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Emergencies only: Doctors implement comprehensive strike action

Jerusalem24 – The Palestinian Doctors’ Syndicate announced this morning comprehensive strike action and a suspension of all non-emergency medical services in health institutions across the West Bank in protest at a presidential decree signed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday.

The decree (officially named “Resolution by Law”) dissolves the current syndicate and prescribes the formation of a new one, whose members the decree already specifies.

The newly-established Palestinian Medical Syndicate which would exclusively regulate the medical profession in Palestine as an independent, financially liable entity.

Only emergencies

Immediately after finding out about the signing of the presidential decree on Tuesday, the syndicate publicly rejected it and called on its members to protest the following day.

The syndicate specified in a statement that they would withdraw the medical license of the doctors named as members of the new syndicate, unless they removed themselves from the list by the end of the working day on Wednesday, and also threatened “the declaration of a state of emergency tomorrow [Thursday] in governmental and private hospitals.”

“Only on-duty doctors will stay and work, with the closure of primary health care clinics, private centers, the Ministry of Health headquarters in Ramallah and Nablus, and forensic doctors also not attending work.”

Dr. Shawqi Sabha, the head of the syndicate, told Jerusalem24’s sister station 24FM on Wednesday morning that the decision to dissolve the current syndicate happened “behind closed doors”.

“The presidental decree doesn’t change the structure of the syndicate: it only wants to change the elected body and put a state-assigned one in its place. This is a problem they have with the individuals and not the structure itself.”

“We answer to the General Assembly and represent their views,” said Dr. Sabha. “If they believe we no longer do that, then we can dissolve the council, and a new one will be elected through the usual democratic process.”

“All options on the table”

Dr. Sabha called the decision “illegal” in an interview with Quds News on Wednesday. He added: “The decision was issued at a time when our martyrs are charting a path towards freedom with their own blood.”

A mass sit-in organized by the syndicate Wednesday morning, which was attended by hundreds, was “the biggest response to the decision by law”, said Dr. Sabha.

In a particularly caustic interview, and referring to Abbas’ excuse not to hold general elections in 2021 due to electoral difficulties in Jerusalem, Dr. Sabha said: “If they are able to hold elections for the [medical] syndicate in Jerusalem, the priority should be to hold legislative and presidential elections.”

He continued: “Today’s action is a referendum and a rally around the elected council of the union. No one can supersede the decisions of the union, and only the general assembly has the right to decide changes.”

“All options are on the table, and if they do not take the lesson from today’s sit-in they are crazy, and it will be the beginning of the collapse of their fragile authority.”

The syndicate announced today that the strike will continue until the decision on the formation of a new union council is withdrawn once and for all. The syndicate also officially decided to write off the medical license of the doctors named in the presidential decree.

“A tool of the government”

The Ministry of Health welcomed the president’s decision in a statement yesterday and called on fellow doctors to return to their work in “these difficult circumstances the country is going through”.

The ministry added that a dialogue will begin with the president’s legal advisor and all concerned parties “to manage this important situation in a way that guarantees the rights of all union members”, stressing that “only dialogue will solve all issues”.

Commenting on the statement of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Sabha said: “The Ministry of Health is one of the tools of the failed and illegitimate government that has not been approved by the Legislative Council.”

Union solidarity

Various Palestinian unions, human rights and civil society organizations have condemned the presidential decree and called for supporting the Palestinian medical syndicate in their demands.

The Independent Commission for Human Rights called on the Board of Grievances to withdraw the decision in a statement: “The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) considers with great seriousness the issuance of a decision by law [presidential decree] on the establishment of the Palestinian Medical Syndicate, according to which the powers and functions of the current democratically elected Council of the Medical Syndicate were delegated to a designated Constituent Assembly, which means the dissolution of the elected Council.”

The ICHR considers the presidential decree constitutes “a dangerous precedent”, an “attack on the freedom of work and trade union organization”, and that it “would deepen the crisis between doctors and the government, which would harm the functionality of the health sector, and also send a dangerous message to all elected trade union bodies and put them under threat of similar measures.”

Human rights organization Al-Haq said in a statement that it views “with great seriousness” the issuance of the presidential decree, demanding its withdrawal and cancellation.

Al-Haq said the issuance of presidential decrees runs contrary to Palestinian Basic Law, especially article 43 which specifies a condition of necessity. The organization also said the decision violates the constitutional principles and values governing freedom of work and the organizing of trade unions, as well as international conventions to which Palestine is a party, “thus contributing to undermining the remaining elected democratic institutions in Palestinian society.”

Al-Haq further called for the holding of legislative and presidential general elections “as the best way to ensure respect for the principle of separation of powers and the principle of the rule of law as a basis for good, and good governance.”

The Palestinian National Initiative also affirmed its support for the Medical Syndicate and called for the reversal of the presidential decree.

The Palestinian Bar Association declared its full support for the syndicate “as an elected body in alignment with a democratic process”, and rejected the decree on the basis of its “unconstitutionality”.

The Palestinian Engineers Syndicate issued a statement on Wednesday saying, “The dissolution of the elected trade union council constitutes an attack on the freedom of work and union organization, circumvents the legitimate Medical Syndicate, and constitutes a violation of the rights and privileges of thousands of Palestinian doctors who are members of the existing syndicate.”

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