Yet tougher times in West Bank. Jordan cuts off salaries, adding to Palestinian hardships
Jerusalem — The tired Palestinian truck driver sat in his vehicle on a hot morning this week near the Kalandiya refugee camp, the morning after Jordan's King Hussein had announced a severance of his kingdom's ties with the West Bank. The declaration in Amman seemed very distant to the truck driver, like an approaching natural calamity that he could do little to stop, one more difficulty caused by the uprising in the occupied territories.
A general strike was in force that day, streets were mostly empty, and the driver waited in vain for customers to come and pay him to move furniture, goods, or equipment.
``Business has been bad since the uprising began,'' he said. ``Once Israelis used to come here by the dozens and pay us to move things. Now they are afraid of having a rock thrown at their car.
``The strikes keep the people here off the streets, so there is really no business from either the Arabs or the Jews.''
There was more trouble ahead. Yesterday, the Jordanian government announced that it was dismissing its 21,000 employees in the West Bank, including teachers, doctors, lawyers, and municipal workers, who will stop receiving salaries by the middle of the month. Many of these civil servants will continue to draw a salary from the Israeli military government, but the loss of Jordanian wages could cut their income in half.
The withdrawal of Jordan's support for the West Bank and tough Israeli measures being taken to put down the uprising are combining to significantly boost the hardships experienced by the area's population.
As the front line of the Palestinian uprising has shifted from the streets to a civil disobedience campaign, Israeli authorities have responded by imposing military and administrative restrictions on Palestinian residents.
As part of the campaign to create an alternative to the Israeli military government, many Palestinians have stopped paying taxes. The military government has been fighting the revolt by requiring Palestinians to show proof of tax payment before they can receive services.
Unless they show they have a specially issued document that proves they have paid, Palestinians cannot get travel or building permits, nor obtain a driver's license. In recent weeks, long lines of Palestinians could be seen at government offices, waiting to obtain the needed document.
In recent weeks, Israeli tax officials have also raided Palestinian villages and towns, serving shopkeepers with tax notices and confiscating vehicles from people who have outstanding debts.
The tax war peaked several weeks ago at the town of Beit Sahur near Bethlehem, where close to 300 residents returned their Israeli-issued identification cards to protest a massive early-morning tax raid. In response to the unprecedented act of civil disobedience, the Army imposed a week-long, 24-hour curfew on the town.
The drop in tax collection has caused serious budgetary problems for the Israeli military administration, which, as a result, hascut back services that it has offered to the Palestinian population.
Welfare payments have been stopped. Treatment in Israeli hospitals is no longer covered by government insurance. And the development budget has been frozen, halting new projects in such areas as electric and water services and road construction.
About 1,000 Palestinian employees of the military administration face layoffs.
Meanwhile, Palestinians have been forming ``popular committees,'' voluntary groups in various communities designed to provide local services as an alternative to the military government.
The committees, which have spread and become more established in recent weeks, have organized a range of activities aimed at promoting self-sufficiency and mutual assistance.
These activities include first aid training, cleanup campaigns, makeshift classes in mosques when schools are closed down by the military government following unrest, and the planting of vegetable patches to provide home-grown food at times when communities are under curfews imposed by the Israelis.
The committees have also collected contributions for families suffering economic hardships because of persistant strikes, or whose relatives have been killed, wounded, or arrested during the unrest.
Israeli security forces have in recent weeks arrested members of several of the popular committees in an attempt to break this latest form of Palestinian civil disobediance.
The Jordanian steps to disengage from the West Bank could contribute further to the civil-disobedience campaign.
As Jordan-supported services are withdrawn and Israeli military government services contract due to budgetary constraints, Palestinians may increasingly rely on their own alternative frameworks to meet their needs.
Hanna Siniora, editor of the Palestinian newspaper Al-Fajr said in response to the latest Jordanian steps: ``It will make life more difficult, but it is worth the price.''