Chapter V: The Oslo Autonomy
A Functional Perspective


“The necessities of governmental operation require large-scale organization of a bureaucratic type, with definite internal hierarchical arrangements, well-developed functional specialization, and qualification standards for membership in the bureaucracy.”

One of the most prominent features of the modern world is the participation of an extensive full-time body of officials in the day-to-day conduct of public affairs. This body is called the bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is defined as an organization that has the following characteristics: “(1) hierarchy, (2) differentiation or specialization, (3) qualification or competence”. Other characteristics such as the division of labor, a civil service system (including a clear set of grades for personnel throughout the civil service based on their qualifications), and impersonal nature of interpersonal relationships might be added to this list. Nevertheless, hierarchy, differentiation, and competence, remain the central characteristics of any bureaucratic organization.


Although this paradigm of the characteristics of a bureaucratic organization is universally accepted, thus making it possible for us to distinguish bureaucratic organizations from other organizations, it focuses only on the structural elements of the bureaucracy. Therefore, it makes it difficult for us to distinguish one bureaucracy from another, since most of the world’s countries (developed and developing countries alike) enjoy systems of bureaucratic organization with the above mentioned structural traits. To overcome such a dilemma, we must think about what the bureaucratic organization should do. Or to put it differently, we must think about the function of bureaucratic organizations. Fred W. Riggs (1966) made an early attempt toward this end when he defined the bureaucracy as “[a] concrete organization, composed of hierarchically related roles, serving formally as an agent for a larger social entity or system.”

According to Riggs, what matters is the extent to which a bureaucracy engages in administrative functions, as a bureaucracy may serve other functions alongside the administrative ones, such as social, economic, and political functions. Bureaucracy engages in an administrative function insofar as its role is the application of rules. Alternatively, its role may be confined to the process of deciding the actions, steps, and responsibilities necessary to implement the goals and policies set by politicians or the authoritative body. Toward this end, bureaucracy should release itself from any values (including any partisan allegiances) other than loyalty to the politicians or the authoritative body who/which are supposed to set goals and espouse policies for the welfare of society. Only this makes the bureaucracy eligible to work for the welfare of society.

The bureaucracy, thereby, is considered to be the agent that translates the decisions made by the authoritative body into concrete manifestations on the ground - that is, to deliver goods and services to citizens without discrimination. This is what the bureaucracy’s function should be, and this is what Peters meant when he defined the bureaucracy in functional terms as “…the process through which general social rules are converted into specific decisions for individual cases”.


The amount of services, and the manner in which these services are supplied to citizens, shape, to a large extent, citizens’ attitudes towards their political system. Often the output of any political system has two components; quantitative (objective) and qualitative (subjective). The quantitative component refers to “…what the political system actually provides the citizens in the way of gratifications and deprivations”, and the qualitative component refers to “…the style in which those gratifications and deprivations are delivered to the individual…” In this regard, bureaucracy emerges as the most influential variable in determining the subjective components of the political system, since it is the body which decides the way in which these services are supplied to citizens. This is so to the extent that a bureaucracy shows competence, effectiveness, and consideration for citizens’ interests in supplying these services, and to the extent that citizens show respect for the political system.

To do so, bureaucracy, as mentioned above, should release itself from any considerations other than loyalty to politicians/authoritative body. This is a very important condition, if the bureaucracy is to offer and deliver services to citizens in the best quantitative and qualitative way. In other words, a bureaucracy works best when confined to an administrative role, to the extent that this determines its ability to serve society. Only this would secure a good evaluation of a state’s public policy.

But the ability of bureaucracy to function properly varies from one country to another. Its ability to release itself from any values or considerations other than loyalty to the authoritative body or politicians, and thus to perform the function of rule application, varies from one country to another. In developing countries, the role of the bureaucracy is highly overemphasized and overlaps with the rule application to include political roles.


Most of the leaders of these countries found themselves confronted with huge challenges in the post-independence era. The most important of these challenges is how to achieve the task of nation-building whilst simultaneously promoting the economic and social progress of the local population. Given the widely diffused kinship networks in most of these countries, these leaders encountered huge difficulties in integrating and mobilizing their people within a territorial state-based moral framework (as the task of nation-building necessitates), and hence, have been failing to achieve the task of nation-building.

The failure of these leaders to achieve the task of nation-building has been compounded by their failure to promote the social and economic progress of their people. Often, social and economic progress requires strong political institutions (e.g., political parties, interest groups, legislative bodies) that are able to articulate peoples’ economic and social demands to policy-makers. Meanwhile, it requires a minimum state intervention in economy.532

In the developing countries, the above-mentioned conditions were not fulfilled. Most of these countries experienced single-party rule, which suggests a strong executive authority and weak political parties, interest groups, and legislative body. In the meanwhilemost of these countries adopted an import-substitution macroeconomic policy which assumes state-led economic central planning. This fact inhibited the development of market economy, and left the public sector of these countries as the chief source of employment. The result was an overstaffed and politically oriented bureaucracy. As Joseph Lapalombara critically remarked about the situation of these countries; “a significant problem in many of the ex-colonial areas is not that bureaucracy is too weak, but that, as a result of the colonial experience itself, the bureaucracy in the post-independence period is the only sector of the political system that is reasonably coherent and able to exercise leadership and power.”


The situation in developing countries is one of imbalance of power between the bureaucracy and the traditional political institutions. This imbalance negatively affects the political development of these countries. Therefore, reducing the bureaucracy’s power (by rationalizing it) seems to be very important for achieving political development (political development means the development of the capabilities of the political system to cope with challenges).

The reduction in the bureaucracy’s power must take place whilst simultaneously strengthening the traditional political institutions such as political parties, interest groups and legislative bodies. This allows these institutions to be able to monitor and scrutinize the actions of the bureaucracy, and hence, to achieve the intended political balance, and thereby, the political development which is necessary for meeting the challenges of nation-building, and economic and social progress.

The Rise of the Palestinian Bureaucracy: Challenges and Parameters

A major aspect of the Palestinian bureaucracy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is its youth. Since 1994, and by virtue of Oslo agreements/accords, the West Bank and Gaza Strip had enjoyed their own bureaucratic system. Previously, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip were denied the right to such a system. The foreign rulers which governed the territories (Ottomans, British, Egyptians, Jordanians, and finally Israelis) relinquished the responsibilities of supplying the main services and utilities to the Palestinians of West Bank and Gaza Strip. While the Ottomans assumed such responsibility up to 1919, the British assumed it from 1919 up to 1948 when the state of Israel was established over more than half of historic Palestine.


The West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and the Gaza Strip, the only remaining Arab territories after 1948, were placed at that time under Jordanian civil rule and Egyptian Military administration, respectively. Both the Jordanians and the Egyptians undertook, at that time, to supply the Palestinians of West Bank and Gaza Strip with the basic utilities and services. In the meantime, UNRWA was established in response to the refugee crisis in December 1949. It joined the Jordanians and the Egyptians in supplying the main utilities and services to Palestinians. This state of affairs lasted up to 1967, when Israel took control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. With the start of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Jordanian and Egyptian role of supplying Palestinians with these services disappeared, and the responsibility lay mainly with Israel and UNRWA.

The signing of the Oslo agreements, and the subsequent establishment of the PA in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1994, formally put an end to the Israeli responsibility of supplying Palestinians with basic utilities and services, and transferred this responsibility to the PA. The year of 1994, therefore, witnessed, for the first time in Palestinian history, the rise of a Palestinian bureaucratic system over the Palestinian territories. The first signs of this system started to appear on the scene with the founding of Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (hereinafter PECDAR) in late 1993.

The idea of establishing an institute like PECDAR was stimulated by the Oslo peace process, which promised economic prosperity for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Towards this end, approximately 50 delegations representing 50 states and international organizations held their first conference in of support of Middle East peace in Washington, in October 1993. In that conference, which was the first donor conference to support Palestinians in their efforts to build their state, the 50 states and international organizations committed US $2.3 billion to assist Palestinians in their development and reconstruction efforts during the period of 1993-1998. By December 1998, some US$ 2.1 billion had been received by the Palestinians.


Thus the rationale for establishing PECDAR was so that it would lead to reconstruction, by having strategic control of the process, and also so that it could coordinate and distribute the resources donated to Palestinians. Arafat’s decree of the 31 October 1993 relating to the establishment of PECDAR had specified this remit for PECDAR when it asserted that the main job of PECDAR was to “…set priorities for economic and social development and reconstruction and, specifically, priorities for development projects and the direction of their implementation on the basis of transparency, clarity and competence”. On 20th November 1998, Khalid Nijim, Director-General of projects department of PECDAR revealed that PECDAR had completed 1745 projects since its establishment. These projects were related to infrastructure development, increasing economic growth, encouraging investments, health, education, social welfare, and so forth.

The majority of these projects were completed in coordination with the concerned ministries, which began to appear after 1994. By virtue of the Oslo Accords the PA was empowered to handle civil issues. Article VI of the Declaration of Principles (DOP) signed on 13 September 1993 promised the transfer of all the civil powers of the former Israeli military government and its civil administration to the PA. The same article promised the transfer of Israeli powers in five civil spheres to the PA (education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism) soon after the entry of the PA into the Gaza Strip and Jericho. Article IV (Para, 2) of the Cairo Accord, signed on 4 May 1994, gave the PA the right to “administer the departments transferred to it”, and to establish other departments and other administrative units “as necessary for the fulfillment of its responsibilities…” in the above mentioned civil spheres and any other similar ones.

The responsibilities of the PA in the civil spheres included; policy formulation, supervision of policy implementation, employment of staff, establishing departments, authorities and institutions, conclusion of contracts, keeping and administering registers and a record of the population, issuing certificates, licenses and documents (Article VI, Para 1, c-d of Cairo accord). Annex II of the Cairo Accord (Protocol Concerning Civil Affairs) promised the extension of the PA’s responsibilities over a further thirty-three civil spheres alongside the above-mentioned five spheres.


The new civil spheres included; interior affairs, fisheries, surveying, statistics, labor, housing, assessment, parks, religious affairs, employee pensions, commerce and industry, transportation, agriculture, employment, land registration, nature reserves, electricity, public works, postal services, population registry and documentation, government and absentee land and other immovable, telecommunications, archaeology, water and sewage, planning and zoning, indirect taxation, environment protection, gas and petroleum, insurance, and treasury.

Though the Oslo accords, in particular article VI of the DOP, promised the transfer of the Israeli civil powers in education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism soon after the arrival of PA to Gaza Strip and Jericho (in May 1994 the PA arrived Gaza and Jericho), the PA was required to go through a round of negotiations with the Israeli government to put this article into effect. On 29 August 1994, the PA concluded with the Israeli government the “Agreement on the Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities”. The agreement put article VI of the DOP into effect, and therefore, enabled the PA, since that time, to take over education and culture, health, social welfare, direct taxation, and tourism. Over time the PA took over the thirty-three civil spheres specified in Annex II of the Cairo Accord. With this control over most of the Israeli civil authority, the PA was asked to set up the ministries and public institutions that were necessary for the fulfillment of its responsibilities in such spheres. In setting up these ministries and institutions, the PA encountered a complicated institutional context at the economic, social, and legal level.

The PA had in fact to deal with the negative economic repercussions of the economic policy which was pursued by Israel over the 27 years of its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In seeking to subordinate the economy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to her priorities and needs, Israel discouraged the development of large-scale industrialization. It dealt with the WBGS as a market for its products, and as a source of cheap labor. Due to this policy, the economy of the WBGS became very much connected to the Israeli economy, and the livelihood of a large segment of the Palestinian society became dependent on employment inside Israel. With the policy of closure pursued since 1991, the economy of the WBGS was in serious stagnation. Due to this policy, the WBGS labor force, employed inside Israel before the closure, either lost their work, or became engaged in more casual labor on a daily/weekly basis, depending on whether they were granted a permit, and if so the duration of the permit (see Chapter III, pp. 118-119).


In dealing with the problem of Palestinian workers who lost employment inside Israel, the PA had to bear in mind the weak and fragmented Palestinian private sector. This weakness and fragmentation was the direct result of the economic policies pursued by Israel over the 27 years of its occupation of these territories. The Palestinian private sector, therefore, was unprepared to provide answers to economic questions like the problem of unemployment. This meant that the public sector was the sole agent upon which this responsibility fell.

Moreover, the public sector was asked to provide the answer to the question of how to absorb exiled Palestinians who had been allowed to return to their homes in the WBGS after Oslo. Some of these Palestinians were born in the WBGS, but were deported from the WBGS due to their active participation in the resistance against the occupation. Others fled Palestine after the 1948 war (outsiders) and contributed to the resistance during their own period of exile. In June 1994, the number of these Palestinians was estimated at 500. Most of them were affiliated with Fatah. Their long years of exile and contribution to resistance stamped them with revolutionary ethics rather than those of statespersons. In other words, these Palestinians- who felt after Oslo that they were entitled to job security and status after years of hardship and sacrifice- enjoyed much expertise with regard to how to lead a resistance campaign but very little expertise with regard to how to build state institutions.

Alongside them were those Palestinians who fled Palestine, after the 1948 war or the 1967 war, but were not affiliated with the various PLO factions. Some of these Palestinians, who were denied the right to return to the WBGS in the pre-Oslo era, had become involved in the civil life of the countries they fled to, and practiced various professions like medicine, engineering, teaching, and so forth. They had started to return to the WBGS since 1994 reaching a total, in 1997, of over 165,000 (6% of the WBGS population at that time). Parallel to these Palestinians were thousands of local university/graduate-degree holders seeking employment. Their number had shifted steadily since PA arrival to WBGS to reach to 147,372 in 1997.


The PA was not only asked to absorb these Palestinians within its civil apparatus, but also to absorb thousands of Palestinian detainees released from Israeli jails in the post-Oslo era. The first transfer of these detainees was provided by Article XX of the Cairo Accord, and was estimated at 5,000. Most of these detainees- who had broken with their education due to their active participation in resistance against the occupation- were affiliated with Fatah, and enjoyed little expertise in respect of how to build state institutions. In this sense, they were similar to the PLO cadres and members who returned to the WBGS after Oslo.

Parallel to the challenge of how to absorb those unemployed Palestinians, or those who had returned to the WBGS or had been released from Israeli jails- into the various civil or security apparatus- the PA was asked to meet their demands for basic services like health care, education, social needs, infrastructure, and so forth. More important was meeting the increasing demands for these services posed by the high natural growth rate of the local population. This rate, estimated at 5 % for the Gaza Strip, and 4.1% for the West Bank in 1991, was to add some 1.2 millions Palestinians to the 2 million already living in the WBGS (including East Jerusalem) by 2000, and a further 720,000 Palestinians by 2004.

To meet the local and incoming population’s demand for services, the PA had to encounter the bitter empirical realities of the Oslo agreements. This included the Israeli control over the key resources (e.g. water), external security, and approximately 40% of the Gaza Strip and 72% of the West Bank (this includes the borders, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the military posts, and the bypass roads surrounding these settlements).


Moreover, the PA had to encounter the bitter economic realities of the Oslo Accords, including the restrictions imposed on its economic freedom by the Protocol on Economic Relations signed on 29 of April 1994. Among these restrictions was the denial of the right to issue an independent Palestinian currency, and the imposition of the Israeli currency (New Israeli Shekel, NIS) as official tender in the territories. This denied the PA the capacity to design its own monetary policy, particularly with respect to establishing interest rates and currency values. This meant that the Palestinian economy was continually victimized by, and at the mercy of, Israeli currency fluctuations (see chapter III, P. 120).

The restrictions of the Protocol on Economic Relations were not only confined to PA monetary policy, but extended to include the PA’s sources of income. Though the protocol empowered the PA to impose direct tax and indirect tax (a fact that was to secure to it some US $360-420 million annually) as well as right to receive annually some US $180 million of the income taxes deducted by Israel from Palestinian laborers employed inside Israeli territories, the PA’s enjoyment of these sums, in particular the US$ 180 million, remained subject to Israel’s good will, as well as the political winds of the region, and in particular to any advances in the peace process (see chapter III, Pp. 117-118).

The PA, therefore, had to suffer Israeli restrictions on sources of income which were necessary to meet expenditure in civil spheres. To deal with this dilemma, and other bitter empirical realities of the Oslo agreements, the PA had no option but to rely on the international community as a crucial source of aid necessary for building its institutions, and for covering its expenditure in the civil spheres. The PA, in fact, placed significant hope in the international community to develop the Palestinian autonomous areas. In July 1994 Arafat told a news conference in Cairo that “Israeli colonization has destroyed the Palestinian infrastructure. We have to start from scratch in everything and this is the responsibility of the international community.”


In response, the international community showed considerable generosity, and allocated approximately $525 million to the PA in the first year of its existence (1994). The highest portion of these funds was allocated to building the PA security forces (10.5%), and following this was the education sector (10.2%); institutional building (6%) and the health sector (5%). The remaining funds were allocated among sectors like agriculture, transportation, human rights and democratic development, women, private sector development and others.

This funding was the green light that enabled the PA to start forming its ministries and public institutions, and to assume the responsibility of supplying Palestinians with services like health, education, social services and so forth. Hence, seventeen ministries were working on the ground by the end of 1994. These ministries, which still operate today, were: Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Affairs, Ministry of Culture and Arts, Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Economics and Trade, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, Ministry of Communication, Ministry of Youth and Sport, Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Islamic Waqf, Ministry of Transportation, and Ministry of the Interior.

The difficulties that these ministries had to overcome in order to properly function were not only confined to the above-mentioned parameters (Palestinian unemployment, and the limited sources of the PA’s income) but extended to include these ministries’ lack of any legal system organizing their operation as the following section discusses.

