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"No planes or pay: Gaza airport workers carry on"
Tuesday, May 2, 2006
No planes or pay: Gaza airport workers carry on
Agence France Presse
RAFAH - Not only have no planes landed for more than five years, but neither
have any pay cheques for the past two months. At Gaza's ghost town airport,
time stands still rather than flies. "Every morning, we still come to work.
We just sit and wait," says Akram Mohammed, one of 500 people on the payroll
of the grandly named Yasser Arafat International Airport, who have not
received a dime since February. The decision by the European Union and
United States to suspend direct aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA) now
that it is run by the radical Islamists of Hamas has meant the 140,000 PA
employees went without pay in March and April.
But despite having their salaries suspended, the vast majority of airport
employees still turn up for work everyday. "What else can we do? We can't
just lounge around at home," says Akram who works in the travel information
department where the phones have long since stopped ringing. "It's not as if
we've got anywhere else to work either. Jobs are hard to come by in Gaza,"
adds Akram, whose two underemployed colleagues nod in agreement. In the
corridors and halls around the boarding gates, the noise of passengers and
flight announcements have been replaced by an eerie silence. Sited close to
the borders with Egypt and Israel in the southern Gaza Strip, the airport
was seen as a beacon of hope and a symbol of a future independent
Palestinian state when it opened in November 1998.
Passengers used to be able to fly to and from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia,
Abu Dhabi and even Turkey and Cyprus before the eruption of the five-year
Palestinian uprising. All that changed in 2001, when the Israeli army
destroyed the radar station and its bulldozers tore up tarmac on the airport
runway. Now the flight notice boards are empty and hostesses at the check-in
counters are nothing but a distant memory. Maher Tabash, a meteorolgist at
the airport, sees no reason to believe that the situation is about to
improve any time soon. "Life has become very difficult for the public sector
workers," he said. "If the salaries are not paid, the consequences are
potentially very dangerous," said Tabash, who worried about the prospect of
armed members of the security services taking the law into their own hands
if they continue to go without pay.
Mohammed Ghalib, the airport's chief electrician, said it was hypocritical
for the West to cut off aid payments and not worry about the impact. "I
didn't vote for Hamas but the international community should still give it a
chance to govern. The decision to cut the aid is unacceptable as all the
Palestinians are suffering the consequences," he said. Ghalib and his
colleagues say they do not understand the international community's
attitude, pointing out that monitors such as former US president Jimmy
Carter praised the Palestinian people for holding free and fair elections
when they voted for Hamas back in January. "We are tired with this
situation," said Ghazi Ghalib, director of public relations. "We built this
place, we made it work and thrive. Now we're back at square one, not even
getting salaries." Despite everything, however, he tries to remain upbeat.
"We still have hope that everything will turn out okay. It is hope that
keeps up going."
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