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Protesters Rally Against Palestinian Authority; Demand Jobs, Food - 2002-07-01

Thousands of Palestinians marched through the Gaza Strip Monday, denouncing the Palestinian Authority for corruption and for not doing enough to create jobs.

Shouting "we want jobs" and "we want food," protesters broke into Yasser Arafat's seaside compound in Gaza City. Palestinian police monitored the demonstration, but did not intervene. There was no criticism of Mr. Arafat himself. But the protesters accused many other Palestinian leaders of enriching themselves, while Palestinians were starving.

Mr. Arafat is not in Gaza. He is blockaded inside his West Bank office in Ramallah, encircled by Israeli tanks. Palestinians have rallied behind him since U.S. President George W. Bush's call last week for sweeping reforms of the Palestinian Authority, including a "new and different" leadership.

But the main focus of the demonstration was the unemployment situation in the Palestinian territories. The United Nations estimates that, before the Intifada, or uprising, began almost two years ago, about 125,000 Palestinian workers crossed into Israel each day, earning about $3.4 million. But now that the borders are closed, little money is coming into the territories, and unemployment has soared.

Palestinian Labor Minister Ghassan Khatib puts the unemployment rate at 78 percent of the work force, up from 44 percent before the Intifada began. He blames Israel's imposition of curfews and blockades on roads for making an already bad situation worse.

Israel says its actions are necessary to defend against Palestinian attacks. Two suicide bombings have claimed 26 Israeli lives in the past two weeks.