The Palestinian Bureaucracy: Legal Dimension


It is commonly accepted that any bureaucratic system should have legal system and rules organizing its staff employment; including the methods of recruitment, compensation (pay), promotion, retirement, dismissal, clear set of grades for personnel throughout the civil service based on their qualifications. This legal system is commonly known as the civil service law. The Palestinian civil law, which was supposed to fulfill this goal, was ratified by Arafat on 28 May 1998, and consisting of 108 articles. The law sets down the mechanisms of building a professional bureaucracy. Article 4 (Para. 2-4), for instance, asked all the ministries to develop an annual organizational chart specifying the functions of each department and to indicate job specifications and descriptions of any vacancies the ministry seeks to fill.

Upon the approval of the Cabinet of the organizational chart and the vacancies in a given ministry, the ministry is obliged to coordinate with Diwan El M’wadfeen (Personnel Agency) with regard to the procedures of filling the ministry’s vacancy (art. 7). Following this, as article (19) provides, the ministry is obliged to announce, in the local daily newspapers, about any vacancy and to notify the Personnel Agency over this. The announcement should include the job description and person specifications of the vacancy.

Then a joint committee representing the given ministry and the Personnel Agency is formed to select qualified applicants (to be determined through an assessment of their academic qualifications, Art. 26). After deciding on the qualified candidates, the committee calls them for a written examination. The best-placed candidates are employed by this committee. If two applicants received the same grade in the examination, the committee should select the one who enjoys more work experience. (Art. 20-22)


Those selected by the ministry are asked to assume their responsibilities within one month from the date of informing them of their selection, otherwise their appointment is revoked, and the next candidates in line is invited to fill the post. Usually, the candidate is recruited for one year for a trial-period, before a final decision to employ him is concluded by the relevant ministry. His name is then placed on the PA payroll and the Personnel Agency is informed (Art. 25, 30-31).

Alongside this clear mechanism of recruitment, the law sets down clear mechanisms of promotion. Article (9) of the law classified PA civil servants into five classes; 1) the “Special class” includes ministers; 2) the “First-Class” includes legislators like Deputy-Ministers, Assistant-Deputy Ministers, and Director-Generals; 3) the “Second-Class” includes technocrats like professionals, technicians, associate professionals, accountants, and so forth; 4) the “Third-Class” includes clerks, secretaries, archive staff, and so forth; 5) the “Fourth-Class” includes services staff like janitors, and so on. With the exception of the Special class, each class is divided into a number of levels. Usually, the civil servants are enrolled at each level according to their qualifications.

The movement to a higher level of the same class is conditional on the civil servant’s completion of a specific period of time in the assigned level. This period of time is specified by the law, and varies from one level to another. For example, movement from level six to level five of the second class (whose staff must have a University or graduate degree at minimum) requires five-years working in level six, as a minimum. At the same time, movement from level five to level four of the same class requires at least five-years working in level five; while the movement from level three to level two of the same class requires four-years working in level three, at the minimum.


The same rules are applied to civil servants of the “Third-Class”. In principle they are asked to have a two-year diploma or the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination (Tawjihi). If a civil servant of this class continued his studies, and obtained a university degree with relation to his work, this civil servant is moved to the second class, but enrolled at a level with income equal to that one before his promotion. As far as the civil servants of the “Fourth-Class” are concerned, their promotion to the third class is possible upon their completion of Tawjihi or obtaining a two-year diploma. If the promoted civil servant receives the salary of the level to which he was promoted or his pre-promotion salary, depending on which salary is higher (Art. 10-13, & Table “1” annexed in the law).

Though the law sets a clear mechanism for promotion, it denies Palestinians other than those loyal to Arafat the right to have access to top posts in the Palestinian bureaucracy. For example, the civil servants of the special class, and the first class, were said to be appointed directly by the PA president (Art. 16, 17). The law, therefore, was designed to legitimize the de facto situation, as it facilitated the dominance of Fatah affiliated deputy and assistant deputy ministers over thirty-three posts out of forty deputy-ministers and assistant-deputy minister posts in 1996.

Nevertheless, the law signified a fundamental administrative development when it considered academic qualifications and work experience as the basis for recruitment and promotion in the Palestinian bureaucracy. In so doing, the law constituted a protest against the system of nepotism which existed in the Palestinian bureaucracy (as we will see later), and called for a reconsideration of the remuneration of thousands of civil servants who were subjected to injustice as result of this system.


To bring the law into force, therefore, the PA was obliged to allocate millions of US dollars to cover the financial implications of the law. To deal with this dilemma, the PA adopted gradual implementation of the law. In November 1998, the PA implemented the law on teachers and “Fourth-Class” civil servants, with a cost of NIS 30 million (7.5 million USD) monthly, according to Mohammad Abu Jarad, deputy-minister of finance. This phase was the first and was going to be followed by another phase covering the civil servants of the third and second class to be implemented in December 1998. In late December 1998, the teachers received their salaries plus the increase provided for by the law. However, the financial bonus given for work experience, and the financial rate given to cover the inflation rate, were deducted from their salaries.

The same happened with the civil servants of the third and second class. Accordingly, a series of protests were organized by PA civil servants calling for a correct implementation of the law. On 8 January 1999, in response to these protests, Arafat declared that the PA would refrain from implementing the law until the financial implications of it were reconsidered. As a result, the law remained unimplemented until the outbreak of the current intifada in September 2000.

The Palestinian Bureaucracy: Institution Building - a Functional Perspective

As mentioned before, seventeen ministries were set up at the end of 1994. It is beyond the scope of the present research to describe in perfect detail the institutional process of building each of the ministries. In tracing the development of the Palestinian bureaucracy, therefore, I shall focus my attention on three ministries; the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Social Affairs. As they are commonly known, health, education, and social services, are the most important services supplied to citizens.


In the Palestinian case, these services were the most ones supplied by the Israeli occupation (1967-1993) and UNRWA. This fact makes it easier to find out what difference the establishment of the PA in the WBGS made as far as the enjoyment of Palestinians of these services is concerned. The three ministries serve as three empirical cases through which my findings and conclusions about the Palestinian bureaucracy will be formulated. To start the discussion, I will start with the ministry of health, as the health sector (as the next section reveals) was the most underdeveloped sector on the eve of the PA’s arrival to WBGS.

The Palestinian Health Sector: Background

Historically speaking, the Israeli civil administration, together with UNRWA, and some Palestinian grassroots organizations, was the major provider of health services to WBGS Palestinians. While UNRWA and the Palestinian grassroots organizations provided mainly primary health services (e.g. prenatal health care, immunization, health promotion, treatment of minor illnesses, control of infectious diseases, health care education, among others) the Israeli civil administration provided secondary health care (e.g. internal medicine, maternity, cardiac care, urology, intensive care, general surgery, and so forth) alongside primary health care.


On the eve of the PA’s arrival to WBGS, UNRWA was operating a total of 42 primary health care centers (9 in the Gaza Strip, and 33 in the West Bank) alongside some dental clinics, feeding centers, and a 34 bed hospital (located in West Bank camp of Qalandia). Around 950,000 of the WBGS’ registered refugees benefited from UNRWA services (offered free of charge) in 1992. Meanwhile Palestinian grassroots organizations were operating some 132 clinics in 118 communities, which served nearly half of the population in 1992, offering their services free of charge or with minimum charge.

Around the same period, the Israeli civil administration was operating a network of primary health care centers consisting of up to 200 centers (171 in the West Bank, and 29 in the Gaza Strip). Parallel to these centers, the civil administration operated 13 hospitals (five in the Gaza Strip, and eight in the West Bank) with a total of 1,596 beds for a secondary health care. The number of the beds operated by the civil administration formed up to 60% of all hospital beds in the West Bank, and 90% of all beds in the Gaza Strip. The governmental (civil administration) sector, therefore, was the main sector offering secondary health care.

However, and in a quantitative sense, this sector was characterized by poor performance. The number of hospitals, and beds available (13 hospitals with 1,596 beds) was very small in relation to the demand posed by 2 million Palestinians living in the territories in 1991. In that year, only one hospital bed was made available for every 1253 Palestinians. Even so, not every one of the 1253 Palestinian was eligible to enjoy hospital services.


Only those who joined the government health insurance scheme were eligible for these services. This included Palestinians employed in the Israeli civil administration, Palestinians employed in local government institutions, and Palestinian laborers officially working inside Israel. These Palestinians (alongside their family members) were obliged to join the government health insurance scheme once they started their job. According to World Bank estimates, the number of these families did not exceed 75,800 families in 1992. Bearing in mind that the average size of a Palestinian family is estimated at 6.4 according to the most up-to-date statistics, it is possible to conclude that some 485,000 Palestinians were enrolled in the Israeli health insurance scheme in 1992.

Providing the fact that the population-as mentioned elsewhere- was estimated at 2 million in 1991, and the natural growth rate is estimated at 5 % for the Gaza Strip, and 4.1% for the West Bank in the same year, one can conclude that the population of WBGS is estimated at 2.13 Million in 1992. This implies that the rate of the Palestinians enrolled in the Israeli health insurance scheme is nearly 22% of the total population, in 1992. Though the health insurance scheme, introduced in 1978, was optional for Palestinians other than the employees of the civil administration and local government institutions, and those officially working inside Israel - the subscription fees made it difficult for these Palestinians to join the Israeli health insurance scheme.

Sara Roy estimates the fees at nearly NIS 10 per month for a single person, with an additional NIS 2.5 for each family member in April 1985. Within nine months (April 1985-January 1986), these fees, according to Roy, were doubled to NIS 22 for a single person and an additional NIS 5 for each family member. The following years (1986-1993) witnessed a further increase. In the early 1990s, Palestinians were asked to pay a sum of NIS 111 as monthly insurance subscription fees. This sum, which is equivalent to US$ 35 (at that time each NIS 3 were equivalent to US$1) was relatively high if it is taken into account that the average income of the Palestinian family was estimated at some US $1,882 annually, or US $157 monthly.561


The vast majority of Palestinians (78% of the population), therefore, were without health insurance. These Palestinians were asked to pay for their own medical treatment. Roy estimates the daily hospitalization cost in the governmental hospitals at NIS 207 in 1985. This covers the services of in-patient (NIS 130.4), delivery (NIS 65.20), and consultation (NIS 12.26) services. Bearing in mind that the health insurance subscription fees had increased by nearly 405% (from NIS 22 in 1986 to NIS 111 in early 1990s), it is possible to conclude that the cost of the daily hospitalization had also increased by approximately the same rate. This suggests approximately NIS 837 (approximately US$ 292) as a daily hospitalization cost in early 1990s.

Even with this high cost of medical treatment Palestinians were denied the right to proper and efficient hospital services. The main reason for this was the limited funds Israel made available to health in WBGS. In 1975, for instance, Israel’s health budget for the entire West Bank was equivalent to only 60% of the typical budget for one 260-bed hospital in Israel. Israel’s failure to allocate sufficient funds for governmental hospitals blocked the development of these hospitals’ facilities. For example, the five governmental hospitals of the Gaza Strip (El Shifa, Radwan, Naser, Breij, and Radwan Eye) failed to secure more than one bed for every 548 Gazans in 1984. Also, they failed to secure more than one doctor for every 2200 Gazans, and one nurse for every 900 Gazans in the same year.

Alongside the shortage in the human resources necessary to operate these hospitals, there was a serious shortage in the technical infrastructure and equipment necessary for efficient delivery of health services in relation to hematology, cardiac care, dialysis, among others. El Shifa hospital in Gaza, for instance, lacked equipment and facilities such as X-ray machines, dialysis units, electro-cardiogram units, cardiac monitor, and so forth. This shortage in material and human resources left hospitals in the WBGS unable to supply health services in an efficient and effective manner, and so shifted the infant mortality rate to 70 per 1,000 live births. By comparison, the rate was 14 per 1,000 in Israel, 55 per 1,000 in Jordan, and 60 per 1,000 in Syria in the same year.


The health conditions of Palestinians seemed unlikely to improve in the following years (1987-1993). These years were the ones which witnessed the first intifada. The intifada, was the spontaneous uprising against the occupation, encompassing all segments of the population; young and old, male and female, rich and poor, intellectual and uneducated, religious and secular, villagers and urban dwellers. It expressed Palestinians’ protest against their humiliating conditions under the occupation, and their desire for a complete disengagement from its control (see chapter II, Pp. 102-108).

In response to the intifada, Israel adopted extremely harsh political, security, and social measures against the Palestinians. These measures included the disproportionate use of force, collective punishments such as curfews, sieges, blocking sick and wounded patients from having access to health care, raiding health facilities on the pretext of searching for intifada activists, prohibiting doctors’ movement during the curfews unless they have a permit, and more importantly, forcing doctors to hand over the names of all the injured admitted to the hospitals. This was a particularly worrying measure for the injured of the intifada, and left the majority of them reluctant to seek medical care in the governmental hospitals because of the high possibility of arrest by the army, and fearing that the injury would serve as evidence of “guilt”.

Owing to these deteriorating security conditions, Israel did very little to improve the health situation of the territories. In the period of 1987-1990, there were no notable changes in the hospital facilities. In fact, this period witnessed further deterioration in the health situation, in the Gaza Strip in particular. In 1990, for instance, only one nurse was made available for each 1052 Gazans (9.5 per 10,000), as against one nurse for every 900 Gazans in 1984. Furthermore, only one physician was made available for each 2083 Gazans (4.8 per 10,000). Though the conditions of West Bank hospitals seemed relatively better than the ones of their Gaza Strip counterparts, these hospitals continued to suffer shortages in some resources, in particular in nursing staff, as only one nurse was made available for every 1250 West Bankers in the same year.


After the closure policy (adoped in 1991 onward), many Palestinians (including those enrolled in the Israeli health insurance scheme) were denied the right to medical treatment in Israel. These Palestinians were obliged to have permits. To obtain such a permit they were subjected to strict security scrutiny, and in most cases, the permit was denied. Providing for the very large difference between the range and quality of health services available in WBGS and in Israel, the denial of the permit meant risking the life of these Palestinians, as this would leave them at the mercy of local hospitals which lacked the appropriate material and qualified human resources necessary to deal with serious diseases like cardiac, cancer, and cardiovascular problems. In 1994 or so (around the same period of the PA’s arrival to the territories), at least 20% of the crude death rate in WBGS resulted from cardiac diseases, and another 11% and 9% resulted from cardiovascular and cancer diseases, respectively.

The PA, therefore, inherited a regressive health sector from Israel, and had to deal with huge health problems resulting from the health policy of Israel towards the WBGS over the 27 years of the occupation of these territories. It is possible to sum up the main features of the Palestinian health sector on the eve of the PA’s arrival to the territories with the following:

The Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH): Does it make a Difference?


One can trace the history of the institutional building of the Palestinian ministry of health to 1992, when the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Washington were underway (for these talks see chapter II, Pp. 105-106). These talks, and before it the Madrid peace conference of 1991, gave rise to strong hopes among the concerned parties for a possible and close settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Inspired by these hopes, Palestinians started to lay down the nucleus of their state-institutions, among which was the ministry of health.

In the same year that the Washington talks were underway, the PLO founded the Palestinian Health Council (PHC) as an institutional framework gathering all Palestinian health expertise (inside the territories and in the exile alike). Upon its establishment, the PHC gathered between 500-600 Palestinian experts in various health fields such as medicine, nursing, health promotion, pharmacology, and so forth. The aim was to create a plan for developing the health care situation of the WBGS. Towards this end, the PHC convened several workshops and conferences, and looked to other Arab health experts, Egyptian ones in particular. In this connection, Fathi Arafat, President Arafat’s brother, and the one who directed the PHC, took the leading role in building channels of communication with Arab expertise, and health ministries and organizations.

In so doing, Fathi Arafat benefited from the various networks he built with these ministries and other health Arab health organizations over four decades of working as Director of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS). As we have seen in chapter II (P. 99), the PRCS assumed the responsibilities of supplying the Palestinian diaspora with health services. By 1979, it had been operating no less than 30 hospitals and 100 clinics in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and other Arab countries. These hospitals and clinics employed thousands of doctors, nurses, paramedics, administrators, and so forth.


Parallel to the diaspora health personnel were the local health personnel, or those whom Palestinians employed in Israel’s civil administration. Article II (B, 6) of Annex II (Protocol Concerning Civil Affairs) of the Cairo Accord committed the PA to retain all the Palestinian personnel of the Israeli civil administration. Unfortunately, the most current data with relation to the number of these Palestinians are not available. However, Meir Shamgar (1982), and Sara Roy (1986), present us with some helpful data in this respect.

According to Shamgar, there were 2,799 Palestinians (1,403 from West Bank, and 1,396 from Gaza Strip) employed in the health sector of Israel’s civil administration in 1980. The number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip employed in the health sector was, therefore, similar to the number of their West Bank counterparts. Sara Roy estimates the number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip in the civil administration health sector at 1,475 (232 physicians, 566 nurses, 165 paramedics, and 512 administrators) in 1984. This implies an increase rate of nearly 5.5% within 4 years (from 1,396 personnel in 1980 to 1,475 in 1984).

Bearing in mind that the number of West Bank Palestinians in the civil administration’s health sector was more or less similar to the one of Gaza Strip counterparts, it is possible to conclude that the number of West Bank Palestinians in the civil administration’s health sector had shifted by the same rate (5.5% or 79 Palestinians) during the same period (1980-1984). Thus, the number of West Bank Palestinians employed in the civil administration’s health sector could be estimated at 1480 in 1984. Therefore, the number of Palestinians (from both West Bank and Gaza Strip) employed by the civil administration could be estimated at 2,955 in 1984.


In the period of 1985-1987, it seems unlikely that there were any notable changes in the number of Palestinians employed in the civil administration’s health sector, given the small increase rate change in the number during the period of 1980-1984. The same analysis is applied for the period of 1987-1993. As mentioned elsewhere, this period was the intifada period in which Israel did very little to improve the health conditions (in terms of improving and developing health personnel and equipment) in the territories.

