, front left) visits a Palestinian school in Bethlehem in March 2007. Credit: UN/Evan Schneider.

By Stephen M. Flatow/

It has taken more than a month, but the international news media are finally waking up to the fact that the largest teacher’s strike in memory is raging in the Middle East.

In a major feature story on March 8, the New York Timesreported that “public schools across the West Bank have been shuttered” since early February, when more than 20,000 Palestinian public school teachers went on strike. The strike has led to “the largest demonstrations in years,” including “four large demonstrations in [the Palestinian Authority capital of] Ramallah,” Times correspondents Diaa Hadid and Ramni Nazzal revealed. That news must have been quite a surprise to Times readers, since the newspaper had not reported on these huge protests until now.

Hadid and Nazzal have eagerly reported on Palestinian “demonstrations” (their euphemism for mobs hurling firebombs and rocks) when the targets were Israelis. The problem this time around is that the target is the Palestinian Authority (PA).

American correspondents in the Middle East seldom report news that is unfavorable to the PA. It’s no mystery why they form a protective cordon around the Palestinian leadership. Most reporters, and most of their editors, would like to see a Palestinian state established as soon as possible, and they know that unfavorable news coverage of the PA leadership could turn American public opinion against Palestinian statehood.

That’s why the Times was so slow to report on the strike. News of the teachers’ actions undermines the cause of Palestinian statehood in three important ways:

—First, the strike reveals the totalitarian ways of the PA, a reminder that a Palestinian state likewise would be a corrupt and dangerously unstable dictatorship. Look at the PA’s strong-arm tactics: Last week, the PA police arrested 20 teachers and two school principals for participating in a rally supporting the strikers. The Times reports that the PA also has “forced a Palestinian legislator who tried to mediate an end to the crisis into early retirement.” And Haaretz reports that “the PA security services set up rings of checkpoints to prevent the teachers from attending a demonstration” in supporter of the strikers. The U.S. State Department’s latest annual report on human rights found that under the PA, there are “restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and assembly.” There are “limits on freedom of association and movement.” But the State Department report did not attract the interest of the news media.

—The second way in which the teachers’ strike undermines the Palestinian cause is that it focuses attention on the ultimate reason behind the strike: the PA’s extreme militarization. And that is another red flag with regard to Palestinian statehood. Two years later, the PA promised to increase teachers’ salaries, but it now says it doesn’t have enough money to pay the teachers. Why is it out of money? Because the PA has one of the largest per capita security forces in the world, as more than half of all PA employees are in the security forces. The money owed to the teachers is being diverted to the PA’s de-facto army. Which dark regimes of the 1930s does that remind you of?

—Third, the strike reminds the world that the Palestinians are striking against the Palestinian Authority because the “Israeli occupation” ended long ago, and it is the PA that is the occupier. Perpetuating the myth of the “Israeli occupation” helps gin up international sympathy for the idea of a Palestinian state.

Those of us who dwell in the real world know that in 1995, prime minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo II Accord and withdrew Israel’s forces from the cities where 98 percent of the Palestinians reside. For more than 20 years, the Palestinians have been occupied by the PA, not Israel. It is the PA, not Israel, that is in control of Palestinian education, culture, elections, the economy, and all other facets of communal life. About the only thing the PA can’t do is import and tanks and planes.

Acknowledging this reality interferes with the agenda of those who advocate the Palestinian cause. Amazingly, in the very same edition of the Times that reported on the strike, columnist Roger Cohen, a veteran critic of Israel, wrote, “Today, it is Palestinians in the West Bank who are dehumanized through Israeli dominion…The West Bank is the tomb of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Wake up, Mr. Cohen. Turn to page 10 of your own newspaper. Read about the Palestinian teachers who are being dehumanized through the PA’s dominion. Face the reality that Israel is still Jewish and still democratic. Israeli citizens vote in Israel; Palestinians vote in PA elections (when their leaders are in the mood to hold elections). Your 1980s-style slogans about the “Israeli occupation” just don’t cut it any longer.

If the editors and reporters of the Times could indefinitely ignore the teacher strike against the PA occupation regime—just as Roger Cohen ignores it—surely they would. But after more than a month of silence, the folks at the Times have recognized that if they continue to black out the news of the strike, it undermines their credibility as a newspaper. And so the news is finally out, much to the dismay of Israel-bashers everywhere.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

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