HEBRON â€” Ibrahim Zedat is a chemistry teacher, but he has been sneaking into Israel to work on a building site since a strike by Palestinian government workers over unpaid wages closed many schools.
Many teachers from his town of Bani Inem in the West Bank have done the same since the strike began on Sept. 2, said Zedat, adding he earned 150 shekels ($35) a day as a labourer, low by Israeli standards but higher than his classroom pay.
The teachers have joined university graduates and other educated Palestinians working illegally in Israel since Western countries stopped giving direct aid to the Hamas-led government in March, plunging the Palestinian economy into crisis.
â€œI want to teach, itâ€™s better than working under the sun the whole day. But there is no job security here,â€ said Zedat, 28, after returning from Israel on a minibus packed with other workers.
Palestinian officials said they had no figures on the number of Palestinian Authority employees and other educated people who were slipping into Israel to work illegally.
But they acknowledged the problem.
â€œI am ashamed. The Palestinian Authorityâ€™s task is to provide work and a good life for all Palestinians,â€ said Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to President Mahmoud Abbas.
The World Bank said last week that the Western embargo as well as Israeli restrictions could make 2006 the worst year since the authority was established in 1993 under interim peace accords with Israel.
It said average personal income would fall by 40 per cent of the population, while the poverty rate would rise to 67 per cent.
The West slashed direct aid to pressure the Hamas Islamist group to recognise Israel and renounce violence. The embargo has prevented the government from paying wages to 165,000 employees.
Palestinian officials hope a planned unity government between Hamas and Abbasâ€™ Fateh group will ease sanctions.
Degree doesnâ€™t help
That is of little immediate comfort to Anour Shehada, 32. He used to be a sales manager at a Palestinian company until he was laid off four months ago.
His marketing degree from Jordan has proven worthless, forcing him to paint and repair cars in the Israeli city of Jaffa.
â€œThis is a hazardous life. We often have to run away from Israel soldiers,â€ said Shehada.
â€œThe economic situation is awful, but it has been worse since Hamas came to power. Why should educated people work for Israel?â€ Since a Palestinian uprising began in 2000 after peace talks collapsed, Israel has placed heavy curbs on Palestinians working inside the Jewish state. At most, a few thousand labourers get permits to enter each day.
Entering illegally has also become tougher since Israel began building a barrier along and inside the West Bank.
It has only finished the northern section, allowing teachers like Zedat to use back lanes to sneak past military checkpoints in southern parts of the West Bank.
Israel says the barrier is meant to stop suicide bombers from entering. Palestinians call it a land grab.
Assad Jaradat majored in Arabic at Hebron University. He started looking for teaching jobs just before Hamas took office.
Dismayed by his prospects, Jaradat recently threw away his degree and signed up for construction work in Tel Aviv.
â€œI am not the only graduate working in Israel. There are many,â€ said Jaradat.