The Betrayal of Forced Retirement
By: Linda Maher
Every glimpse at the crutch she leans on, reminds Suad of the whirring of planes, the explosion of bombs, detached body parts and splattered blood that she witnessed at central Sana’a’s Iman University, and that haunt her to this day.
Fifty-five year old Suad Al-Barham is one of thousands wounded in the ongoing Yemen war. In March 2016, she returned to her homeland, Palestine, after sustaining an injury to her right foot. She was working on her doctoral thesis in Methodologies of Teaching Science at the time, and was on a scholarship from the Palestinian Authority.
Suad returned to the West Bank and started to arrange work through the Ministry of Education. Before travelling to Yemen, she had worked as a teacher, and only a year later, found herself locked in her house and forced to retire. Her journey to Yemen ended with a disability and upon her return to Palestine, her career came to a crashing halt.
Suad was one of 168 civil servants and 204 military personnel on the West Bank who were forced into early retirement by the Palestinian Authority. We spoke to 15 of them, including those who had sustained war-inflicted wounds, were victims of confrontations with the occupation, were former prisoners and had disabilities.
Due to various health issues, these same people were forced into early retirement, against their will, for being deemed ‘unfit to work’ – without medical or technical reports to prove this. This is in violation of both the Palestinian Basic Law (that is, the Palestinian Constitution), and international charters and treaties signed by the Ramallah government. Some forced retirement decisions were even issued after the legal duration for the enforcement of the Temporary Labor Law had passed.
On June 22, 2017, and under the government of Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian Authority issued a decision on Temporary Law No. 17 for the early retirement of civil service employees, which was only meant to last for six months. On April 20, 2017, it also issued year-long Temporary Law No. 9 on the early retirement of military personnel.
Secretary General of the General Union of People with Disabilities Majdi Mar’i, says there is a high number of people with disabilities in Palestine due to ongoing Israeli attacks on the West Bank and air strikes on Gaza.
The number of people with disabilities in Palestine, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics for Population, Households and Facilities in 2017
The rate of unemployment among people with disabilities in Palestine in 2018
Relative distribution and the number of workers with disabilities from Palestine by sector and region in 2018 according to the Central Bureau of Statistics
The most common disabilities in Palestine, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics for population
The issuance of the early retirement law was an administrative decision, and is in fact inconsistent with the legal articles and international conventions signed by the Palestinian Authority.
In Wartime: Education Leads to Disability and Work Ends with Retirement
The explosion at the Iman University was not the first act of violence Suad had fallen witness to; she was there when Judge Yahya Rabid, his wife and five children were assassinated in the Al-Nahda neighborhood, north of Sana'a.
In a hoarse voice, she says that after this incident she felt that her psychological state was unstable. Suad however, insisted on staying to finish her doctorate, and managed to pass the comprehensive exams after six years with the highest score — an average of “very good”. Then, with the assistance of the Palestinian embassy, she returned to Palestine.
In March 2019, the Palestinian Authority issued an emergency budget after the International Monetary Fund demanded that the bill of expenditures be regulated by wage reduction. In an email to ARIJ, the Authority denied these pressures, and reported that the most important reasons for issuing the early retirement law is to give employees salaries that are higher than the General Retirement Law grants.
This, however, did not materialize, as early retirees were granted below-minimum wages, which in Palestine amounts to 2,470 shekels a month, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Expenditures in wages and salaries, according to the Palestine Monetary Authority
thousand military employees
thousand civilian employees
A comparison between the numbers of employees in 2017 and 2019 according to the 2019 emergency budget report by the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity - AMAN
Suad returned to Palestine and informed the Administrative Affairs Department of the Jericho Directorate of Education about her health situation. Contrary to her expectations, the Ministry requested she return to work within two weeks. She complied with the decision and worked for a whole month while travelling between two schools in Jericho and Ramallah. Suad then requested to be transferred to an administrative position due to her injured foot.
She says: “They had me examined by a higher medical committee, which decided that I would be fit to work as a teacher and not as an administrator.” Suad repeatedly tried to get a copy of the medical committee’s report, but the Directorate of Education refused. On March 5, 2018 she received notice of her forced retirement.
Not only did the retirement destroy Suad’s career, but it meant she had to stop her injury treatment. She lost half of her salary of 4,000 shekels (approx. $1170) as her pension was set at only 2,000 shekels (approx. $585).
The General Retirement Law No. 7 of 2005 sets the age of retirement at 60, with a 15-year service period requirement. However, the same law gives those who do not meet this requirement the right to apply for early retirement, provided that the person has completed 15 years of service and is 55 years old (or 50 for military personnel).
Suad’s sense of injustice prompted her to participate in the meetings of a committee that defends the rights of retirees. The committee official, Sultan Al-Rimawi, says that Suad's referral to early retirement was forced because it surprised her and was done without prior coordination. He elaborates: “Early retirement in accordance with the General Retirement Law happens in only two cases: In the first, the employee requests early retirement, and in the second, a judicial ruling is issued against the employee due to a misdemeanor that violates honor and honesty.”