Therefore, if there was any change in the number of the Palestinian personnel of the civil administration’s health sector, this change would not be significant. Thus, it is possible to assume that the numbers of Palestinian health personnel remained as it was in 1984, or witnessed some slight changes in the period of 1987-1993. In both cases, this number is not expected to exceed 3,000 (or 2,955 if remained as it was in 1984) in 1993. Therefore, we would assume that there were 3,000 Palestinian health personnel at the PA’s disposal in 1994.

These local health personnel, alongside their diaspora counterparts (mainly the 500-600 who formed the nucleus of PHC) were to enable the PA to assume a smooth and rapid takeover of health service delivery. However, they were not sufficient to meet the increasing demand for health services posed by the high natural growth rate of the population. This rate- as mentioned elsewhere- was to add some 1.2 million Palestinians to the 2 million already living in the WBGS by 2000, and a further 720,000 Palestinians by 2004.


Consequently, the ministry of health, once it took over the health sphere in 1994, had to face the challenge of building human resources capacity. For this purpose, the MoH founded the Human Resources Development Directorate (HRDD) in 1994. The directorate, whose main goal was to upgrade the already existing health skills, was entrusted with many powers such as (1) running training courses and organizing workshops and study days for health professionals; (2) organizing examinations for local physicians to assess their professional skills; and (3) nominating health staff for fellowships and high studies diplomas in various Arab and European countries.

Within one year (1994-1995) the number of the health personnel in the WBGS shifted from 3,000 to 4,758 (an increase rate of nearly 59%). The 4,758 health personnel were employed by the MoH, and were classified as follows: 963 physicians (including the dentists & pharmacists), 1,634 nurses, 804 paramedics and 1,357 administrators. This implies a ratio of health personnel to population of one per 447 persons. As far as the health professionals are concerned, the figures imply a ratio of one physician per 2,208 persons, one nurse per 1,301 persons, one paramedic per 2,644 persons, and one administrator and worker per 1,567 persons.

In the period of 1995-2000, the number of health personnel shifted to 7,458- an increase rate of almost 56%. The following table illustrates the number and the ratio of person per health professional in the MoH in the period of 1995-2000.















































































Source:MoH. Health Status, op.cit., P.45

As the table shows, there was a rapid increase in the number of MoH personnel in the period of 1995-2000. Of particular concern is the number of physicians (including the dentists & pharmacists) and nurses. It has been shown that that no changes occurred in the health personnel’s general number in the period of 1984-1994. Since the number of physicians and nurses of Gaza Strip was 794 (232 physicians, 566 nurses,) in 1984, and since the number of the health personnel of the Gaza Strip was similar or so to that one of the West Bank in the same year, then it is possible to assume that the number of the West Bank’s physicians and nurses was also 794 or so in 1984. (See our above-mentioned discussion on the Palestinian health personnel employed by Israeli civil administration).

Furthermore, since the general number of health personnel in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip did not witness any changes in the period of 1984-1994, it is possible to assume that the number of physicians and nurses of both the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained without changes. This means that the number of physicians and nurses in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip can be estimated at some 1,588 (464 physicians and 1,132 nurses) in 1994. In 1995, the number of physicians, as the table shows, rose to 963, an increase of more than 107%. Meanwhile, the number of nurses rose to 1,634, an increase of more than 44%.


In the period of 1995-2000, the number of physicians rose to 1,631, a further increase of more than 69%, while the number of nurses rose to 2,457, a further increase of more than 50%. The graph below shows the changes in the number of physicians and the ratio of physician per person during the period of 1995-2000.

Parallel to the rapid increase of the number of physicians in the period of 1995-2000, was a rapid increase in the number of nurses. The graph drawn shows the increase in the number of nurses, and the changes in the ratio of nurse per person during the period of 1995-2000.


Thus, it is safe to claim that the first five years of the PA’s existence witnessed significant quantitative development in the health personnel of the MoH. Parallel to this development was the one which is related to health establishments, mainly to the number of beds available to each person. We have seen before how the Israeli government (or the civil administration) operated only 13 hospitals (five in the Gaza Strip, and eight in the West Bank) with a total of 1,596 beds since 1967 up to 1994, when the PA arrived to the WBGS.

Since the PA’s arrival to WBGS, the hospitals and beds available to Palestinians had been expanded to a notable degree. Within two years (1994-1996) the number of hospital beds shifted to 1,710 (an increase rate of nearly 7%). The following years (1996-2000) witnessed further increases, with an average increase rate of 8.5% annually. This pushed the number of hospital beds to 2,303 by 2000. These beds were distributed among fifteen hospitals operated by the MoH by the same year.


The number of beds operated by the MoH formed approximately 44% of the required hospital beds (estimated at 5,250 beds in 2000), and more than of 54% of actual hospital beds in the WBGS. Though this number implies a bed-population ratio of 1-1389 in 2000 (the population of the WBGS is estimated at 3.2 million in 2000), and consequently, suggests some deterioration when compared to the occupation era, when one bed was available to every 1,253 people, it must be recalled that only 22% (as shown above) of the 1,253 people were eligible to occupy a hospital bed under the Israeli occupation. The main reason for this was the high subscription fees of the health insurance.

As explained above, these subscription fees denied the majority of Palestinians access to governmental (civil administration) hospitals, and led to a situation where the bed occupancy rate-according to World Bank estimation- was 62%. The low bed occupancy rate under the Israeli occupation had been changed under the PA, after the subscription fees of health insurance were reduced, and thus, enabled the majority of Palestinians to join the health insurance scheme. From 1994 (when the PA arrived) up until 2000, the number of Palestinian families enrolled in the health insurance scheme rose from 75,800 (as it was on the eve of the PA’s arrival to the territories) to 174,866 households.

These families ranged between the families of those employed in the PA civil and security apparatus (compulsory insurance), families of voluntary insurance (voluntary insurance), families of those employed inside Israel, families insured by contract (contract insurance), and social welfare health insurance (this includes the families for whom health insurance subscription fees are paid for by the Ministry of Social Welfare due to their poor economic conditions). The table below illustrates the number of each type of family, and the revenue collected from each type in 2000.


Insurance Type

No. of Families

Monthly fees/family (US$)

Annual fees/family (US$)

Total Fees annually




Israel employees


Social Welfare

























30, 090, 000

Source: concluded from MoH. Health Status, op.cit., Pp. 48-49

On average, thus, the family’s monthly health insurance subscription fees did not exceed US $ 14.3 under the PA. This formed approximately 40% of the family’s monthly health insurance subscription fees under the Israeli occupation (estimated, as we have seen, at US $35 monthly). The notable development in this connection is not only related to the reduction in the health insurance fees, but also by the much larger number of families who are covered by the health insurance.

Dr. Mohammad Abu Hashiesh, Director-General of Health Insurance Directorate at the ministry of health confirmed to me that there are, alongside the abovementioned families-, thousands of families covered by the health insurance free of charge. He estimates the number of these families at 140,000. If his figures are accurate, the total number of Palestinian families covered by the health insurance is estimated at 314,866 families in 2000. Bearing in mind that the Palestinian population was estimated at 3.2 million in 2000, and also that the average Palestinian family size is estimated at 6.4 (as mentioned above), then it is safe to claim that nearly 63% of the population had been covered by health insurance by 2000.


Drawing on the above figures, it is possible to provide a table showing the amount of the health insurance subscription fees and the percent of population covered on the eve of the PA’s arrival to the WBGS (or up to the end of the occupation era), in comparison to the amount of the health insurance fees and percentage of the population covered in 2000.

Health Insurance Fees

% of population Covered

On Eve of PA arrival (1993-1994)

In 2000

Health Insurance Subscription fees

US $ 35

US $ 14.3

% of Population Covered



The expansion of the number of Palestinians covered by the health insurance, whilst simultaneously a reduction in health insurance subscription fees, as the table shows, is owed mainly to a Directorate (the directorate of health insurance) of no more than 83 civil servants (33 in the Gaza Strip, and 50 in the West Bank) with an average monthly remuneration of US$ 450 for each civil servant. The directorate runs its work through two offices (one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza strip). Due to the closure it has encountered difficulties in coordinating the two offices’ activities. Nonetheless, the directorate has managed, since its establishment in 1995, to grant the majority of Palestinians access to health insurance with low fees.


Mainly, this was due to the directorate’s system of administration. The directorate, which enjoys autonomous status from the ministry of health, operates what might be called a “bottom-up model of management”, with a strong emphasis on consultation and accountability. The decision making process is a collective one, in which all civil servants (junior and senior alike) contribute to the process. Without exception these civil servants were recruited after they had passed through a long process of professional scrutiny.

The process starts with an initial diagnosis of the academic qualifications and expertise of the candidate. If the academic qualifications and expertise fit with the job specifications, the candidate goes through a “trial-period” in which he performs the job responsibilities for a given period. Should he pass the “trial-period” successfully, he is recruited to the directorate. As a result, all the directorate’s civil servants enjoy some sort of professional power, and therefore, strongly favor the “bottom-up” model of management.

The wishes of the directorate’s civil servants to operate this model do not clash with the wishes of their superiors. The contrary is the case. Both directors of the directorate’s two offices (Abu Hashiesh for the Gaza-based office, and Dr. Fahmi El-Sayad for the West Bank-based office) had sown the initial seeds of this model when they founded the above-mentioned recruitment system, and stood as opponents to any form of intervention in their work, even if this was against the health minister or deputy-minister’s wishes. Ironically, one of the two directors (Abu Hashiesh) had been supported by Israel’s foreign ministry to continue his post-graduate studies and to read for his Masters in health insurance at the Hebrew University in Israel (1974-1976). The man who had been supported by Israel operates today one of the most successful public institutions (as the abovementioned figures tell us) among PA public institutions.


Due to the directorate’s success in providing the majority of Palestinians with health insurance, the number of Palestinians seeking medical care in MoH hospitals and the occupancy rate of hospital beds had risen considerably since the PA’s arrival to the WBGS. In 2000, for instance, the number of Palestinians who sought medical care in the MoH hospitals is estimated at 185,356 (5.7% of the population). Of this, 180,357 (5.6% of the total population) were discharged by MoH hospitals. Out of the discharged patients, 55,943 went through surgical operations. This raised the occupancy rate of the hospitals beds to 72% in the same year, as against to 62% on the eve of the PA’s arrival to WBGS (as we have seen before).

However, the high number of patients discharged, and the resultant high occupancy rate of hospital beds, did not imply, by any means, proper and high quality health services. Out of the 180,357 Palestinians discharged by MoH hospitals, were 2,886 hospital deaths, constituting more than 60% of the total deaths in the WBGS in 2000. This high rate of hospital deaths was to strengthen the negative Palestinian attitude toward MoH hospital services, and to promote further Palestinian mistrust and suspicion of MoH hospital professionalism. In August 1999, for example, nearly 16% of the population had already believed that the health care provided to them was weak, compared to 8.6% who believed the opposite.

In this respect, Palestinians are strongly concerned about thousands of Palestinian students who left the WBGS in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, to continue their post-secondary studies and to read for their degrees in medicine, nursing, and other health fields in former republics of the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries (Ukraine, Lithuania, Romania, and so forth). A rumor among Palestinians claims that several of these students managed to bribe their professors, and consequently, to pass their examinations with very little effort. In so doing, the rumor goes, these students benefited from the poor economic conditions, and the resultant wide spread corruption, in these countries.


Unfortunately, we lack any evidence substantiating this rumor. But of particular concern for us is the fact that most of these students were recruited by the MoH upon the completion of their studies. In so doing, the MoH sought to deal with local community pressure demanding the employment of these students, whilst simultaneously carrying out decisions made by the political leadership to absorb these students into the ministry. In the words of Abdel El Rahman El Barqawi, Director-General of the MoH:

“Due to the problem of unemployment, and the pressure which we are subjected to from these students’ families, alongside the political leadership’s pressure to create jobs for these students, we had no alternatives but to recruit them in the ministry, though the ministry was in no need for many of them.”


During the first five years of the PA’s existence (1995-2000) the number of MoH physicians shifted from 963 in 1995 to 1,634 in 2000 (an increase rate of nearly 70%). In the meanwhile the number of nurses shifted from 1,634 to 2,457 (an increase rate of more than 50%), and the number of the administrative staff shifted from 1,357 to 2,527 (an increase rate of nearly 87%). (See the table above with relation to MoH personnel in the period of 1995-2000).

Because of the way in which some of these personnel are recruited, most Palestinians are convinced that MoH personnel, in particular doctors, take the sole responsibility for the high rate of hospital deaths. Bearing in mind the countries from which the majority of these doctors had graduated (Eastern countries), such conviction turned out to be an “institution of knowledge and culture” (to borrow the neo-institutionalism concept) in which Eastern countries’ educational systems in general are labeled with poor performance by the WBGS Palestinians. Because of this “institution of knowledge and culture”, most WBGS Palestinians prefer Israeli or Arab hospitalization (mainly the Jordanian and Egyptian ones), and, of course, Western Europe hospitalization, over MoH and former Eastern-bloc country’s hospitalization.

Aside from this, the PA’s tendency to overstaff the MoH, as a means of solving the unemployment problem, led to a situation where most of the MoH budget is spent on staff salaries. This fact was so clear in the years of 1997-2000, as the following table shows:


(000 US$)







41,102 (44.4%)

39,054 (46%)

39,354 (47.6%)

45,500 (45.3%)

Drugs & Medical Disposables

23,940 (25.9%)

22,417 (26.4%)

21,411 (26%)

24,616 (24.5%)

Special Referral abroad

14,062 (15.2%)

9,326 (11%)

6,095 (7.3%)

6,200 (6%)

Operating Cost

13,280 (14.3)

13,799 (16.3%)

15,739 (19%)

24,020 (24%)






Source: Reproduced from MoH. Health Status , op.cit., P.49

As a result of spending such a large portion of the MoH budget on staff salaries, the MoH experienced a serious financial deficit in the period of 1997-2000. As the table shows, the MoH spent nearly US$ 360 million in the period of 1997-2000. This exceeded what had been actually allocated to it by ministry of finance by nearly US$ 35 million. This fact left the MoH unprepared to offer Palestinians with equipment and facilities necessary to deal with serious diseases, such as: Cancer, Heart disorder, and so on. Palestinians suffering these diseases had no option other than to seek treatment in Israeli, European, or neighboring Arab countries (mainly Egypt & Jordan).

Instead of working at finding the facilities (human and material alike) necessary to treat these diseases, the MoH allocated part of its budget (under the label of “Special Referral Abroad”, as the table above shows), for the help of Palestinians suffering these diseases. In so doing, the MoH demotes the sustainable development of the health sector, and promotes, instead, a situation where citizens became fully attached to it, not as a source of health care, but rather as a source of the necessary funding to cover the cost of their medical treatment abroad.


There is a very complicated formal bureaucratic procedure Palestinians have to go through before their request for financial support for medical treatment abroad is approved. Thus many Palestinians - bearing in mind their culture stressing informality at the expense of formality - tend to use informal channels to have their request approved. This leads to some Palestinians (mainly those who have connections with the PA and other power centers) enjoying this privilege and the denial to others of this privilege (i.e. those who lack connections with the PA). All of this sustains the “neopatrimonial” system (discussed in full in chapter III), which, among other things, asserts the customary law based on personal connection at the expense of civil law based on legal and formal relations.

The Palestinian Education Sector: Background

A major aspect of the school system in the WBGS is its four-phase structure. Students have to go through four phases before attending higher academic institutions. The first phase is the kindergarten education for children four to five years old. The second phase is elementary education for children aged six or more. The successful completion of this phase, which lasts for six years, enables students to move to the three-year preparatory phase. Upon the successful completion of the three-year preparatory phase students start the three-year secondary phase. With the completion of this phase, and the student’s success in the General Secondary Education Certificate Examination (or Tawjihi as Palestinians call it), students become eligible to attend higher academic institutions.


Similar to health services, education services are supplied by three sectors: (1) UNRWA, (2) the governmental sector, and (3) the private sector. While the private sector operates mainly fee-paying kindergartens, secondary and vocational schools, UNRWA - as discussed in chapter II- undertook to supply Palestinians with education services soon after the inception of the state of Israel in 1948 without charge.

Since then UNRWA has operated two educational programs: a) the Six Year Elementary Program; and b) the Three Year Preparatory Program. UNRWA did not operate any secondary school program, excluding some vocational programs. In that time- as we have seen in chapter II-most of the secondary schools were private ones, run by some Christian and religious institutions and concentrated mainly in Ramallah and Jerusalem. In that time, only the ayan had access to these schools.

After the Israeli occupation of the WBGS in 1967, Israel was inspired by political considerations to make secondary education available to all refugees (see chapter II). Israel operated these schools parallel to some elementary and preparatory schools (mainly for the original residents of the WBGS). While Israel did so, UNRWA remained, operating the six-year elementary program alongside the three-year preparatory program, mainly for refugees.


In the academic year 1989-1990, UNRWA operated 251 schools with 3,326 class sections distributed among elementary, preparatory, and vocational education. In that year, no less than 136,254 students enrolled in UNRWA schools with a pupil-school ratio of nearly 543 pupils per school, and pupil-class ratio of 40.9 per class. The following table illustrates figures relating to pupils at each education level in schools.

Education Level

No. of Schools


No. of Class Sections

No. of Pupils per school

No. of Pupils per Class section


West Bank

Gaza Strip



West Bank

Gaza Strip



West Bank

Gaza Strip





















































Statistical Yearbook 1989-1990. Vienna/Austria: Department of Education /UNRWA, No. 26, 31 December 1990, P.16.

