Palestinian students filled schools that had been empty for months, happily greeting friends as classes resumed Saturday after a 70-day teachers’ strike that interrupted studies across the West Bank and Gaza.
Some 800,000 students returned to class after the Hamas-led government agreed to pay the teachers partial salaries, ending the work stoppage by 40,000 instructors.
International sanctions on the government that came to power in March have made it nearly impossible for the government to pay its 165,000 civil servants, causing widespread hardship in the West Bank and Gaza.
“I am very happy today. I was counting down the days of the strike to come here and resume studying and see my friends and my teachers,” said 16-year-old Amani Abu Hatab.
“Life out of school is so boring,” she added as she excitedly embraced her friends.
The West, including the United States, has said it will not lift sanctions unless Hamas recognizes Israel, renounces violence and accepts past peace deals, something Hamas has so far refused to do.
The Hamas-run Education Ministry vowed to begin paying teachers in recent weeks and scraped together enough cash to pay them a partial salary of about $235.
Teachers have some of the lowest wages in the public sector, earning between $420 and $820 a month, said Jamil Shahade, head of the teachers’ union. The union has pledged to resume the strike should the Hamas government fail again to pay teachers’ wages.
Making up for lost time
Education Minister Nasser Shaer said he had formed a committee to find ways to make up for the lost class time. Students will either go to school on Thursdays, currently a day off, or have longer hours.
Shaer expressed hopes that Arab countries will help the government to pay the teachers’ salaries while the aid cuts remain in place.
In the West Bank city of Nablus, Adham Titi, a 16-year-old student at al-Kindi high school, was eager to get back to school and stop working at his father’s candy shop.
“It is fun to see my schoolmates and my teachers, and it is good to get up in the morning and go to school like a person,” Titi said. “Now I feel like a person and not like my father’s laborer.”