Ramallah, occupied West Bank – It is being described as one of the largest protests the West Bank has seen in recent years.
No Palestinian flags were raised, no rocks were thrown and there was no smog from burning tires.
This demonstration was not aimed against the Israeli occupation; it was held to deliver a message to the Palestinian Authority.
Thousands of teachers took to the streets of Ramallah despite the checkpoints erected by the PA security across the West Bank in an apparent attempt to limit participation.
They chanted for dignity and justice, vowed to continue their strike until their demands of higher wages, better benefits and new representation are met.
For nearly a month, the majority of the West Bank’s 35,000 teachers have been on strike, leaving nearly one million students out of schools.
Amid the crowds, reporters gathered around one teacher. “We live on charity, sir,” Mohammad Mustafa, an English teacher for the past 20 years was screaming to the cameras, addressing President Mahmoud Abbas.
“We get hand outs from neighbours, they say these are the teacher’s children… That’s what it means to be oppressed, that’s the definition of bitterness,” Mustafa, a married father of six, told Al Jazeera.
Like thousands of teachers, Mustafa is struggling to make ends meet with a basic salary that doesn’t exceed $500 per month.
Ali Rimawi is a newlywed who’s been teaching economics for eight years. He’s also a tile setter.
He says he wished he could spend more time at home, but he has to have a second job to pay his dues. “It’s not only that our salaries are less than others, our annual raise is limited too. Compared to other government sectors, we have a serious grading issue,” he told Al Jazeera.
The ministry of education is the second largest employer following the ministry of interior, with a budget of around $720m, most of which goes towards salaries. Any slight increase, some analysts say, would cost the government a lot.
But teachers furiously ask why should they pay for the austerity, while senior staff members get more privileges?
Meanwhile, the government used mosques to urge teachers to restart their classes. It also waged warnings by taking “administrative measures” against strikers and tightened security to make it harder for teachers to reach protests in order to pressure them into ending the strike, to no avail.
What it didn’t try, observers say, is talking to striking teachers representatives.
The government says it did talk to the union. But teachers accuse the union of siding with the government and say it no longer represents them.
They are demanding new representation and say the strike coordination committees are their new address.
Yet the government maintains it’ll only speak to a legitimate, elected body… Until that happens, nearly 2,000 schools remain shut; along with an opportunity to solve one of the most serious internal crises facing the PA in years.