As a general rule, UNRWA follows the same curriculum as the government schools of the countries in which it operates. Since the West Bank and Gaza Strip were under the Jordanian and Egyptian rule respectively in the period of 1948-1967, UNRWA followed the Jordanian curriculum and examination system in the West Bank, and the Egyptian curriculum and examination system in the Gaza Strip. This was in the period of 1948-1967. When Israel occupied the WBGS in 1967, Israel wanted to allow Palestinians to enjoy some sort of autonomy in the civil fields, among which was the education field. This tendency went in parallel with Moshe Dayan’s policy of “non-intervention” in Palestinian civil affairs (as we discussed in chapter II). Accordingly, UNRWA continued to follow the Jordanian and Egyptian curriculum and examination system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip respectively.


Most of UNRWA’s teaching staff was recruited from among the local community. In the academic year 1989-1990, there were 4,130 Palestinian teachers working in UNRWA schools (2,535 in elementary schools, 1,445 in preparatory schools, and 168 in vocational schools). Of the 4,130 teachers, 1,414 were from the West Bank (838 in elementary schools, 481 in preparatory schools, and 95 in vocational schools), and the remaining 2,716 were from the Gaza Strip (1697 in elementary schools, 964 in preparatory schools, and 73 in vocational schools). Some of these teachers were trained by UNRWA within the context of “pre-service teacher training”, or “in-service teacher training”. In 1989, UNRWA spent approximately US$ 35,718,000 on the salaries of Palestinian teachers employed in its schools and on training these teachers, within the context of the above mentioned programs. The table below illustrates the items of UNRWA expenditure in 1989.



No. of Teachers

Annual Salary


Monthly Salary (US$)//teacher


- Elementary

- Preparatory















-Pre-service Teacher training

-In-service Teacher Training











Source: Ibid, Pp. 15, 16, 28.

Parallel to UNRWA schools were the governmental schools. The Israeli government, as mentioned above, operated schools for the three education levels; elementary, preparatory, and secondary. While the government’s elementary and preparatory schools were confined only to the original residents of the WBGS, the government’s secondary schools were available to refugees as well. In the academic year of 1979-1980, for instance, the Israeli government operated 894 schools in which 264,065 pupils were enrolled, distributed between West Bank and the Gaza Strip as the table below shows.



No. of schools

No. of classes

No. of Pupils

Pupils-school Ratio

Pupil-Class Ratio

West Bank






Gaza Strip












Source: Shamgar (ed.), op.cit., P.445.

At least 10,786 Palestinians (8,316 in the West Bank, and 2,470 in the Gaza Strip) were employed by the government as teachers and administrators to run these schools. It seems highly unlikely that the number of government schools in the WBGS witnessed any increases during the period of 1980-1994. In fact the contrary might be the case. Sara Roy, for instance, noted a breakdown in the number of schools operated by the government in the Gaza Strip in this period. According to Roy, there were only 87 schools operated by the government in the academic year of 1984-1985. These schools, which formed up to 1,683 classes, were distributed among the three education levels as following; 42 schools for elementary education, 23 for preparatory education, and 22 for secondary education. The government schools in 1984/1985 are illustrated by the following table.


No. of schools

No. of classes

No. of Students

No. of Students/school

No. of Students/class

























Source: Based on Roy. The Gaza Strip, op.cit., P.93


Roy’s figures might serve as a solid base to infer the overall educational policy of Israel toward the WBGS from 1980 onwards. As discussed in chapter II, this period was the period of the Right Wing (the Likud party) rule in Israel. During this period, Israel radicalized its measures towards Palestinian autonomous institutions, among which were the educational ones. Thus, the Israeli Civil Administration was founded in November 1981 to administer Palestinian civilian affairs. The civil administration was subjected to, and authorized by the area commander to issue second hand legislation in issues related to the civil affairs of Palestinians (See chapter II).

Drawing on these authorities and powers, the Israeli Civil Administration assumed strict control and supervision over Palestinian civil affairs, and their institutional manifestations including schools. Accordingly, we can assume that Israel had no interest in developing schools in this period. This implies that the total number of government schools for all education levels is estimated at no more than 877 schools (790 in the West Bank, as Shamgar concluded in 1980, and 87 in the Gaza Strip as Roy concluded in 1985).

Bearing in mind the civil administration’s attitude towards Palestinian autonomy as discussed above, and parallel to the eruption of the intifada in the period 1987-1993, we can assume that the number of schools operated by the government witnessed no changes in the period 1984/85-1993/94. In other words, the number of governmental schools remained the same in the academic year 1993/94 as it was in the academic year 1984/85 (877 schools). Given this number, we conclude that there was a breakdown in the number of government schools in the period of 1980-1994 (from 894 in 1979/80 to 877 in 1993/94). This breakdown led to a high ratio of pupils per class (the ratio was 34.6 pupils per class in 1980, rose to 40.5 in the Gaza Strip in 1984/85, and of course- providing our above-mentioned conclusions- also rose in the period of 1984-1994 in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip).


The difficulties encountered within the Palestinian education system under the occupation were not confined only to the high pupil-class ratio, but also included the strict watch of the Israeli civil administration over the educational materials employed in the schools. All books and subjects that dealt with Palestinian history, geography, politics and folklore, were banned. The word “Palestine” was removed from school maps, and replaced by the word “Israel”. In addition, the civil administration denied Palestinian schools the right to enjoy the educational facilities and equipment necessary for any educational process concerning subjects such as efficient sewage system, computer labs, chemical materials, adequate class buildings, and laboratories Ali Khalifa, Director-General of Education Planning at the Palestinian Ministry of Education, who worked as an educational instructor under the occupation, pointed out:

“The overall goal of the occupation’s educational policy was the destruction of the Palestinian national identity, through weakening the national consciousness among Palestinians. The means for realizing this goal was the education curriculum. The occupation reproduced this curriculum to support its interest over that of Palestinians. In the meanwhile, they did very little to improve and develop the educational facilities, in a manner that left the whole educational process suffering.”


During the first intifada (1987-1993) the conditions of Palestinian schools deteriorated considerably. As we have seen in chapter II, the occupation -in parallel to the policy of collective punishment- imposed formal mass closure on the West Bank schools and spot closures on the Gaza Strip schools from February 1988. This measure deprived thousands of Palestinian pupils of their right to education, and thereby, endangered their academic future.

Israeli measures toward Palestinian schools were similar to their measures toward the higher academic institutions. Most of these institutions, emerged in the early 1970s, suffered the same restrictions as schools. The civil administration, for instance, empowered itself with the right to license the Palestinian universities annually. No university was allowed to operate new departments, programs or colleges without prior permission from the civil administration. In most cases, such permission was denied. In a similar fashion to its measures against schools, the civil administration assumed strict watch over the universities’ educational materials, and many books in fields like philosophy, Palestinian history, politics and folklore were banned.

Furthermore, the civil administration used to close these institutions regularly, and to deport their college members under the pretext of security. In the period of December 1986-April 1987, the civil administration’s measures against these institutions were extremely radicalized when three students from Beir Zeit University were shot to death by the occupation forces (For more details on Israeli measures towards the higher academic institutions see chapter II). During the intifada, the occupation authorities completely closed these institutions, thus causing serious difficulty in enrolling the more than 40,000 Palestinian students who had graduated from secondary schools during the four year period when the universities were closed.


Similar to the health sector, therefore, the PA inherited a very regressive education sector from Israel, and thus was required to address very complicated problems in the education system. Among these problems was the lack of equipment and facilities necessary to run schools, and more importantly, as Khalifa pointed out, the lack of adequate and qualified teaching staff. The later problem resulted from the occupation policy which denied all Palestinian teachers the opportunity to pursue advanced training courses, and excluded University-degree holders from employment in the schools in favor of Tawjihi (General Secondary Education Certificate Examination) or two-year diploma holders.

The Palestinian Ministry of Education: A New Chapter in the Educational Life of Palestinians

During the first three years of the PA’s existence (1994-1997) donors disbursed approximately US$ 237,904,000 for the support of the PA education sector. This formed up to 71.6% of the total Donors commitment to the same sector (US$ 334,775,000) for the same period. The majority of these funds was invested in implementing education projects like the establishment of new schools and school maintenance. In this regard, the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, or PECDAR, played a crucial role in implementing these projects in coordination with the ministry of education and donors (the European Union, Germany, Japan, France, and Switzerland were the chief financial supporters of the education sector during this period.)

As result of this, the number of government schools in the WBGS had increased significantly. From the academic year 1994/95 to the academic year 2000/2001, the number of government schools for all education levels increased from 1084 to 1343 schools. Bearing in mind that the Israeli civil administration operated 877 schools around the date of the PA’s arrival to the WBGS, it becomes clear that there was a rise in the number of government sector schools by more than 19.4% by the academic year 1994/95, and by more than 53% by the academic year 2000/01.


This development implies an expansion in the number of classes available to pupils, and thereby, a reduction in the ratio of pupils per class in comparison to the occupation era. In the academic year 1995/96, the pupils-class ratio in the government elementary and preparatory schools is estimated at 36.2 pupils per class. The ratio shifted down in 2000/01 to 36.1 pupils per class. The conditions of the secondary schools seemed relatively better, as only 32.3 pupils occupied one class in the academic year 1995/96. The number shifted down in 2000/01, with only 31.5 pupils per class. The figure below illustrates the changes in the number of schools, pupil-school ratio, and pupil-class ratio, in the period of 1995/96-2000/01.


Education level




No. of schools

No. of Pupils

Pupils-school ratio

Pupils class Ratio


46, 334







Basic(Elementary & Preparatory)

No. of schools

No. of pupils

Pupils-school ratio

Pupils-class ratio









Source: Based on Palestinian Ministry of Education <> & PCBS. Statistical Abstract, op.cit. Pp. 227, 228, 230, 234.

Parallel to the reduction in the pupil-class ratio, there was an increase in the number of teachers per pupil. In the academic year (1995/96) the number of teachers is estimated at 14,742. The number shifted in 2000/2001 to reach 22,953, and thereby, the ratio of pupils-teacher decreased to 26.8 pupils per teacher.


The improvement in the education sector was not confined to the expansion in school establishments, but extended to include the higher academic institutions. By the academic year 2000/2001, the number of these institutions is estimated at 40. There were 11 universities, 5 colleges (offering four-year Bachelor’s degrees), and 24 community colleges (offering two-year diplomas). At least 4,838 Palestinians were employed in these institutions. This included the teaching staff (2,343) and the administrative staff (2,495). These employees run a post-secondary educational system that in 2000/2001 provided for over 80,543 students.

In the 2000/2001 academic year the ministry of education was running an educational process for no less than 696,101 Palestinians (615,558 in primary and secondary education & 80,543 in higher education). To run the process successfully, the ministry organized more than 1,653 training courses and workshops covering a total of 12,680 working days in the period of 1995-2000. 37,700 teachers/administrators benefited from the ministry’s training courses and workshops in the same period. Furthermore, at least 1,970 Palestinian headmasters were trained by the ministry in the same period.

Parallel to its efforts aiming at developing human resources capacity, the ministry revised the recruitment policy as far as teachers are concerned. Unlike the occupation era when the preference was given for the Tawjihi (General Secondary Education Certificate Examination) two-year diploma holders, the ministry recruited school teachers mainly among university or graduate degree holders. In the academic year 2000/01, for instance, at least 63.3% of the total ministry school teachers were university or graduate degree holders (out of the 22,952 teachers, 12,828 were university-degree holders, 1,029 graduate-diploma holders, and 459 Masters holders).


Alongside this policy was the ministry’s policy of supplying schools with equipment and facilities necessary for any education process like; laboratories, computer rooms, chemical materials, adequate libraries, class buildings, and so forth. Up to the academic year 1999/2000, for instance, approximately 1,842 new classes were added to government schools (not to mention the new schools built by the ministry). In addition, at least 412 classes were improved, and 150 sewage units were built. Furthermore, new libraries were opened in 40% of government schools, and new science laboratories in 42%, and computers labs were introduced to 30% of government schools.

Of vital importance was the ministry’s success in convening the first unified examination of Tawjihi for the West Bank and Gaza Strip under full Palestinian supervision. This was in the academic year 1994/95. Up to that year Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip had experienced two systems of examination (the Egyptian system for Gaza Strip Palestinians, and Jordanian system for West Bank Palestinians). From that year onwards, the ministry assumed the responsibility of designing the examination system of Tawjihi, and Palestinian teachers began to correct Tawjihi exams (in the past Egyptian teachers corrected the exams for the Gaza Strip students, while Jordanian teachers corrected exams for the West Bank students).

Since its foundation, therefore, the Palestinian ministry of education had succeeded in setting up new schools, building new classes, raising educational human resources capacity, and improving education conditions (in the sense of pupil-class ratio, pupil-teacher ratio, and education facilities and equipment). To achieve all this, the ministry divided itself into seventeen General-Directorates, out of which thirteen run school education (elementary, preparatory, and secondary education), and four run higher education (university, college education). In each Palestinian governorate (the WBGS are divided into sixteen governorates, out of which eleven governorates are in the West Bank, and 5 governorates are in the Gaza Strip) an education directorate was founded. The minister, who is considered the highest authority at the ministry, is assisted by a deputy minister, who is in turn assisted by three assistant deputy ministers.


The three assistant deputy ministers directly supervise the educational process. Two of them supervise the educational process at the primary and secondary school level; one for the Gaza Strip, and the other for the West Bank. For this reason the directors of each education directorate were appointed at the governorate level to facilitate reporting to the two assistant deputy ministers. The third assistant deputy minister supervises higher education. In this regard, he directs the four General-Directorates of the higher education at the ministry (D.G. of higher education, D.G. of scientific research and development, D.G. for university education, D.G. for technical and vocational training).

The three assistant deputy ministers are required to report regularly to the deputy minister, who, alongside his duties to follow up the work of his three assistants, supervises five committees in the ministry (examination committee, educational committee, curriculum committee, accreditation and quality assurance committee, and committee for loans). The deputy minister reports to the highest authority, the minister, who directly supervises the council for higher education and the council for scientific research in addition to his supervision of his deputy.608

The ministry recruited 5,910 Palestinians to run its work. This number excludes ministry teachers but includes administrators (3,263), technicians (531), employees (83), and janitors/cleaning staff (2033). As with the case of the ministry of health, the spending on staff salaries consumed the largest portion of the ministry’s expenditure since its establishment in 1994. In 1997/98, for instance, the spending on staff salaries (including teachers) was estimated at US$ 130 million. This formed up to 67% of the ministry’s total expenditure for the same year (estimated at US$ 194 million). The same trend is noticed in the following years of 1998/99, 1999/00, and 2000/01. In these years, the spending on staff salaries is estimated at 75.2% (US$ 140 million), 74% (US$ 157 million), and 73.2% (US$ 189 million) of the ministry’s total expenditure for these years respectively (the ministry’s total expenditure was US$ 186 million, US$ 212 million, and US$ 284 for 1998/99, 1999/00, 2000/01 respectively).


As result of spending a large portion of its budget on staff salaries, the ministry of education experienced a serious financial deficit in the period of 1997-2000. As we mentioned above, the ministry’s total expenditure is estimated at US$ 876 million in the period of 1997-2001. This exceeded the US$ 433.385 million that had been allocated to it by the ministry of finance in the period of 1997-2001).

Though donors allocated US$ 164.2 million to the education sector in the same period or so, this allocation was not sufficient to cover the ministry’s deficit. Because of this, the ministry failed to provide 60% of governmental schools with libraries, and 58.4% with science laboratories. In the meanwhile, it failed to introduce computers labs in 76% of West Bank schools, and 65% of Gaza Strip schools by 2000 or so.

To deal with this problem and other similar ones, the ministry envisaged a five-year plan (2000/001-2004/05) for the development of primary and secondary education in 2000. The plan set up five goals, the most important of which were to improve the quality of education and to rationalize the ministry’s system of administration. To realize its first goal, the plan proposed training programs to develop human resources capacity, and projects to develop material resources capacity. At human resources capacity level, the following training programs were proposed;


At the material resources capacity level, the plan proposed, among other things, the following projects;

  1. Building 4 training centers for teachers, 10 resources centers, one technological center, and one center for documentation.
  2. Equipping 150 schools with libraries, 150 schools with science laboratories, 250 schools with computer rooms, upgrading 100 existing libraries, and 100 laboratories, and a minimum of 250 schools with computer labs.


To meet the expected demand for educational services in the period of 2000/01-2004/05, the plan proposed the construction of a further 243 schools with 3,539 class rooms, and the recruitment of a further 5,500 teachers. The cost of constructing these facilities, over and above the expenditure on staff salaries (including teachers) and the cost of realizing the above-mentioned sub-goals, and other plan goals, were estimated by the ministry at US$ 1,433 million. In fact this high budget remained the chief obstacle for the plan’s success. To cover this budget, the ministry proposed an increase in its share of the total PA budget from 17% to 19.5%, to be effective from 2000 onward.

More importantly, the ministry proposed a significant increase in the donors’ allocation to the education sector over the plan’s years, in a manner that leaves the donors’ commitment equal to the ministry’s expenditure by 2004/05. But bearing in mind that the donors’ disbursement or allocation to education sector is estimated at 71.6% of their commitment to the sector for the period of 1994-1997 (as mentioned above), it seems unlikely that the donors were going to allocate as much as they (donors) committed. This can be better understood if it is known that the ministry asked donors to allocate any future funds for the planed activities only.

Fully aware of the donors’ possible reluctance to support the plan, the plan’s designers proposed the rationalization of the ministry’s system of administration as a step toward rationalizing ministry expenditure, and thereby, securing part of the funds necessary to cover the planed budget. This goal, set up as one of the plan’s chief goals (as noted above), reflected the awareness of the plan’s designers of the negative ramifications of the absence of definite internal hierarchical arrangements, and a well-developed functional specialization in the ministry. Though the ministry is considered the least corrupt among various PA ministries and public institutions (in terms of ministry recruitment criteria and procedures) it continued to suffer from duplication and the lack of demarcation among the roles and responsibilities of its civil servants and various departments.


