JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Twenty-four UNRWA employees in the West Bank and Jerusalem have entered into the 11th day of a hunger strike in protest of the agency's policies and "negligence" towards workers.
A spokesman for the UNRWA local employees' union, Shaker al-Rashq, said they categorically condemn the suspension or dismissal of any employees who were detained by Israeli forces, referring to a new policy implemented by UNRWA that he said prohibited employment of those formerly in Israeli detention.
"The racist policy led to the dismissal of 55 employees in mid-November who were on temporary contracts," al-Rashq said "we are talking about service contracts between 3 and 13 years and not months."
He also demanded that UNRWA end ongoing reductions in services, and called for equal salaries for all employees, referring to the comparatively low wages given Palestinian employees compared to international employees.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Ma'an Wednesday that the agency "deplores statements by the unions that we have abused the rights of staff."
In cases where staff are detained, Gunness said, "the Agency continues to uphold their rights and only when someone has been found after a thorough review to have violated UN rules and regulations is disciplinary or other action taken."
He told Ma'an Tuesday that "UNRWA's recent salary survey has shown that UNRWA workers are paid more than twenty percent on average higher than the equivalent jobs in the Palestinian Authority. In some cases our workers are paid eighty per cent higher."
"On the question of personnel with limited duration contracts under the emergency Job Creation Project, management brought to a meeting yesterday with the unions and Palestinian legislators new ideas on how to find solutions for these individuals, in spite of the shortage of funds under this project. We reiterated that this issue can be further explored to the satisfaction of all."
Protests in Hebron on Sunday in solidarity with the strike
The hunger strike comes amidst days of protests and strikes as local employees across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip demonstrate against UNRWA policies.
Hunger strikes are being carried out by three individuals from Duheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem, seven from Hebron, eight from Nablus, and six from Jerusalem. Some of the 24 individuals currently on hunger strike joined after the strike began 10 days ago. began.
Osama al-Qawasmeh, a hunger striker from Jerusalem, said that he was taken to al-Makased hospital on the 5th day of his hunger strike, and that he was suffering from dehydration, hypertension, and stomach and head pains.
"I was under observation for several hours before returning to the protest tent, despite the doctor's orders to rest at home for 4 days," al-Qawasmeh added.
Another hunger striker, Fadi al-Ayubi, said that they had still not heard any positive news from UNRWA, calling the UN Palestine refugee agency "stubborn" in its stance.
Al-Ayubi encouraged other UNRWA employees come to the tent to support them and their demands.
Hassan Moussa, who joined the strike two days ago, said "I work in Ramallah, and I joined the hunger striker in support."
He said the strike would continue "until our demands are met."
UNRWA is the UN agency originally set up in 1949 to ensure relief and development for the Palestinian refugees expelled from what became the State of Israel in 1948.
Today, the agency provides health care, education, social services, and other forms of aid to nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees.