August 21, 2006

Angry Palestinian workers storm Jordanian banks

by Khaled Neimat
The Iraq Solidarity Campaign and Middle East Cultural Association

Jordanian banks in Gaza and the West Bank on Saturday came under attack for the second time in three months as Palestinian military personnel and civil servants vented their anger at having loan repayments deducted from partial salary payments.

Three employees at a branch of the Jordan Bank in Gaza were injured during the violent demonstrations, in which protestors also smashed computers and electrical appliances, according to the director of the Jordanian Representation Office to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, Yahia Qaralleh.

The violence began when employees learned that Jordanian banks in Gaza, Ramallah and Jericho had deducted 35-50 per cent of a partial salary payment to cover employees’ loan repayments, which have been building up over the past six months since the Hamas-led government was elected to power.

The US and EU responded to election by cutting off aid, crippling the government’s ability to pay the salaries of 165,000 government workers.

Arab banks have since refused to transfer money to the beleaguered government in fear of being blacklisted by the US, which considers Hamas “a terrorist organisation.”

Since March, workers have only received partial salaries forcing them to take additional bank loans to feed their families.

Yesterday’s violence was sparked after employees discovered that the banks had deducted between 30-50 per cent of a $330 payment aimed at easing their suffering.

Angry Palestinian workers reacted by storming the Jordan Bank branch in Gaza, “threatening to completely destroy it if the bank did not pay the full payments as received from the Palestinian Authority,” said Qaralleh.

In an attempt to defuse the situation, Qaralleh said the manager called the bank’s head office in Amman and a decision was taken “to release the full payments.”

According to Qaralleh, the rest of the Jordanian banks followed suit, paying out the full amount deposited by the Hamas-led government, which has reverted to smuggling millions of dollars into the country by hand to get around crippling international sanctions.

Qaralleh confirmed that branches of Jordanian banks in Ramallah and Jericho were also attacked.

The latest attacks on Jordanian financial institutions follow similar ones in June, when the Arab Bank closed three branches in Gaza for two days following attacks by angry Palestinian civil servants demanding salary payments.

At the time, Government Spokesperson Nasser Judeh accused the Hamas-affiliated armed groups of being behind the attacks.

“The Central Bank of Jordan will have to close some, if not all, Jordanian banks in the Palestinian territories if they are threatened or face any danger,” he said.

Palestinian factions linked to Hamas issued a statement in June warning banks against not paying salaries to government employees.

The statement said such banks would be taking part in a siege imposed on the elected government and “this would not be tolerated.”

The government responded by saying it was not in anyone’s interest to close down the banks and that those who made the “threats should be aware of Palestinian interests before they carry them out.”

The Iraq Solidarity Campaign and Middle East Cultural Association


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