Consequently, the plan’s designers called for the reconsideration of the ministry’s civil servants’ functions and mandates, and for a redefinition of the ministry’s internal regulations and rules. The main obstacle for realizing this goal was the absence of the qualified human resources to carry out the program of rationalization (reform), notwithstanding the availability of thousands of Palestinian personnel of former Israeli civil administration at the ministry’s disposal. Though these personnel accumulated some professional skills due to their work in the Israeli civil administration, most of them were still missing skills necessarily located at the heart of any administration – such as the ones in relation to policy formulation, planning, decision making, and so forth. Most of them were denied senior management posts in the Israeli civil administration, and thus, were unprepared to create fundamental changes in the system of administration of PA ministries.

In addition to the lack of necessary human resources to make it successful, the program itself clashed with the will of the political leadership which - as we have seen in chapter III - had sown the seeds of the “neopatrimonial” system with its features such as the importance of interpersonal relationships in the bureaucratic system, and the operation on the basis of informal criteria for hiring and promotion at the expense of the formal-legal criteria.

The plan, therefore, had to encounter challenges at three levels; the financial level, human resources level, and finally the political level. With the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa intifada on 28 September 2000, the future of the plan became uncertain, and the plan seemed unlikely to be implemented. The execution of the plan became conditional on the Israeli measures imposed on Palestinians during the intifada.


These measures - the most humiliating of which consisted of the military checkpoints on the main roads between the towns, cities, villages, and camps of WBGS - denied Palestinians the right to free movement between their cities, towns, villages, and camps. Without exception all Palestinians were affected by this measure including; the general public, PLC members, PA senior & junior officials, university and school students, merchants, businessmen, and in some cases PA ministers and heads of PA security forces. The checkpoint system, together with the regular shelling of and the incursions into the camps, towns, and cities, have created an environment in which it has become increasingly difficult for any ministry to execute its plans and programs, and even to assume its daily responsibilities.

The Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs: Ineffective Social Security Scheme

In October 1991 the UN’s special committee to investigate Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Palestinians people and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories concluded its annual report on the political, security, economic, and social conditions of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report pointed out that Israel-since its occupation of the WBGS in 1967- had adopted systematic measures of violating the basic human rights of Palestinians.

These measures included the destruction of Palestinian houses, ill-treatment and torture of Palestinians under detention, including children and minors, collective punishment and mass arrest, the confiscation of Palestinian land for settlement purposes, the interference in the Palestinians system of education, economic and social development, and the denial of the Palestinian right to freedom of religion. The report asserted that these measures had escalated since the outbreak of the first intifada in 1987, leaving 53.7% of the Palestinian land and 83% of the water resources under the Israeli control by 1990.


Parallel to this was the Israeli occupation forces’ policy of firing at both Palestinian civilians and members of the resistance. During the period of December 1987-1992, at least 1,032 Palestinians - the report documented- were killed (most of them by shooting), and over 121,000 were injured by Israeli occupation forces. Also, more than 15,000 Palestinians were placed under administrative detention for periods up to six months without charge or trial during the same period. Moreover, 66 Palestinians were deported for “security reasons” (more than 1,300 since 1967). As far as the curfew days and house destruction are concerned, the report documents over 11,000 days of curfews, and the destruction of over 21,000 houses.

Israelimeasures brought hardship to the economic life of Palestinians as well. Due the policy of curfew which confined Palestinians, on a 24-hour basis, to their homes for several weeks at a time, many Palestinians were cut off from their jobs (employment inside Israel for instance), and the number of those employed by Israel decreased by 2% in 1989 in comparison to the pre-intifada era.

With the outbreak of the first Gulf-War in 1991, and the supportive attitude of the PLO to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Gulf rulers cut off their donations to the PLO, and dismissed thousands of Palestinians employed in their countries. In so doing, Gulf rulers deprived Palestinians from the WBGS of some US$ 576 million - the estimated drop in remittances from Palestinians employed in these countries. This fact, coupled with the policy of closure, adopted since 1991, which effectively denied thousands of Palestinians the ability to work inside Israel, brought serious hardship to the living conditions. It left no less than 18.2% of WBGS Palestinians (the estimated rate of unemployment due to the closure policy in 1994 or so) without any source of income.


Within the context of these difficult economic and social conditions the Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs was asked to operate from 1994. The ministry was asked to deal with the serious social problems resulting from the occupation’s measures (economic, political, and security measures). As we have seen, hundreds of Palestinian families lost their sons, fathers, and other relatives since the Israeli occupation of the WBGS. Tens of thousands of others suffered from the detention of their relatives by the Israeli forces. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were injured, out of which tens thousands were left disabled.

Two factors enabled the ministry of social affairs to assume a rapid and relatively smooth takeover of services delivery in the social sector; (1) the availability of nearly 400 Palestinian personnel of the former Israeli civil administration’s social sector, and (2) the return of no less than 60 personnel of the employees of the PLO’s social affairs department to the WBGS in 1994. These personnel, together with some 200 local social specialists- formed the nucleus of the ministry.

Over the years of their work, these personnel accumulated skills concerning the delivery of social services. The 400 personnel of the former Israeli civil administration, for example, used to run 5 centers for blind and handicapped children, and 15 juvenile centers under the Israeli civil administration’s supervision. In a similar fashion, the 60 personnel of the PLO’s social department used to supply social services for more than 25,000 Palestinian families (mainly the families of martyrs) in the diaspora.


The availability of these skills enabled the ministry to set up its first building block; the Higher Council for Policy Formulation (HCPF). The HCPF was franchised right to set up the ministry’s overall goals, and strategies. Within this context, the HCPF-which consisted of the minister, deputy-minister, and eight director-generals, set up no less than fourteen goals, the most important of which were to alleviate poverty, to support families of martyrs, injuries, and detainees, to defend children and women’s rights, and to achieve social development. The means to realize these goals were a group of programs for the support of needy families, families of martyrs, the injured, and detainees, as well as women and children, the handicapped, and orphans.

To carry out these programs, twelve directorates were founded in the ministry. At the same time, in each Palestinian governorate an office for the ministry was founded (sixteen offices were founded in the sixteen Palestinian governorates of the WBGS). Each directorate was divided into several departments, with an average of six departments for each directorate. A director-general stands at the head of each directorate, controlling and supervising the heads of his directorate’s departments. In this sense the ministry has twelve directors-general (for the directorates), and seventy department heads (for the departments).

Together with the junior staff, the number of the ministry’s civil servants is estimated at 1,438 civil servants. These servants are asked to carry out their daily responsibilities specified by the HCPF to realize the above-mentioned goals of the ministry. During the period of 1995-1999, these servants dealt with over 73,108 cases serving 275,642 Palestinians.


Of this, were approximately 29,477 cases (excluding the families of martyrs, the injured, and detainees) receiving constant monthly material, cash, and health aid. These cases ranged between the handicapped, divorced and widows, aged personnel, and others. The following table illustrates the type of each targeted group, and the number of cases in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Target Group







No. in the Gaza Strip







No. in the West Bank














Source: Cabinet Office. Cabinet Reports on PNA Ministries: 1997-1998. Palestine: Cabinet Office, September 1998, P.101.

The aid provided to each of these social cases is estimated at NIS 80 as monthly material aid, NIS 180 as monthly cash aid, NIS 40 as monthly health insurance aid, and NIS 50 as monthly education aid for each student of the needy families (the number of needy families students is estimated at 69,000 students). Combining these figures with the number of cases, the following table illustrates the total cost of each type of aid for all cases per month and year:


Type of Aid

Monthly cost per case (in NIS)

Annual cost/case

(in NIS)

Annual cost for all cases (in NIS)

Value of Annual cost in US $ (US$ 1= NIS 4) for all cases











Health Insurance















In addition to aids provided to these social groups, were the aids and care provided to families of martyrs, the injured, and detainees. These aids and care are provided mainly by the Institute of Martyrs, Injured, and Detainees’ Families. Since its foundation in 1994, the institute – which follows the minister directly – had dealt with approximately 7,178 cases, out of which were 3,774 martyrs’ families, 1,445 injured persons’ families, 1,570 detainees’ families, and 398 others. These families enjoyed cash, health, and education care. At least NIS 345 is the estimated monthly cash aid for each case. Furthermore, nearly NIS 40 is spent on each case as monthly health insurance aid, while martyrs’ sons are exempted from the education fees. The table below illustrates the items of cash spending on these families, and the number of families of each type:

Family type

The Number

Monthly Cash aid/case


Annual Cash aid/case


Total Annual aid


Value in US$

Martyrs’ Families






Injured Persons

























Source: Ibid. P.108.

Together with the health aid of these families (estimated at NIS 287,000 monthly), the total monthly aid for these families is estimated at NIS 2,763,615 monthly (NIS 2,476,615 as average monthly cash aid plus 287,000 as monthly health aid), and NIS 33,163,380 annually. This totals some US$ 8,290,845 annual cash and health aid for these families. Together with the annual aid provided to the handicapped, divorced, widows, and the aged (US$ 36,879,300 annually as mentioned above), there will be approximately US$ 45,170,145 as the average annual expenditure of the ministry on the needy families, aged, handicapped, divorce, widow, families of martyrs, injuries, detainees, and others.

The care and services provided to these social groups are not confined to cash, health, and education services, but extend to include - in some cases - housing and consultation services. For example, out of the 5,827 cases of aged persons, there were 36 cases hosted by a ministry-run house with a monthly cost of NIS 500 per case. In addition to this house, there are 21 institutes operated by the ministry that offer consultation services for aged persons. Similar services are provided to juvenile, within the context of the ministry’s protective and rehabilitation programs. At least 80 juvenile benefit from these programs monthly, with average monthly aid of NIS 700/case. The handicapped and blind children enjoy also consultation services alongside health and cash aid. The ministry set up seven schools and institutes for supporting the handicapped and blind children.


These schools and institutes are: the Casablanca Handicapped Institute in the West Bank city of Salfeet (includes 58 children), the A’lai’a Blind School in Bethlehem (includes 40), the Hebron Handicapped Institute (includes 65), the Gaza-Blind Institute (includes 80), the Gaza Handicapped Center (120), the Dier El-Balah Blind Institute (includes 28), and Khan-Younis Blind institute (90). Alongside the health and consultation aid, are feeding services supplied by the ministry with a monthly cost of NIS 350/case. This implies NIS 168,350 as a total monthly feeding cost, and NIS 2,020,200 (US$ 505,050)as a total annual feeding cost.

Of vital importance were the ministry’s programs of rehabilitating the ex-detainees. These programs were first begun in July 1995 when the European Union, Switzerland, and Italy, disbursed US$ 18 million for the support of ex-detainees. The assistance of these countries enabled the ministry to implement these programs. During the period of 1995-98, approximately 24,418 ex-detainees benefited from these programs. The services provided to these ex-detainees varied and ranged between the coverage of their health insurance fees, vocational training, partial coverage of their university education fees, loans, jobs creation, and others. For example, approximately 12,688 ex-detainees enjoyed health insurance free of charge for one year. Other 7,000 received vocational training, and 50% of the university education fees were covered for 1,800 ex-detainees. In addition, loans (ranging between US$ 2,500-5,000) were granted to 1,400, and jobs were created for 1,500 ex-detainees.

The above-mentioned quantitative survey of ministry services and the various social groups benefiting from these services does not imply a ministry success in reaching all the needy social groups. In 1998, for instance, 20.5% of the Palestinian families were categorized as needy families. Bearing in mind the size of Palestinian population estimated at 2,958,579 in the same year, and the average size of the Palestinian family estimated at 6.4 (as mentioned above), then it is possible to conclude that there were about 462,277 families in the WBGS in 1998. Of this, there were 94,766 (20.5%) needy families. Providing the number of families enjoying constant monthly aids from the ministry in 1998 (estimated at 36,655 families including families of martyrs, detainees, the injured, handicapped, aged, widows, divorcees, and so forth, see above), it is safe to claim that only 38.6% of the needy families were covered by the ministry’s services up to 1998. The coverage of these families by the ministry services did not mean their enjoyment of proper living standard. As we have seen above, the average monthly aid (excluding the health and education aids which covered directly by the ministry in coordination with the concerned ministries) of the families of martyrs, the injured, and detainees is estimated at NIS 344 (US$ 86), while the average monthly aid (excluding health and education aids) of the handicapped, the aged, widows, divorcees, and others, is estimated at NIS 260 (US $ 65).


This monthly aid covered only 10.3% of the total monthly expenditure of families of martyrs, the injured, and detainees. Also, it covered only 7.8% of the total monthly expenditure of families of handicapped, widows, and divorcees, in 1998. In addition to the fact that they lacked the minimum level of income necessary to live properly, these families - like other Palestinian families - suffered from the conditions owing to the high rate of housing density. For example, there was only one room available to each two persons in comparison with one room to each 0.9 person in Israel in 1999.

The housing conditions (in term of housing density) of the Palestinian families witnessed little improvement in 2000, as one room was made available to each 1.9 persons. Despite this, the housing conditions in terms of the availability of living facilities remained unimproved. In 2000, at least 1.2% of the Palestinian families remained without a cooking stove, 1.4% lacked a kitchen, 2.3% lacked a bathroom, 7.2% lacked a refrigerator, 10.2% lacked a connection to the public water network, 15.5% lacked a washing machine, 31.3% lacked a solar boiler 47.2% lacked a connection to the public sewage network, and 97.2% lacked central heating.

These figures are clear indicators concerning the ministry’s failure to promote an effective social security system. It appears that two factors contributed to this failure: (1) the irregularity and inadequacy of the ministry’s budget, and (2) the ministry’s under-qualified staff. The irregularity and inadequacy of the ministry’s budget was clear during the period of 1995-2000. In 1995, for instance, the ministry of finance allocated some US$ 34.89 million to the ministry of social affairs. In the period of 1996-1998 this sum increased to US$ 42.96 millions (in 1996), and to US$ 47.72 million (in 1997), and to US$ 52.12 million (in 1998). But in 1999, it dropped to US$ 50.67 million, and in 2000 it further dropped to US$ 44.14 million.


This irregularity of the ministry’s budget promoted financial uncertainty, and therefore, made it difficult for the ministry to develop clearly defined plans. In addition to this problem was the inadequacy of the ministry’s budget in a manner that left the ministry unable to cover its annual expenditure. As the above-mentioned figures tell, the average annual allocation of the ministry of finance to the ministry of social affairs, over the period of 1995-2000, was US$ 45.4 million.

Bearing in mind the ministry of social affairs’ annual expenditure on the needy families, families of martyrs, the injured, and detainees, and others (US$ 45,170,145 as mentioned above), in addition to its annual expenditure on feeding the handicapped children hosted by its various handicapped institutes and schools (US$ 505,050), then we would have some US$ 45.67 million as the ministry’s annual expenditure. The ministry expenditure (excluding its expenditure on staff salaries and the operating costs) on these social groups, therefore, exceeds what is allocated to it annually by some US$ 270,000 (US$ 45.7 million-45.40 million)

The ministry deficit increases when its expenditure on staff salaries is taken into account. In fact we lack any data relating to the value of the ministry expenditure on staff salaries. However, some statistics allow for some admittedly imperfect extrapolation. In 1997, for example, the average monthly salary of Palestinian civil servants is estimated at NIS 1,440 (US $ 360). Bearing in mind the number of the ministry’s civil servants (1,438 as mentioned before), then it is possible to estimate that the ministry spends approximately US$ 517,680 monthly, and US$ 6,212,160 annually on staff salaries. This would push its annual financial deficit to some US$ 6.5 million (on the plausible assumption that average salaries remain constant across ministries), not to mention the operating cost.


A significant portion of the ministry expenditure on staff salaries was irrational. Mahmmoud Muteer, acting deputy-minister of social affairs, confirmed to me that the ministry-since its foundation in 1994-had recruited approximately 170 employees, under the label of job creation. The majority of these employees, Muteer states, were ex-detainees recruited in the ministry through presidential decrees. According to above-mentioned figures these “civil servants” cost the ministry US $ 61,200 monthly and US$ 734,400 annually. The ministry crisis is exacerbated when it is known that no less than fifteen of these ex-detainees held senior management posts in the ministry (e.g. director-generals of a given directorate or department).

This fact has negative ramifications on the ministry’s work in two respects: (1) the involvement of these ex-detainees in formulating the ministry’s policy despite their lacking of the professional skills necessary for that (since they are revolutionaries rather than state builders. Most of these ex-detainees had ended education during the period of their detention, and thereby, failed to accumulate any professional skills); and (2) due to their lack of professional skills, these 15 ex-detainees, alongside those ex-detainees who do not held senior posts, would have little loyalty to their office. Together with their feeling of alienation accumulated over long years of hardship under detention, these ex-detainees would deal with their work in the ministry as a source of income without feeling any commitment towards their daily responsibilities.

As far as the remaining staff of the ministry are concerned, none of them was recruited through a newspaper advertisement specifying the job description and the specifications of the vacancy. It is up to the candidate to visit the ministry and ask for a job. Usually, the ministry receives the applications of those seeking employment, and keeps them until the occasion for a job arises. In each case, the ministry calls the best-qualified candidates and interviews them, before selecting one or two depending on the number of vacancies.