Sami Al-Jabareen, a legal adviser at the Independent Commission for Human Rights and on the Board of Grievances, explains that retirement in the event of a disability is usually presented to a regional medical committee. It is also taken to a higher medical committee headed by the director of committees in Ramallah, and the retirement decision is then issued on this basis. He highlighted how if an employee suffers from a non-permanent disability, they can request leave and then return to work.
Suad was not examined by any medical committees that proved her to be unfit for work prior to her forced early retirement, and she felt that her studies were all in vain. She also felt that the injury she suffered was not at all significant to the Palestinian authorities.
Nine months after Suad was forced into retirement, 51-year old teacher Sanaa Nasser waited for a judge’s sentence on her appeal of a similar decision. She took her case to the Higher Court of Justice in an attempt to obtain the right to return to work. It took three sessions before a ruling was finally made in December 2018.
The Civil Service Bureau reports that 64 cases of early retirement were referred to the Higher Court of Justice. The court decided to cancel the early retirement of 20 employees since the required minimum service period of 15 years had not been met. The court issued a decision to dismiss 42 cases while two cases remained pending.
The prosecution’s justification that led the judge to reject Sanaa’s appeal was that she was in “a critical health situation, with a high degree of visual impairment, which is in contravention of the laws and provisions of civil service”. This is what made Sanaa appeal to the judge only for her case to be rejected. The irony is that Sanaa was appointed as a teacher in 1995 under special circumstances (due to her visual impairment that she has had since 18).
At the time, she had applied for the position just like any other graduate and was examined by a higher medical committee, which confirmed that she had poor vision. In line with the 1999 Palestinian Law on the Rights of the Disabled, Sanaa’s contract was renewed for a period of seven years until she was appointed as a special case.
Sanaa was employed based on an article that stipulates that 5% of employees of governmental and non-governmental institutions should be persons with disabilities, as befits the nature of the work of these institutions, and that the workplace should be equipped to accommodate them.
Rights activist Majid Al-Arouri says that the early retirement policy for people with disabilities is not only a violation of laws and regulations, but it is also a violation of their rights, and discriminates against people with disabilities. He highlights the irony in the case of Sanaa and in other cases in which early retirement was forced due to the same disability that led to employment to begin with.
In its response to ARIJ’s questioning, the Palestinian Cabinet denied that any employee with a disability appointed under the 5% clause was forced into early retirement. Additionally, two returned to work after filing a suit, and based on a decision by the Cabinet and a judicial decision from the Higher Court of Justice.
The number and percentage of appointments of people with disabilities in government departments based on the general report from the Civil Service Bureau
The appointment of persons with disabilities was distributed according to gender, according to the staff bureau report
During her years of working as a teacher, Sanaa refused to receive any exceptions due to her health. She was committed to her share of classes and since 2012, worked in two schools – as a teacher in one, and a librarian in the other.
In 2008, Sanaa was honoured by the Minister of Education for her distinction, and received a certificate of appreciation. Her performance evaluation was always rated as “very good” or “excellent”. On March 5, 2018, Sanaa was celebrating with the students who won first place in the Holy Quran Competition that she had organized, when she was stunned by the retirement decision.
Assistant Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers for Legal Affairs Rami Al-Hussaini, explains in an email to ARIJ that the Early Retirement Law gives the head of the government department discretionary authority in retiring an employee. He added that the employee’s wishes are the primary criteria for early retirement. In a limited number of cases, however, this happened through the nomination of the heads of bodies, and the Cabinet did not interfere.
Othman HamadAllah, a lawyer for the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre, comments that the law does not take into account the best interests of employees or their rights. He notes how “unfortunately, in some cases officials and heads of government departments have taken advantage of this article to eliminate those whom they do not want in the department, and they use it as a punishment, disguised by the law.”
HamadAllah elaborates: “Those same employees have very good to excellent evaluations, and their files are spotless.” He added that his office received four cases to defend based on retirement due to a disability, one of which was Sanaa’s case.
Sanaa’s mother is old and has suffered the consequences of her daughter’s retirement. The retirement decision calculated only 17 out of 23 years, and these are the years Sanaa spent getting her education. The justification is that the first seven years were signed by temporary contracts, so 50% of her salary would be deducted. This has impacted her ability to meet both her and her mother’s needs since her estimated retirement salary was 2,000 shekels (approx. $585).
The retirement salary for those who have spent more than 15 years of actual service is calculated according to Early Retirement Law No. 17 at a minimum rate of 50% and a maximum one of 70%. The salary may not exceed this percentage, according to Article 4 of the law.
The Second Intifada: Al-Nimir Is Under Arrest
Sixteen years ago, Ahmed Al-Nimir, a member of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, fell in a puddle of his own blood when Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) shot at him. At the time, he was defending the city of Qalqilya during the Second Intifada in March 2003. According to the Oslo Accords, the city of Qalqilya falls in Area A, which means it is completely subject to the civil administration and internal security of the Palestinian Authority.
