Heated Encounter with the Head of West Bank Teachers’ Union

The head of the Fatah-run teachers’ union in the West Bank, Jamil Shehada, has defended the dismissal by the Palestinian Authority (PA) Mukhabarat or General Intelligence of hundreds of school teachers because of their “wrong” party affiliation. In a heated interview this week, Shehada argued that “any country has the right to protect its security against internal and external threats.”

Shehada described the issue as “having to do with security” and “having nothing to do with the rule of law.”

The following are excerpts of the interview:

Question: Hundreds of Palestinian school teachers were fired recently for political reasons. Why has the Teachers Union remained silent?

Answer: This is not true, I myself have issued several statements in this regard. And I want to tell you that we at the Union are in principle against the firing of teachers and public servants from their jobs for political reasons. But as far as I know those teachers you are talking about were not dismissed because of their party affiliation or political views. They were never formally and officially instate as full-time teachers in the first place. In other words, the procedures and formalities necessary for instating them in their jobs were incomplete. So we can’t really speak of dismissals.

Q: But why let these teachers carry out their tasks as teachers for nearly 30 months? Shouldn’t the security agencies have informed them that they were unwanted upon their initial appointment?

A: Well, we at the Teachers’ Union are not responsible for this. But in general I can tell you that these people were dismissed for objective reasons.

Q: Some teachers accuse you (the Teachers’ Union) of conniving and colluding with the security agencies against teachers who are not affiliated with Fatah.

A: It seems to me that you rely on Hamas’ sources. Besides, why don’t you write on what is happening in Gaza and the dismissal of more than four thousand teachers there. I myself have been threatened by Hamas.

Q: Does this mean that the dismissal of teachers here in the West Bank was effectively a reprisal for the anti-Fatah measures in the Gaza Strip?

A: No, it is not like that. Here security was the only determining factor beyond the dismissals.

Q: Yes, but in the final analysis, the teachers were fired because of their political convictions which you call “security hazards.”

A: No, no, the dismissals were motivated by genuine security considerations, because even teachers have no right to jeopardize the interests of the country and the masses.

Q: In what way have these dismissed teachers jeopardized the security of the country and the masses?

A: Well, this matter needs to be investigated.

Q: Investigated by whom?

A: By the security agencies.

Q: But the security agencies say affiliation with Hamas constitutes a national security threat?

A: I don’t know about this.

Q: Now, how are you at the union going to deal with this matter?

A: We have asked the dismissed teachers to submit a complaint and we will study each case based on its own merit.

Q: Do you advise the fired teachers to go to the courts?

A: As I told you, this is not a legal matter; this is only a security matter.

Q: Are security matters not subject to the rule of law?

A: As I said this is not a legal issue, it is a security matter that is not related to the rule of law.

Q: Why is the government refusing to pay full salaries for thousands of teachers who were appointed in the past three years?

A: We have been conducting negotiations with the government on this matter, and we hope we will reach a solution very soon.

Q: But you have been conducting negotiations with the government for ages, but to no avail. Are you betraying the teachers’ trust?

A: We are not to blame for this; Hamas is to blame, because many of these teachers were appointed without financial allocations.

Q: But why must a teacher wait that long until receiving his or her “financial allocation” when a newly inducted security cadre receives his salary almost immediately?

A: Because the job of a teacher is very sensitive and we have to be sure about his or her qualifications.

Q: Qualification and political affiliation?

A: Qualification and security considerations.

Q: Do you intend to go on strike to protest the government’s foot-dragging in paying the “new teachers” their long overdue salaries?

A: We can’t go on strike because of this problem. We went on strike last week for two days, but we can’t start an open-ended strike every time we have a little problem.

Q: It is amply clear that the general level of school learning is very low, aren’t you worried about this issue?

A: Indeed, I am. But there is little we can do to rectify the situation. We are talking after all about a complicated problem stemming from serious disruptions besetting the educational process during the two uprisings which lasted for 10 years.

Q: When will the next teachers’ elections take place?

A: We had an election last year. (Hamas says that election was concocted by Fatah and utterly illegal.)

Q: Is it true that the dismissals of pro-Hamas teachers are left to be resolved before the national reconciliation talks in Cairo?

A: No, I don’t think so.

Khalid Amayreh is a journalist living in Palestine. Read other articles by Khaled, or visit Khaled's website.