Interestingly enough, the ministry was highly influenced by the candidate’s living place when it makes a hiring decision. For example, if the ministry seeks an employee to fill a vacancy in its office in Ramallah, then it tends to choose among those applicants living in Ramallah, even if there is a more qualified applicant in Nablus. The reason for this is financial. In choosing the candidate from Ramallah not Nablus, the ministry would not have to cover the cost of his transportation, and therefore, would release itself from some financial burden on its limited budget. In the words of Muteer:

“We have a notable increase in the labor force, and at the same time, a notable increase in the needy families’ number. We have to absorb as much of the labour force as we can…but at the same time we have to meet the increasing demand for the ministry’s services. That is why we have to plan our limited budget so that we cover the demand for the ministry services whilst simultaneously contributing to the employment of the increasing labour force.”


Though this would enable the ministry to save part of its budget for the service of other purposes, it left it in part bereft of the qualified personnel necessary to carry out its daily responsibilities, and thus promoted its failure to cover all the needy families with its services.

The Palestinian Bureaucracy: Features and Characteristics

On 26 February 1998, the Palestinian daily of Al-Risalah published some figures relating to the number of PA civil servants and their annual salaries. According to such figures the number of PA civil servants and security personnel in 1996 was estimated at 72,000 (39,000 civil servants & 33,000 security personnel). At least US$ 481.24 million (approximately 51.3% of PA’s 1996 budget) was spent on these salaries (61.7% of the was spent on civil servants and 38.3% on security personnel).

Many of these civil servants - Al Risalah continued - were recruited without clearly defined job descriptions and task specifications. This led to a situation where these civil servants are on the PA’s payroll, but at the same time do nothing in their office- if they have any in their ministry. As a Palestinian civil servant declared:


“I have a colleague who works in the same department as mine. I see him very seldom in the department, twice monthly perhaps. When he comes to office he stays for a while, only to drink tea and to ask about the latest developments with relation to work. He might have another job in another place”.

Mostly, these “civil servants” are recruited through informal channels. These channels are available only to those who have relatives or other connections to personnel occupying senior posts in the civil and security apparatus. As demonstrated in chapter III, these senior civil and security personnel derived their power mainly from their connection to Arafat, who punishes/rewards them according to their readiness to cooperate. In the event of their cooperation, Arafat exhibited generosity, and privileged them in various ways, which included the recruitment of their relatives and those with whom they have connections in various PA civil and security posts.


This culture of favoritism which permeates the PA has facilitated, in turn, a culture of systematic inefficiency in many aspects of the authority’s workThe following figures might support our view. In 1997, at least 60% of the WBGS thought that favoritism existed through the various PA civil departments, while 63% were forced to ask for the help of some PA officials to facilitate their contact with a given ministry or public institution.

Due to this culture, the number of PA civil and security personnel rose steadily to reach nearly 98,000 personnel in 2000. Mohammad Abu Jarad, the deputy-minister of finance, asserted that thousands of these personnel were not recruited through institutionalized recruitment methods according to clearly defined job descriptions and task specifications. He estimated their number to be 20,000 by 1997. According to Abu Jarad, the PA sought to create jobs for these personnel after they lost their jobs inside Israel (due to the problem of closures), or failed to find a job in the private sector. In this sense, Abu Jarad suggests, the PA sought to help its people, and to promote their welfare.

Though Abu Jarad’s words might reveal part of the truth, the remaining hidden part of such truth - admitted by Abu Jarad himself - is that the PA was from the very beginning preoccupied the pressure exerted by the opponents of the Oslo agreements (mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad). As a result, it tended to spend a large portion of its revenue on recruiting support for its cause (the peace process with Israel). Through this spending -referred to by Abu Jarad as “politicized spending” - the PA succeeded in buying the allegiance of thousands of people after it recruited them in its civil and security apparatus.


Due to this form of recruitment, it may be argued, a significant portion of PA revenue was wasted in an irrational way. Nevertheless, PA spending on the salaries of this staff was not the only from of PA irrational payoffs. Alongside it was the huge amount of money spent on renting governmental buildings. In 1997, for instance, the ministry of finance paid more than US$ 138 million to cover the cost of renting some PA premises for a six-month period. The sum formed up to 12.5% of the total sum needed for the construction of governmental complexes for all ministries. Parallel to this was the high spending on other operating costs like postage, phones, business travel, utilities, printing, and so forth. Because of this cost inefficient spending, important ministries like health, and education were denied the adequate funds for their operation, and thereby, were unable to supply people with proper services - as demonstrated above.

The administrative anarchy of the PA’s bureaucracy, and the subsequent inefficient high spending, was mainly due to the absence of the political will needed for enacting the civil service law. As we have mentioned before the law remained not enacted up until the outbreak of Al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000. The PA’s failure to enact the law left many of its ministries lacking a clearly defined organizational structure that facilitated demarcation of roles. Also, it left these ministries lacking clearly defined job descriptions and task specifications, and a transparent mechanism for promotion. Consequently, thousands of PA civil servants suffered unjust work conditions, while thousands of others (backed by the PA) continued to enjoy extra-privileges.

Continuously, the PA justifies its inaction on implementing the civil service law by the lack of adequate financial resources. This justification is unreasonable, if considered in light of the following figures with relation to the PA’s annual revenue. According to Abu Jarad, the deputy-minister of finance, the PA revenue from income tax, VAT, customs, and transfer of income taxes deducted by Israel from Palestinian laborers employed inside Israeli territories, is estimated at US$ 95 million monthly in the period of 1994-September 2000. This implies US$ 1.140 billion annually for the same period. Adding this sum to donors’ annual disbursement whose average is estimated at US$ 500 million in the first decade of PA existence (1994-2004), then we will have some US$ 1.640 billion annually. Adding this sum also to the revenue of the officially sanctioned monopolies such as the Palestinian Company for Trade Services (Cement Company), the Palestinian Development and Investment Company, the Petroleum General Commission, and Tobacco Commission, (the annual revenue from whom is estimated at some US $ 300 million annually), then we will have approximately US$ 1.940 billion as the PA’s annual revenue in the period of 1994-2000.


This sum is not only adequate to cover the financial implications of the law, but also to supply Palestinians with high quality services, in particular health, social, and education. As we have discussed before, the cost of implementing the law for teachers and fourth class civil servants is estimated at US$ 7.5 million monthly (See P. 230). Assuming that the cost of implementing the law at the second and third class is similar or higher (since these servants receive higher salaries than teachers and fourth class civil servants), then the cost of implementing the law for all PA civil servants will be between US$ 15-20 million monthly, and US$ 180-240 million annually. This sum forms between 9.2-12.3% of PA annual revenue in the period of 1994-2000.

Consequently, the financial justification of the non-implementation of the law should be ruled out. The only reason - in my view - for not implementing the law was political. As discussed in chapter III (Pp.156-169) the sustainability of the “neopatrimonial” system is reliant on the absence of any prescribed legal norms that might restrain the patron’s action, and weaken his capacity for using public funding and institutions as an instrument to gain peoples’ loyalty. The civil service law with its formal mechanism of recruitment and promotion emerges at odds with the patron’s wishes since it weakens his capacity of using the bureaucracy as an instrument to gain peoples’ loyalty. The patron, therefore, promotes instead an administrative anarchy where the misuse of office and public funds are tolerated.

It is this administrative anarchy which promoted irrational appointments and spending- as we have seen above. It is also the one which prompted top PA officials to misuse or mismanage almost 40% of the PA’s 1996 budget, and to use it for their own benefits, according to Jarrar Kidwa, head of the General Monitoring Commission (GMC). More importantly, this administrative anarchy was the one that encouraged some PA officials to risk the health of the public, by supplying them with approximately 5,000 tons of expired flour.


The issue of the expired flour dates back to the summer of 1996 when the PA imported 5000 tons of flour from Italy’s black markets at a very high price. The PA decision to buy flour from Italy’s black markets was determined, according to Abdel Aziz Shaheen, former minister of supply, after Israel - the chief supplier of flour to the WBGS since 1967 - stopped supplying Palestinians with flour due to an international flour crisis in that year.

The PA, therefore, was forced to buy the flour at high prices in order to meet the local demand for flour. However, Israel quickly re-supplied itself with high quality flour, and, at the same time, relatively cheap flour to the WBGS following the end of the crisis, months later. The ministry of supply, accordingly, preferred to stop supplying the imported flour in the markets in order to avoid loss. This meant that the ministry should store the flour until the occasion to sell it arose. However, the ministry’s lack of proper storage places forced it to turn to the municipality of Nablus and to use the municipality headquarters as storage place.

The municipality of Nablus headquarters was used to store the 3000 tons assigned to the West Bank, out of the total of 5000 tons. Nevertheless, the fact that the municipality was not designed as a flour storage place caused the 3000 tons to be spoiled. Despite this, these tons, together with the remaining 2000 tons which were assigned to Gaza, were sold to merchants after having passed their expiry date. Moreover, they were sold to merchants without following the formal biding procedure. The picture looks worse when it is known that the ministry, after selling the flour to merchants, shut down the PA territories preventing Israeli flour from gaining access. In so doing, the ministry failed to implement free market principles, and enabled these merchants to sell the expired flour to citizens. An investigation and subsequent report, conducted and written by a PLC committee supported this claim in 1997.


The negative ramifications of this administrative anarchy in the Palestinian bureaucracy were not only confined to misuse of public funds and offices, but extended to include the promotion of conflicting power centres in some ministries. The affair of “forged citrus certificates” of the ministry of agriculture was a clear manifestation of this. In 1997 the most senior posts in the ministry of agriculture (the minister and the deputy minister posts) were occupied by Abdel El Jawad Saleh (the minister), and Azzam Tbeileh (the deputy-minister). While the former is considered to be one of the most prominent critics of Arafat, the later was an Arafat appointee and loyalist.

In October 1997, Saleh accused Tbeileh of being involved in producing false licences for Israeli citrus products so that they can market Palestinian products in Jordan’s markets. Saleh considered this act as one of corruption, and harmful to Palestinian agriculture. Tbeileh denied the charge and attacked Saleh by accusing him of paralyzing the ministry’s work by concentrating all the authority in his hands and refusing to recognize the deputy-minister post. Tbeileh publicly admitted this tense relationship between himself and the minister and complained that the minister refused to coordinate with him in respect of the ministry’s operations.

Consequently, the values which the Palestinian bureaucracy protected were the interests of top officials and politicians at the expense of public interest and welfare. Because of this normative foundation of the Palestinian bureaucracy, Palestinians were denied proper and adequate services (including health, education, social, and so forth). Palestinians were even denied the right to enjoy the material donations offered to them by other countries, like the Olive Oil sent by Greece in 2000. This oil, which was suppose to be distributed to the public free of charge, was sold to merchants by the ministry of agriculture, before being sold to the public. The ministry of agriculture justified this action by invoking the costs of transportation and storage as reasons that forced it to sell it to merchants.


The ministry’s lack of adequate funding resulted mainly from the PA’s policy of overstaffing its ministries, and the resultant high expenditure on staff salaries. This fact grouped the PA along with other oft criticized systems in place in developing countries where the government is:

“…a major employer…especially for the relatively small professional and educated segments of the society. It is difficult for any government to dismiss existing workers, but it also may perceive the need to hire additional, politically loyal personnel. It may make sense to dismiss existing employees, however, if they have been compromised by their participation in a regime with serious human rights abuses.”

The Local Government System under the PA: Toward a Client Model of Local Authority


So far we have discussed the PA bureaucratic system that is responsible for supplying social services to Palestinians, and concluded the following features with relation to it:

The local government system is responsible for supplying the main utilities (water & electricity supply, refuse or waste collection, roads paving, and so on). As mentioned in chapter II (Pp. 47-51), the first signs of this system started to appear in the scene in the second half of 19th century, when the Ottoman ruler-within the context of Tanzimat (reform)-enacted two laws in 1867 (Vilayet law), and in 1876 to introduce municipal councils in 22 towns and large villages. Though these councils were said to be elected, the voting qualifications were so demanding, and only the ayan (well-to-do and socially prominent families) could have access to these councils.


These families are the ones which historically cooperated with the Ottoman rulers. In this sense, the Ottoman ruler preferred them over any segment of society, and consequently, enabled them to control these councils when it stipulated a narrow electoral base. The Ottoman ruler, thus, helped these families to reproduce their power and influence over the population (See chapter II, Pp. 52-53).

Under the British Mandate (1919-1948), we witnessed the same trend. In other words, the British mandate relied also upon these families to rule the population. In 1927, thus, they introduced municipal elections with a narrow electoral base so that only these families can vote and nominate themselves to these councils. The British rulers had reasserted the narrow electoral base in its 1934 municipal law, whilst simultaneously conferring sweeping powers on the British high commissioner (see chapter II).

Though British rule had enacted two ordinances to promote local councils at the village level (in 1921, and in 1941), some cultural and political factors impeded these councils from being effective tools of political participation. These councils, at the end of the day, were dominated by the village Sheikhs and mukhtars under full British control and supervision (see chapter II).


After the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and the dispersion of Palestinian society through the Arab world and other countries, the Gaza Strip and West Bank (the only remaining Arab territories after 1948) came under Egyptian military rule and Jordanian civil rule respectively. While Egyptian rule tended to appoint local councils (at both village and town level) among the loyal ayan of Gaza Strip, Jordan promulgated the 1955 municipal law. The law revived several restrictions over the right to vote, and granted the ayan more chances than others to be elected to these councils. At the same time, the law conferred sweeping powers on the central authority in Amman, and therefore, enabled it to use these councils as instrument to assert its rule in the West Bank, and to reproduce the power of the loyal ayan (see chapter II).

When Israel occupied the WBGS in 1967, the Labour-led Israeli government, parallel to its policy of “co-existence”, introduced municipal elections based on 1955 municipal law in 1972. As we have discussed in chapter II (Pp. 80-83), the Labour government sought through these elections to promote pliable indigenous leadership as against PLO leadership. The Israeli goal of these elections was realized when the pro-Hashemite elements dominated these councils at the expense of the pro-PLO elements who boycotted the elections of 1972.

But in 1976, the PLO took lessons from the 1972 elections, and consequently, encouraged its supporters to take part in the municipal elections of that year. In these elections, Israel extended the voter franchise to property-less females and young males. This fact, coupled with the socio-economic transformation and regional political developments which the Palestinian territories witnessed in 1970s (for these transformations and developments see chapter II, Pp. 82-88), enabled the pro-PLO elements to rise to office (see chapter II, Pp. 88-92). Nevertheless, these elements remained derived from the same socioeconomic background of the pro-Hashemite elements. In other words, they were among the well-to-do and socially prominent families (ayan) as we have mentioned in chapter II.


With the rise of the Likud-Party to office in 1977, Israel’s policy toward Palestinian autonomous institutions was radicalized, and many councilors and mayors were dismissed from their office. Since then until up to 1994 (the year of the PA arrival in the WBGS) the mayors and councilors were appointed ones (see chapter II).

Consequently, when the PA assumed responsibilities in the WBGS in 1994, it had to deal with appointed local government institutions dominated by pliable socially prominent families. Hence, the PA was asked by Palestinians to revise this situation, and to promote the prerequisites for having an effective and widely representative system of local government. Among these prerequisites were legal ones; the PA was asked to reconstitute the laws and regulations which historically governed the local government system. However, the PA - out of fear of possible legal anarchy - made no quick fundamental changes in the legal status quo upon its arrival. On 20 May 1994, accordingly, Arafat - in his capacity as PA president - issued his decision no. 1 in which he declared all the laws and regulations of the pre-Israeli occupation era to be in force.

The decision implied the continued use of the 1934 municipal law as far as the Gaza Strip municipalities are concerned, and the 1955 municipal law as far the West Bank municipalities are concerned. As we have mentioned in chapter II, these two laws confer sweeping powers on the ruler, including the appointment of mayors and councilors. Having enjoyed this power, Arafat made the first appointment for a municipal council in the post-Oslo era, in particular on 26 July 1994. This appointment was for the Gaza city municipal council. Interestingly enough, at least eight (including the mayor Uwn El- Shawa) out of the ten councilors of the municipality were among the ayan.


On 24 September 1994, Arafat vested his authorities over the local government institutions into the newly emerging ministry of local government. This happened when he ratified law no. 1 for the year 1994. The law brought all the issues related to local government institutions under the ministry’s control and responsibilities. Therefore, the ministry became the official body responsible on any issue related to local government institutions, including the initiation of regulations and laws governing these institutions. Nevertheless, the ministry-due to Arafat decision no. 1 which kept all laws and regulations of the pre-occupation era in force- lacked the legal right to advance any legislation with relation to local government institutions other than the 1934 municipal law for the Gaza Strip, and the 1955 municipal law for the West Bank.

To deal with this dilemma, Arafat ratified Law no. 5 concerning the transfer of powers and authorities of the former regimes to the PA in 1995. Article one of the law reads; “all the powers, and authorities stated in the legislation, decrees, and ordinances that were in force before the arrival of PA on 19 May 1994, are vested in the PA”. The ratification of this law implied the empowerment of the ministry of local government with the legal right to initiate new legislation and regulations relating to local government institutions. This fact revived great hopes among Palestinians, and gave rise to the impression that the appointment policy of the municipal councils will be revised and that fair and transparent municipal elections would be introduced, so that a wide-segment of society other than the ayan would have access to these institutions after such access had been blocked for decades.

In April 1996, the ministry of local government declared its decision to organize municipal elections in more than 450 towns and large villages by the end of 1996. The elections were promised to be held according to a new municipal law. The law – which was supposed to be announced afterwards - would be applied in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and therefore, would unify the regulations which govern the local government institutions, after these institutions were subjected to various regulations since the inception of the state of Israel in 1948.


To pave the way for these elections, the ministry of local government divided the WBGS into sixteen governorates (eleven in the West Bank and five in the Gaza Strip). The governorates of West Bank are as follows: Jerusalem, Jericho, Bethlehem, Nablus, Ramallah, Heborn, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Slifeet, Tubas, Jenin. The Gaza Strip governorates are: Jabalia, Gaza, Dier El Balah, Khan Younis, and Rafah. Each governorate has at least one municipal council. Furthermore, fourteen new local councils and committees were created in the Gaza Strip, and twenty-seven new local committees were founded in the West Bank. In addition, a new municipality was evolved in the West Bank to assume responsibilities over seven villages.