The IDF bullets gnawed through his weak body, leaving him in a 50-day coma. When he opened his eyes he found himself surrounded by occupation soldiers. They transferred him to Ramleh prison where his health deteriorated, and he suffered a heart attack. He was released on May 5, 2003.
Al-Nimir left prison, and the uprising drew to an end. The aggression, however, left its lasting mark on his body in the form of a physical disability in his foot. Today, the bullets are still settled near his spine, affecting his tendons and nerves. They cannot be removed for fear that he will become paraplegic.
Based on the file of Al-Nimir’s service in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and as one of the wounded, the Palestinian Authority placed him in the Preventive Security Service in 2006, where he worked in security and camera monitoring.
The 35-year-old sergeant, Al-Nimir, served in the military for only 11 years before he received his early retirement notice on April 25, 2018 – without justification. He refused to sign the decision, which he describes as “unjust”. He had to search for a new job that would provide him with a livelihood. His years of service do not exceed 12, and they do not provide him with a retirement salary sufficient for a decent life for his family, especially that more than half of it is going towards paying off his bank debts.
Today, Al-Nimir works as a bus driver.
Built on Falsehood
Al-Nimir’s retirement decision was issued on April 25, 2018 – that is, after the end of the application period of the temporary law for early retirement of military personnel. The provisions of the law extend its application for only one year, and this makes the decision null, according to lawyer Othman Al-HamadAllah. The lawyer confirms that Al-Nimir is not the only person whose retirement decision was issued after the end of the temporary law, and that there are other similar cases among the military.
Al-HamadAllah stresses: “The heads of the agencies who issued these decisions exceeded the legal period allowed for them to work, as per the law of service for the Palestinian security forces.” The law states that “the heads of the main security services are appointed for a period of 3 years, and the position may be extended for only one year”, that is, 4 years in total. Most of them have exceeded this legal period; therefore, these decisions are invalid, according to him.
ARIJ sent a fax to the Military Management and Regulations Authority, asking for a response, but has yet to hear back.
Director of the mobility and advocacy unit at the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre Abdullah Hammad, clarifies: “A government employee is supposed to be governed by only two laws: the civil service law and the general retirement law.”
These two laws regulate the conditions of a public position from its inception until retirement. There is no vacuum in the legislation in order to issue such temporary laws. He added that the absence of the Legislative Council is what gave the executive authority the opportunity to issue a set of legislations and laws under the justification of necessity.
Article 47 of the Palestinian Basic Law states the following: “The Palestinian Legislative Council is the elected legislative authority, the term of the Legislative Council is four years from its date, and elections are held periodically once every four years.” The Legislative Council was in a state of disruption and in abeyance since the end of its first session on July 5, 2007 due to the division that took place on June 14, 2007 until its legal and constitutional term expired on January 25, 2010.
1987: The First Intifada
In the 1960s, Bassem Abed grew up in the “Aqabit Jabir” camp in Jericho, after Israeli gangs expelled his family from their home in the village of “Khirbet Al-Louz” in the Jerusalem municipality. In the camp, he and a number of his peers contracted polio. This left him with a physical disability that has stayed with him ever since.
Today, Bassem’s hair is grey. He takes the military uniform out of his closet and remembers his beginnings in the “Aqabit Jabir” camp where he grew up with a handicapped foot. That was not a hindrance, though, he says with great pride: “I was the only one who would save his wages to make bombs.”
Soon he paid the price for his struggle, “I went to study at Hebron University for a year but that did not pan out as they imprisoned me the day before the entrance exam. I then went to Birzeit University for a short period, but I was imprisoned the night of the exam.”
In 1979, he left Palestine for Syria. In the Hamouriyeh camp, Bassem moved between the factions of the Palestinian organizations and spared no effort in participating in operations with the resistance, despite his handicap.
Bassem returned to Palestine and moved between prisons. In 1980 he was sentenced for 21 years, and lawyers intervened to reduce the period to six years due to his foot paralysis. He was released in a prisoner exchange deal in 1985. He participated in the First Intifada and was arrested time and time again, until his fourth and final imprisonment, which he was released from in 1994 when he turned 32. All arrests were due to military operations, bombings, distributing flyers and organizing solidarity marches.
Bassem was employed at the Political Guidance Authority in 1996 in the Administrative, Financial and Military Affairs Department, and he held the position for 24 years, only to be notified of his salary reduction in June 2018. He went to the Pensioners Association, and was taken aback by news of his referral to early retirement. Bassem was not notified of his retirement decision; neither in writing, nor by telephone. He did not file a request for retirement, nor was he examined by a medical committee to determine his health status.
The Cabinet, headed by Muhammad Shtayy, responded to ARIJ in an email stating that it had formed a legal committee to study each case individually. The response highlighted that cases of retirement and financial compensation were the most problematic and complicated files inherited by the current government.
Today, Bassem is drowning in bank loans which he borrowed to build his home. He has mere crumbs remaining from his pension, and he cannot find another job because of his disability.
Bassem says: “Basically, a nation can never have enough men, even if they were martyrs. It is very hard to be humiliated by a fellow countryman who says, ‘We do not want you. Who are you and what did you give to this nation?’”