Protests, rallies and sit-ins took place in several parts of the West Bank on Monday as school teachers urged the Palestinian Authority government to put into effect a recently announced law that would raise teachers' salaries and enhance their living conditions.

"We are protesting the scandalously low salaries we receive. A poor teacher cannot be a good teacher," Yusuf Abu Ras, a teacher union leader from the town of Dura, 12km southwest of Hebron, said.

Unequal salaries

According to sources at the Palestinian Ministry of Education, the minimum net monthly salary for a newly appointed teacher with a university degree, does not exceed 1400 Israeli shekels ($330).

"We are protesting the scandalously low salaries we receive"

Yusuf Abu Ras,
teacher union leader

Long-serving school teachers with 20 years' experience receive better salaries reaching up to $700.

However, even this sum is insufficient to cover the basic expenses of a mid-sized family of six.

Comparatively, the average monthly salary of an Israeli teacher is 6000 to 8000 shekels.

The prices of basic consumer goods and services are about the same in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Hands tied

PA officials interviewed by Aljazeera.net said they understood and identified with the "legitimate and just demands" of the teachers.

"I am absolutely supportive of the teachers' demands. However, I would like to stress that as the teachers have rights, they have obligations and duties which they must carry out," Abu Sufyan Itmaizi, head of the education department in southern Hebron, said.

"I am absolutely supportive of the teachers' demands, however, I would like to stress that as the teachers have rights, they have obligations and duties which they must carry out"

Abu Sufyan Itmaizi,
southern Hebron education chief

He said he was hopeful "these inequities" would be resolved in the coming few months.

PA Finance Minister Salam Fayadh said although the teachers' demands were justified, the PA government simply was short of financial resources to raise salaries at this time.

Some PA officials have privately accused the Palestinian resistance group Hamas of fomenting the teachers' protests with an eye to the forthcoming municipal and legislative elections.

Islamic leaders and teacher unionists deny the charge, saying the problem is one of living costs, not politics.