The governor, who is appointed by and accountable to the minister of interior (in our case Arafat who held the interior portfolio in the period of 1994-2000), enjoyed no powers or authorities over the local committees or the municipal council of his governorate. However, Arafat, who appointed the minister of local government, could do so through the minister himself. De facto, therefore, the local councils and committees were indirectly controlled by the ministry of interior, or Arafat.

In a clear manifestation of this fact, Arafat appointed three municipal councils in the Gaza Strip governorates of Rafah, Khan Younis, and Jabalia on 19 August 1996. As it was expected, most of these councilors were either among the ayan, affiliated with Fatah, or have relatives occupying top posts in the PA civil and security apparatus. Take for example the mayor and his deputy of Khan Younis. The mayor was Usamah Al Farah (from among the ayan). His deputy was Salah Abu Shamalah (relative of Majd Abu Shamalah, a colonel in the Gaza-Strip preventive security forces).


The same approach was applied to the councilors. Three of them were among the ayan (Usamah Barbakh, Nasser El Masri, Majd El Astal). The remaining eight were among the ayan, but also have relatives occupying top posts in PA civil and security apparatus. They included Abdelhamid Sha’at (father of the former assistant-deputy minister of Planning and International Cooperation and the present assistant-deputy minister of transportation Ali Sha’at), and Ahmad Dahaln (a relative of Mohammad Dahaln, head of the Gaza Strip preventive security forces).

We can also notice the same trend in the Rafah municipal council. Sa’id Zu’rub (among the ayan) was the mayor, while Mohammad El Dibari (close to Fatah) was the deputy. Most of the councilors were close to Fatah: Izzat Abu El Khier, Ahmad El Qadi, Suliman Abu Samhadanah, and Imad Sha’at.

Furthermore, the majority of the newly created fourteen local councils and committees were appointed. On 2 November 1996, for instance, Arafat appointed four local committees for Bani Suhlia, Abasan El Kabira, Abasan El-Saghira, and Kheza’a. Interestingly enough, the appointment policy pursued by Arafat was not confined to the Gaza Strip, but extended to the West Bank which historically enjoyed elected councilors (at least until up to 1977). On 7 September 1996, two new municipal councils were appointed in the towns of Bitunia, and Dier Daboon.

The Local Government System: Electoral Perspective


The appointment policy of Arafat raised great deal of concern among Palestinians over the negative ramifications of this policy on the possibility of having widely representative local government institutions. In December 1996, Uwn El Shawa, mayor of Gaza, considered this policy very harmful to Palestinians, and a clear indication of the local government ministry’s reluctance to organize local elections. Nevertheless, the ministry considered this policy to be a very necessary one providing the involvement of many of the dismissed municipal and rural councils in corruption, and the lack-until up to that time-of a Palestinian legal procedure governing local elections.

The ministry, therefore, ruled out these appointments as an attempt from its side to deny Palestinians the right to decide on their civil issues, and re-scheduled the local elections for June 1997. The ministry justified the new elections date by the failure of the PLC to approve a law for local council elections up to that time. Accordingly, the ministry states, it was difficult to organize the local elections on the scheduled due date (the end of 1996 as mentioned before).

On 16 December 1996, Arafat ratified the local council elections law after the PLC approved it in the legal readings. The law set up the voting and nomination system of the local council elections. Article 3 of the law empowered the minister of local government with the right to call for free and direct elections for the mayors, and councilors. The law provides that the mayors and councilors (who supposedly elect the mayor deputy) are to be elected for a period not exceeding four years (articles 51, 53). Article 4 enabled the minister of local government to postpone the local elections for a period not exceeds two weeks if this was in the public interest and for transparent elections. Article 8 expanded the electoral base of these councils when it enabled every Palestinian aged 18 or over and living in the municipality’s jurisdiction to vote in the municipal elections even if he or she did not enjoy tax-paying qualifications.


As far as those who wish to run the elections are concerned, article 24 enabled every Palestinian aged 30 or over and with tax-paying qualifications to run for the mayoralty, and every Palestinian aged 25 or over with tax-paying qualifications to run for the council’s membership. Those who run for the mayoralty should pay approximately Jordanian Dinar 500 (approximately US$ 714) as a refundable sum upon their winning. In the meanwhile those who run for the council’s membership should pay approximately Jordanian Dinar 100 (approximately US$ 140) as a refundable sum upon their winning (article 22).

The law also sets down the procedure to be followed when there was a vacancy in the local council. Article 55 provides for new elections for the mayoralty in the case of the mayor’s departure or resignation. The election is to be public and direct, and held within one month from the date of the mayor’s departure or resignation. During this month, the deputy takes over the mayoralty. In case of a councillor’s departure or resignation, the one who won the highest number of votes after those who won the council seats occupies the vacancy. But when more than half of council posts were vacant, a direct and public election is held for the all of the council seats article 56.

Though the law might be criticized for the relatively high sum it imposes (as a refundable sum) on anyone wishing to nominate himself for the mayoralty (particularly if it is taken into account the extremely deteriorated economic conditions of Palestinians), the law - it should be admitted - signified a step forward as far the electoral base of these councils are concerned. Nevertheless, the law lacked any clarification concerning the functional jurisdictions and relationship of these councils with the central authority, the ministry of local government. To remedy this deficit, Arafat ratified the law of local government institutions on 12 October 1997.


A careful study of the law shows that it confers sweeping powers on the ministry of local government, whilst simultaneously limiting the functional jurisdiction of the local councils to a delivery of certain services. Article 2, for example, empowered the ministry with the right to lay down the overall policy of these councils. Article 4 went further and enabled the ministry to recommend the jurisdictions, formation, and structure of these councils to the cabinet’s approval/disapproval. The same article enabled the ministry to approve/disapprove the abolishment, annexation, separation, and the expansion of the functional jurisdiction of any council.

The powers of the ministry over these councils extended further to include the approval of these councils’ annual budgets (art. 31), the approval of the by-laws, taxes (including property tax) fees, and discounts (art. 15, B), the approval of the loans of these councils (art. 21), the approval of any cancellation, reduction or alternation in the fees and taxes imposed by these councils (art. 28), the approval of any council’s deviation from the prescribed annual budget (art. 31), the approval of the selling, yielding, or mortgaging of immovable property for a period exceeding three years (art. 20).

Furthermore, the ministry enjoys powers to approve or disapprove the council’s decision of dismissing any of the council members (art. 13). The powers of the ministry cover the councils’ staffing, including their right to set up the procedure of recruiting, promoting, punishing, and dismissing these councils’ employees (art. 19).


While the law empowers the ministry with sweeping powers and authorities over these councils, it also limits the functional jurisdictions of these councils to very few civil domains including: town and road planning, regulation the construction of buildings, supplying water and electricity, regulating public markets and stalls, regulating sanitation, collecting waste, regulating health, parks, museum, clubs, cinema, public parks, cultural and sport institutions, weights and measures, advertisements, hotels, eliminating the phenomena of beggary, supervising slaughterhouses, in addition to any other function specified by the law (art. 15, A). Though the law enables local councils to perform these functions, it denies them any right to perform functions in other important civil domains such as, for example, regional planning. This function is performed by the ministry of local government itself (article 2, Para. 2) in coordination with the concerned ministries like the ministry of Planning and International Cooperation.

The Local Government System: The Status Quo

As we have seen the law of local government institutions of October 1997 institutionalized a centralized model of government, in which the central authority (ministry of local government) assumes strict control over local authorities, whilst simultaneously performing some functions located at the heart of the local authorities’ work.

However, some municipalities managed to release themselves from such control, and assume autonomous actions. These municipalities could do so not because of the law’s encouragement of autonomous actions, but because of their informal connection with some power centres in the central authority (i.e., the PA). For example, Uwn El Shawa, Gaza Mayor, and married from Rawia El Shawa, a PLC member and a much respected public figure, could initiate independent channels with donors, and solicited, within two years, approximately US$ 57 million for the support of various developmental projects in Gaza city far from the ministry intervention. Other municipalities (weak municipalities so to speak) whose mayors and councillors do not enjoy strong political connections could not even perform the functions nominally given to them.


In June 1999, nine out of the thirteen councillors (including the mayor) of Beit Jala city of West Bank resigned from the council protesting the council’s deteriorated conditions, and the council’s failure to perform its basic functions like the enactment of its by-laws, and the organization of building construction in the city. They were among the national independents and not close to Fatah, the PA party. In this sense, they followed a different ideological line from the one of Fatah. In the meanwhile, the mayor, Raji Zaydan, was a loyalist of Fatah. Though the mayor expressed sympathy with the resigned councillors, and even placed part of the responsibility for the council’s failure on the PA which, according to him, exhibited little readiness to cooperate with the council, he quickly turned against them and accused them of paralyzing the council’s work, and of seeking to achieve political and personal gain. Surprisingly, the mayor’s statement was made after the appointment of new nine councillors in grave violation of article 56 of local elections law, which requires new elections for the entire council in a case where more than half of its seats become vacant.

Such developments show clearly how the ministry of local government sought to control these councils, and to assume strict supervision over them. This policy was the instrument through which the ministry emasculated the right of certain councils (mainly the non-loyal councils) to perform the functions entitled to them under the 1997’s local government institutions law. Against this background, the ministry’s regular postponement of the municipal elections should be examined. The absence of municipal elections would ensure the ministry would have the legal justification to block the work of certain councils under the pretext of their not being elected councils, whilst simultaneously, using the pliable appointed councils as an instrument to pass its policies. As Abdulnasser Mekky, former coordinator-general of the West Bank local elections, points out:


“Technically, there has been no implementation of the law…because, by its terms, responsibilities and powers are granted to elected councils and chairpersons. Since such elections have not yet taken place, the assumption of responsibilities by the councils under the 1997 law of local government is not yet legally applicable.”

In the following months the ministry made a further appointment for the mayoralty of the West Bank town of Silfeet. In so doing, the ministry showed further determination to keep working its appointment policy, and to refrain from organizing local elections. Thereby, the ministry was not going to respond to the wishes of 63.8% of Palestinians calling for immediate local elections.

Of course, the ministry would never admit the real reasons for its appointment policy and the frequent postponement of local elections. In September 1999, the deputy-minister of local government Husein Al Araj, justified this policy and the regular postponement of elections by the political winds of the country, in particular the failure of Israel to implement the political accords with the PA, and to redeploy from further Palestinian territories.


Ironically, Al Araj made his statements while the PA was in actual control of the main West Bank’s cities (Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, Tulkarm, Qalqilya, and Jenin, Hebron), and approximately 450 West Bank’s towns and villages, in addition to the largest part of the Gaza Strip. The only reason for postponing the local elections, it would appear, was the ministry’s goal of controlling these councils as means to prevent the rise of PA opponents (mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad) to office. Only the appointment policy could ensure the realization of this goal. In this sense, the ministry, backed by the PA, tended to politicize local government offices at the expense of these offices’ professionalism.

One indication of this politicization was the ministry tendency to overstaff these offices. For example, the number of the Gaza municipality’s employees increased from 1269 to 1500 within one year only (April 1997-April 1998). Only 180 (12%) employees were university-degree holders in April 1998. Despite this, the political connections of the Gaza city mayor enabled the municipality to deal with the resultant increase in its expenditure on staff salaries without lowering the level of its services to people. This fact can be inferred from a municipality decision exempting the detainees’ families from the highest rate of electricity and water fees in March 1998.

However, this was not the case of other municipalities like the municipality of Anabta in the West Bank. In January 1999, the employees of this municipality went on strike protesting the municipality’s failure to pay their salaries at the increased rate, including those increases covering inflation, and the deterioration in the value of the New Israeli Shekle (NIS) against the US dollar. The same applied in the municipality of Khan Younis of the Gaza Strip. In fact, the municipality was a victim of a series of unnecessary appointments (at least 300 personnel) in a manner that increased its financial deficit to about NIS 1000,000 (US$ 250,000), and consequently, left it unable to pay the salaries of its staff as they came due.

The Local Government System: A Failed scheme for Supplying Utilities


The politicization of the local councils did not only have negative ramifications on the financial situation of these councils, but also on the ability of these councils to supply people with basic utilities. In 1996, for example, at least 80% of Khan Younis’ population (estimated in that time at more than 150,000) were infected by parasitical diseases due to the city’s lack of wastewater collection and disposal system. The city of Khan Younis is only one example from many other cities and towns without a wastewater collection and disposal system. At least 40% of the main cities and towns of the WBGS did not enjoy a wastewater collection and disposal system in 1999.

In case this system was available in a given city, few Palestinians enjoyed, or enjoy, its services. This is mainly due to the relatively high fees (estimated at NIS 1000 or US$ 250) imposed by the municipality on anyone who wished to enjoy these services. In September 2000, a municipal employee was killed while he was fixing wastewater collection pipes (without the knowledge of his municipality) for a Palestinian family in the Gaza Strip town of Dier El Balah. The death of this employee was mainly due to the high fees mentioned above. The fees forced that family to work around the law, and to convince the municipal employee to fix these pipes in exchange for a given sum.

Parallel to the cities and towns which do not enjoy wastewater collection and disposal system were the Palestinian refugee camps. The majority of these camps (19 in the West Bank and 8 in the Gaza Strip) do not enjoy this system. Though UNRWA is the official body responsible for supplying the refugees’ camps with these utilities, at least half of these camps are located within the functional jurisdiction of the Palestinian municipalities. Consequently, the Palestinian municipal system takes part of the responsibility for denying these camps access to these utilities.


Other towns and villages suffered not only the lack of wastewater collection and disposal system, but also a lack of running water. Good examples of this are the West Bank villages of Dier Ghasasnah, Bani Zied, Kafer A’in, Beit Rema, and El Nabi Salah. In 1996, the population of these five villages had been denied access to running water for three months. During these months, these residents had to walk for some kilometres to obtain water from other pools. The same thing occurred in the Moraj neighbourhood in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah.

To a large extent Israel takes the responsibility of the water problem in the WBGS. As discussed in chapter III, the Oslo accords affirmed Israel’s control over the key resources in the territories. Water was among these resources. This clause enabled Israel to pump large quantities of WBGS water to its settlements inside the territories. At least 80% of the territories’ water reserves had been pumped to the benefit of settlers inside the territories. This shifted settler consumption of water to more than 300 litres daily, as compared with 40 litres daily for Palestinians in 1999. Nevertheless, the Israeli pumping of large quantities of water to settlers does not release the Palestinian municipal system from its responsibilities. For instance, at least 20% of the water available to Palestinians is wasted due to the lack of proper networks for supplying water.

In tandem with the irregularity of water supply was the irregularity of electricity supply. The irregularity in the electricity supply is considered to be one of the most worrying problems in the WBGS, and in the Gaza Strip in particular. This is due to certain historical reasons. As discussed in chapter II (P. 72), the Palestinian Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDEC) was founded in 1956 to supply the West Bank cities and towns with electricity. When the Oslo accords were signed (in particular the Cairo accord on 4 May 1994), Israel allowed this company to keep supplying the West Bank with electricity. In this regard, the situation of the Gaza Strip was fundamentally different from that of the West Bank. Historically speaking, the Gaza Strip was denied the right to have its own electricity company. In fact, Israel had supplied the Gaza Strip with electricity since 1967. Because of that, the Cairo accord provides for Israeli supply of electricity to the Gaza Strip until an alternative system there is established (Article II, B. 24 of Annex II “Protocol Concerning Civil Affairs” of the Cairo Accord).


Unlike the West Bank, therefore, the Gaza Strip was left at the mercy of Israel as far as electricity is concerned. This fact left the role of municipalities confined to the collection of bills, and the maintenance of electricity delivery networks in the Gaza Strip. Even in these very narrow spheres, the municipalities had certain failures. In 2000, for example, the rate of the wasted electronic power was estimated at 25% in the WBGS. The rate was above the internationally accepted standard by 16%.

Of course one of the chief reasons for the municipalities’ failure to ensure effective and proper maintenance of the electricity networks was their lack of particular skills for this purpose, in addition to the overlapping of their role in this regard with the role of the Gaza Strip-based Palestinian Electricity Distribution Company. The company was founded after the PA’s arrival to the WBGS and subordinated to the ministry of energy. It is also responsible for collecting bills, and carrying out maintenance activities. In March 2000, Yihya Shamia, Director-General of the company, warned of the negative ramifications of the company’s failure to cover the bill of the Israel electricity company (estimated at NIS 17.5 million for a month) due to the fact that people refrained from paying the electricity fees.

During the recent intifada (which erupted on 28 September 2000) the municipalities were denied the right to perform any function relating to the provision of electricity, and the company became the only official body responsible for the electricity issues of the Gaza Strip.


The Gaza Strip-based Palestinian Electricity Distribution Company provides us with another example of the centralized model of government where the central authority seeks to perform some functions located at the heart of local authorities’ work. Because of this model of government, Palestinians failed to establish independent energy generation station for the Gaza Strip in the period of 1994-2000. Palestinians of Gaza Strip had, therefore, to keep suffering the irregularity of electricity over the years of the interim period (1994-1999). But in early 2000, some efforts were made to end this suffering when the Swedish and Spanish governments granted the PA approximately US$ 50 million as a loan to start building an energy generation station for the Gaza Strip at a cost of US$ 93 million.

The station, due to be in operation from the end of 2000, was to ensure a regular supply of electricity for the whole Gaza Strip, and to eliminate the monopoly of Israel over Gaza Strip energy. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the recent intifada postponed the execution of this project, and the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip had to keep suffering the irregularity of electricity over the years of the intifada. This fact prompts us to ask about the reasons that led to such late implementation of this vital and important project, which left Gazans suffering the irregularity of electricity since 1994 until present.

What would be the case, for instance, if the Spanish and Swedish governments refused to offer financial support for the project? Was the PA missing the adequate funds to immediately initiate a vital project like that without their assistance? As concluded in the discussion on the features and characteristics of the Palestinian bureaucracy, the PA annual revenue is estimated at US$ 1.940 billion (see P. 269). The PA, therefore, was in a financial position to immediately initiate this project without the help of donors. The only reason for such a delay was the system of government itself.


The system - mainly the neopatrimonial system - leaves a free hand for the ruling elite, and of course their patron, to politicize the use of public funds, bureaucracy, and impede altogether the development of any autonomous action such as those of local government institutions. The politicization and impediments took place under the pretext of certain laws and regulations founded mainly to sustain this system, and to legitimize it. The outcome of this situation is the deprivation of the majority of people of adequate and proper services and utilities, and of right to access to political institutions.

The Opponents’ Para-State Institutions: Toward a Grassroots Model

In protest against the neopatrimonial system, the PA’s opponents (mainly Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and PFLP) broke with the PA’s para-state institutions, and tended either to strengthen their already established institutions, or founded new ones. Through these institutions, the PA’s opponents managed to practice para-state functions, and consequently, to supply Palestinians with Para-state services similar to those of the PA.

It was shown, in chapter III, how these opponents stood against the Oslo accords, and ruled out these accords as a fair and just solution for the Palestinian problems. Emphasising their position, they pointed out that the Oslo process did not spell out a total Israeli withdrawal from the WBGS, and maintained the right of Israel to control the majority of these territories. Consequently, they state, the Oslo arrangement denied the Palestinian right to statehood and independence. Inspired by this belief, they boycotted the Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections of January 1996, as discussed in chapter IV.


With the failure of the PA to conclude the interim period with a Palestinian state over the WBGS, these opponents were empowered with another reason to keep applying their “non-peace policy” with Israel. More importantly, as discussed in chapter III, IV, and this chapter, were the PA’s various failures at the internal level, including its failure to promote the rule of law and human rights, to build viable government institutions, and to promote wide-scale political participation as well as people’s welfare.

This fact, coupled with Arafat’s policy of leaving them their social institutions/military infrastructure (as discussed in chapter III), promoted them as a serious alternative to PA, and enabled them to gain wide constituencies of support in the WBGS. In July 1994, for instance, the opposition factions enjoyed the support of 2.2-10.8% of Palestinians as against 40.9% supported Fatah, the PA party. But in April 2003, Fatah enjoyed the support of only 22.6% of Palestinians as against 2-22% supporting the opposition factions. The increasing support for the opposition factions as against Fatah was mainly due to the PA failure to bring about any fundamental changes in the life of Palestinians (at the political, economic, and social level), and to the success of these factions to alleviate some of the Palestinians’ economic and social suffering. The means to do so were these factions’ charitable societies.

The Islamic Society

The history of the Islamic Society dates back to the 1970s, when Palestinians decided to break with the formal state institutions (like the municipal offices) under Israeli occupation. As seen in chapter II many PLO affiliated grassroots institutions were emerging onto the scene. Parallel to the PLO affiliated institutions were the charitable societies affiliated with the Islamic movements, mainly with the Muslim Brotherhood (and later on in 1989 onward Hamas). Among these societies was the Islamic Society. The founders of this society (mainly Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the former leader of Hamas) were inspired by two motivations. The first was political, while the second was religious.


According to Ahmad Bahr, the current head of the Society, the political motivation was to counter the impact of the Israeli occupation policy against the Palestinian social and economic life. In this sense, Bahr says, the fact that the Islamic Society sought to alleviate Palestinian suffering resulted from Israeli measures that included wilful killings, destruction of houses, ill-treatment and torture of Palestinians under detention, collective punishment and mass arrests, the confiscation of Palestinian land for settlement, and so on. Accordingly, Bahr concludes that the political motivation goes in harmony with the Islamic principles which assert values like social solidarity, and caring for orphans and the weak.

As mentioned above, the Israeli measures over the years of the occupation left thousands of Palestinians dead, thousands others were injured, and thousands of others disabled. This fact left thousands of Palestinian children as orphans having no source of livelihood. When the PA arrived to the WBGS, the Islamic Society (alongside other charitable societies of course) was permitted to keep its operations, and was licensed by the ministry of the interior so that it could take part of the responsibility of helping these Palestinians.

Though this policy relieved the PA and its ministries from some burdens, it enabled the opponents to assume wider constituencies through their services to community. The Islamic Society, for example, operates approximately 43 kindergartens with a total of 7000 children. In addition, the Society operates several clinics, providing primary health services without charge or with minimum charge. Moreover, the Society organizes several summer camps for over 6,200 children aged 8-16 annually.


In addition to these institutions, which enable Hamas to diffuse its ideology among these children, the Society offers permanent aid and care (financial and material alike) for approximately 7,800 needy Palestinian families, orphans and poor children. The Society’s aid and care to these families goes in parallel with its annual charitable activities (in the winter and in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan mainly). In each winter at least 5,000 needy families benefit from Society aid (in the form of clothes). Also, the Society supplies approximately 7,500 children with school bags annually, and feeds around 40,000 needy families each Ramadan.

The role of this Society, and other similar ones, was very prominent during the most recent intifada. The Israeli measures adopted against Palestinians during the intifada caused a huge death toll among Palestinians, and brought serious hardship to their economic life. In 2002, a study concluded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), showed that approximately 55% of the Palestinian households were cut off from food for at least one complete day, while more than 52% of Palestinian households borrowed money to buy food, and another 17% were forced to sell their personal property to buy food. Furthermore, the study pointed out that approximately 66% of Palestinian households were unable to feed themselves due to lack of money.

In response to these deteriorating economic conditions, the Islamic Society had evolved the “Emergency Aid Program” since the outbreak of the current intifada. The program offers material and financial help for those influenced by Israeli measures, supports some 3,000 Palestinian families annually. Mainly, the Society depends on the funds distributed by a number of international and Palestinian benefactors. This fund is managed and operated by some 200-300 personnel, the estimated staff of the society.


Interestingly enough, as the PA tended to politicize its bureaucracy, the Islamic Society tended to politicize its staff. In other words, most of the estimated 200-300 personnel of the Islamic Society seem to be affiliated with Hamas. Any conclusion in this regard depends on observations of the Islamic Society. During my field visit to the society I was treated with some suspicion, and the head of the society (Ahmad Bahr) refused to release much information with regards to society staff, in particular their ideological background. Nevertheless, the way I was treated is a typical treatment of Hamas members to anyone who does not belong to their party. The second reason which prompts this opinion was the way in which the interview with Bahr went.

Though Bahr and some of his staff were detained by PA security some years ago, and details about this issue were published by local newspapers and human rights organizations, he refused to give details about this issue considering it one of the Society’s secrets. Nevertheless, he admitted the detention, explaining that it happened because of his staff embracing Islam. This is considered as another feature of Hamas members. In other words, they are extremely sensitive to their security, in a way that makes them sometimes irrational (as in this case). To some extent they are justified, in particular in recent times, as their civil and military infrastructure are considered one of the chief targets of Israeli measures (including the shelling and the Israeli policy of extrajudicial executions).

El-Salah Islamic Association

The association, affiliated with Hamas, was founded in 1978. Similar to the Islamic Society, the declared goals were to support deprived people, to support orphans, and needy families, and to alleviate suffering of Palestinians resulting from Israeli measures toward the WBGS over the years of the occupation. After the PA arrival to the WBGS the association was licensed by the ministry of interior in 1996 to become one of the chief charitable associations in the WBGS. In a similar fashion to the Islamic Society, the association provides services in various civil spheres including education, health, and social spheres.


Unfortunately, the association lacks any documentation with regard to the number of the beneficiaries since its foundation. This was one of the chief problems I encountered during my field research. All the surveyed societies and associations (excluding the newly emerging “Friends of the Martyrs” association as we will see later) lack any documentation regarding the number of beneficiaries since their foundation.

Accordingly, the data mentioned with relation to the Islamic Society, and that data which will be mentioned with relation El-Salah Islamic Association, deals only with the last ten years (1994-2004). During this period, the Association offered permanent material and financial aid for some 8,000 needy families, orphans, needy students, handicapped, and other deprived Palestinians. In the meanwhile, it operates two schools for elementary, preparatory, and secondary education. At least 720 students among the orphans (including the sons of those killed by Israeli forces) and needy children benefit from these two schools annually. Parallel to these schools are eight kindergartens serving 2,000 children annually.

The education services provided to these children are free of charge. The services include exemption from the education fees, covering the cost of books, the school uniform, the transportation cost, and a daily lunch. Surprisingly, the association’s schools are empowered with well advanced computer labs, libraries, laboratories, sports halls, and video conference facilities. In this sense, the education facilities of the association are more advanced than those of the government schools, the majority of which lack similar facilities. On the health level, the association operates four clinic centres serving approximately 15,000 Palestinian monthly. The association operates these institutions in addition to 30 centres for teaching the Muslim’s holy book (the Kora’n) to children.


Approximately 200 personnel run the various activities of the association. The decision concerning the recruitment of these personnel, promotion, dismissal, is made by a board consisting of eleven members. The majority of the board members are affiliated with Hamas. These members are responsible for soliciting funds for association operations. In this regard, they rely upon local benefactors (institutions and individuals as well), and international benefactors (institutions and individual also).

The Friends of Martyrs Society

This society was founded only in 2001. The society, affiliated with Islamic Jihad, was founded in response to the Israeli measures against Palestinians in the current intifada. These measures left thousands of Palestinians dead, other tens of thousands injured, tens of thousands under detention. In addition hundreds of homes were demolished, and large stretches of agricultural land razed. In addition to the huge death toll, and the losses in property, was the deterioration of the economic condition of most Palestinians, as mentioned before. The society is concerned mainly with the families of martyrs, and to a lesser extent detainees and needy families, orphans, and needy students.

The Society provides only financial and material help. It runs no schools or health centres. This might be explained by the Society’s young age. Currently, it offers financial and material help to nearly 4,000 families, out of which 3,000 are martyrs’ families. The remaining beneficiaries range between detainees and needy families, orphans and needy students. The estimated financial help for each martyr’s family is between US$ 75-250 monthly, while the estimated financial help for each detainee’s family is US$ 100 monthly. In the meanwhile, the estimated financial help for the needy families is between US$ 50-200 monthly. As far as the financial aid for needy students is concerned, this took the form of covering the education fees of these students in coordination with the concerned academic institutions.


Unlike the Islamic Society and El-Salah Association, the Friends of Martyrs Society solicits its funds only from international benefactors (institutions and individuals). Among these institutions are the Danish-Lebanese Friendship society in Denmark and the Society for the Deprived People in Belgium.

The fact that this Society, and other similar ones (El Salah association, Islamic Society, etc) are permitted to carry out their activities, did not imply that they are far from PA watch. In fact, the contrary is the case. As we have seen, these societies (the Islamic Society for example) were subjected to PA harassment, including the detention. In the aftermath of the events of September 11, the PA harassment for these societies escalated.

The events brought about fundamental changes in the international mood, and left the issue of combating terror at the top of US and Western countries’ agenda. Within this context, Islam was viewed by such countries as being mixed with terror, and most charitable Islamic organizations and societies became subjected to strict watch by most of the world countries. This fact, signals clear bowing to and acceptance of the new international order dominated by the US. This world order left the global future of the Islamic charitable organizations and societies under serious threat.


Palestinians were not immune from the impacts of these events, and most of their charitable societies and organizations suffered the repercussions of these events. On 24 August 2003, the PA decided to freeze the accounts of 39 charitable societies working in the territories. The PA decision to freeze the accounts of these societies would effectively deny thousands of deprived Palestinians basic education, health, and relief services. Because of that, the Palestinian High Court ordered the release of these societies accounts on 21 March 2004. Despite this, the PA refused to execute the court order, and these societies were asked since then to refer to the minister of the interior in order to withdraw from these accounts.

Parallel to PA measures against these societies were the Israeli measures, including the shelling of their property. Continuously, Israel claims that these societies support the families of the suicide bombers, and consequently, encourage “terrorist activities”. In May 2004, the Israeli occupying forces shelled the Friends of Martyrs Society. The Israeli army spokesman claimed that the society is considered as the vanguard of Iran and the Lebanon-based Hizb Allah (the party of Allah) in WBGS, and accused it of diffusing terrorist ideas, and recruiting individuals for carrying out terrorist operations.

While these societies were subjected to PA harassment, other opponents’ grassroots institutions, mainly those affiliated with the PLO factions like Union of Health Work Committees could operate within a relatively comfortable environment.

Union of Heath Work Committees (UHWC)


We have discussed in chapter II how the UHWC, parallel to other grassroots institutions like the Union of the Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC), Union of Health Care Committees (UHCC), and the Health Services Council (HSC) emerged on the scene from 1979 onward. With the exception of the UHWC, these grassroots health institutions were affiliated either with the Palestinian Communist Party (and later People’s Party) or Fatah. In this sense, these institutions were not to be considered as the future institutions of the PA opponents. Only the UHWC, which is affiliated with PFLP, was to be considered so. Because of that, I shall focus my attention only on UHWC as a secular opponent institution.

This institution was founded in 1985. The institution was an organizational manifestation of the Palestinian desire to disengage from the occupation, and to accentuate the Palestinian national identity (as discussed in chapter II). The founders of this institution were concerned about deprivation, and the denial of Palestinians’ right to adequate and proper health services (due to the high subscription fees of the health insurance under the occupation). Motivated by this concern, they established their first clinic centre for primary health care in Ramallah, and then later (in 1989) in Beit Hanoun village, in the north of the Gaza Strip.

Over time, they succeeded in establishing other clinics, and expanded the health care provided to community to include secondary health care. Around 1994, the UHWC was operating approximately 25 clinic centers and health programs. The health care provided by these centers and programs covered many health domains including: gynecology and obstetrics, ENT, endocrinology, dermatology, internal medicine, dentistry, general surgery, urology, pediatrics, plastic surgery, neurology, respiratory diseases, cardiology, allergy, orthopedic, health awareness, and others. In addition, these centers and programs provide para-medical services including x-ray, ultrasound, laboratory, and pharmacy services.


According to Muna El Farah, director of the community health department, the estimated number of the beneficiaries of these centers and programs is 150,000-180,000 annually. These centers depended on the funds distributed by a number of international and Palestinian benefactors, offered their services with minimum charge. After the PA’s arrival to the WBGS, the UHWC was permitted to keep operating its health programs, and accordingly, three additional clinic centers were established (two in the West Bank and one in the Gaza Strip) in 1996. More importantly was the establishment of Al Awda Hospital in the northern area of the Gaza Strip in the same year.

This hospital was established mainly to provide secondary health services to approximately 220,000 Palestinians (the estimated number of the population of the Gaza Strip northern area). It played a vital role in ensuring these Palestinians with short-distance health care, particularly during the recent intifada, which witnesses regular confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli occupation forces necessitating on-call health care. Because of its close location, the hospital managed to serve 125,395 Palestinians in 2002. Furthermore, around 28,210 Palestinians benefited from the services of the hospital’s outpatient department. In addition, 2,416 medical operations, and nearly 1,470 deliveries were performed by the hospital.

Mainly, the UHWC recruits its members from among the middle class and intellectuals. Most of the UHWC are supporters or affiliated with PFLP. In 2002, the UHWC recruited approximately 238 personnel, out of whom there were 16 volunteers (nearly 7%), 10 privately-contracted staff (4.2%), 42 rewards-job staff (17.6%), 6 part-time staff (2.5%), 88 full-time staff (nearly 37%), 9 on-call staff (3.7%), and 62 others (26%).


Unlike the tense relation of the Islamic charitable societies with the PA, the UHWC enjoys a relaxed relation with the PA. For example, none of the UHWC staff have thus far been subjected to any form of harassment by the PA, and on more than one occasion the UHWC coordinated its activities with the PA concerned bodies (e.g., ministry of health). The reason for this relaxed relationship is of course a political one. Despite the divergence of the PFLP with PA as far as the Oslo process is concerned, it converges with the PA on the goal of building a secular state in the WBGS. This convergence is backed by both parties’ agreement that the PLO is the sole representative of Palestinian people wherever they are.

The picture looks fundamentally different when it comes to the Islamic movements (so to speak Hamas and Islamic Jihad). Unlike the PFLP, Hamas and Islamic Jihad advocate the establishment of an Islamic state on the whole of the Mandatory Palestine and claim Palestine as Waqf land owned by Muslims all over the world. Consequently, no one should have the right to negotiate any part of it. In this sense, they make no separation between the Palestinian land which occupied during the 1948 war or the 1967 war. This position prompted their failure to recognize the PLO with its political program of a secular state on WBGS as the sole representative of Palestinians.

Based on this position, they introduce themselves as an alternative to the PLO/PA. In so doing, they are supported by their own militias (e.g., the Hamas affiliated Izz El Din El Qassam Brigades) which operate far from PA control. This fact contributes to the picture of “State within State” in the WBGS. Ironically, this picture is similar to the one of the PLO situation in other Arab countries (mainly in Jordan, and later in Lebanon) in the pre-Oslo era. Therefore, history seems to re-write itself, but this time not for the benefit of the PLO/PA, but rather for the benefit of its opponents.

Footnotes and Endnotes

532  Francis Fukuyama. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Avon Books, 1992, Pp.98-108.

561  Figures from Palestine-Israel Journal. No. I (Winter 1994), P. 106.

608  See the ministry’s organizational chart on the official webpage of the ministry

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