“Congratulations to all high school graduates! Especially the ‘backbones’, the chosen ones with guaranteed employment, while all other graduates sit and wait!” This bittersweet statement became a trend on social media at the end of 2020’s academic year, celebrating high school students graduation, and pointing to the lack of employment equal opportunities that awaits Palestinian youth.
Since June of 2020, social media platforms have been buzzing with the hashtag “The Backbones.” While some may think it’s related to a health or medical condition, in reality, the term refers to a statement made by the Palestinian Minister for Women’s Affairs, Amal Hamad, in her justification for appointing her nephew as her personal assistant (in conservative or religious societies women should not interact closely with outsiders without the presence of a close relative or someone that shares blood ties or ‘Backbones’ as they are referred to in some Arab countries)
In 2016, Anas Al-Habbash, son of Mahmood Al- Habbash, the Supreme Sharia Court Judge, and religious affairs advisor to the Palestinian Authority president, was appointed as Assistant to the Director General of the Prosecutor’s Office as soon as he graduated from university; an appointment that angered many Palestinians. However, Anas was not the only offspring of Al- Habbash that was hired for a governmental position; both his daughters, Shaima’ and Israa’ were appointed in senior positions too. One daughter was the Director of Public Relations in the Judge’s council, and was later transferred to work at the Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission. His other daughter was appointed in the Palestinian Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, in 2017.
The Habbash family tell only part of the story. This investigation documents the appointment of 71 family members of Palestinian Authority officials in important administrative and diplomatic positions (23 diplomatic and 48 governmental) during the past decade.
The appointment letters included in this report were either published in the official Palestinian Gazette “Al- Waqa’e” or leaked to the media. Appointments for these unadvertised governmental jobs were made for first degree relatives of serving or former senior governmental Palestinian Authority officials. This report documents these appointments by reviewing all back issues of “Al- Waqa’e” Gazette from May 2010, until October 2020, and the news archives of local Palestinian media outlets for the same period. This is in addition to analyzing statistical and civil society databases and reviewing job advertisements in the Public Personnel Council (PPC).
52% (37 persons) of senior position were given to first degree relatives of officials such as son, daughter, husband, wife… etc.
First Degree Relatives
The Odeh family comes in second after Al- Habbash. Family members of Kifah Odeh, Palestine’s Ambassador to Spain, make up 7% of the appointments documented in this report. His wife, brother, and son-in-law were all appointed in senior diplomatic positions.
Nimer Diab Al- Loh, son of Palestine’s Ambassador to Cairo in Egypt, was appointed in the cultural division of the Palestinian Authority’s consulate in Alexandria. Lina Abu Zaid, daughter of Muntaser Abu Zaid, Palestine’s current Ambassador to Kazakhstan, was appointed in Palestine’s Embassy in Ukraine. Muna Abu Amara, daughter of Intessar Abu Amara, Director of the Palestinian Presidency Office, was appointed in the Palestinian Embassy in Cyprus.
The wife of Kifah Odeh, Palestine’s Ambassador to Spain, is Hala Fariz, Palestine’s Ambassador to Sweden. His brother, Mohammad Odeh, holds the rank of Ambassador and is Head of the Department of Latin America in FATEH’s International Relations Commission. His son-in-law, Ammar Hijazi, is Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Affairs and also holds the rank of Ambassador.
Hala Fariz, Palestine’s Ambassador to Sweden, said in an email that she officially joined the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1978, and held various positions that were all related to international and diplomatic work, and that her career progress was gradual and proper, until she was sworn in as Palestine’s Ambassador to Sweden in 2011. She added that her husband, Kifah Odeh, began his political career a decade prior to her and “worked in various fields” until his appointment as Ambassador in 1990. As for her son-in-law, Ammar Hijazi, she stated that he joined the Foreign Ministry in 1996, six years before he married her daughter, and that his career progress was also gradual and proper. She added that her brother-in-law, Mohammad Odeh, began his political career in the seventies, and has had many political and diplomatic roles in Latin America, and has not been officially appointed as an ambassador to any country.
Ribhi Halloum, a former Palestinian ambassador, says that the appointment of ambassadors in the Palestinian Authority is heavily dependent on favoritism and serving certain interests. He states that during his tenure as Palestine’s Ambassador to Turkey, a member of the embassy’s security personnel, who was related of the Supreme Sharia Court Judge Mahmoud Al- Habbash, was promoted to the rank of Ambassador by a decree issued by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Attorney at law, Ibrahim Barghouthi, General Manager of the Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, says that senior positions, like all public positions, should be advertised, in accordance with the principle of equal opportunity employment stipulated in article 26 of The Palestinian Basic Law, the principle of equality stipulated in article 9 of the aforementioned law, and article 23 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
There is no clear legislation organising the appointment of deputies, mayors and senior officials, but article 7 of the UN Convention Against Corruption which was signed by Palestine in 2014, stipulates that “efficiency, transparency and objective criteria such as merit, equity and aptitude should be an integral part of the recruitment and promotion processes.”
Jobs Without Advertisement or Competition
The career vacancies page on the official cite of the Public Personnel Council (PPC) does not list calls to fill any senior governmental positions. But during the last ten years, the official gazette “Al- Waqa’e” has published 84 appointment decrees for new ambassadors and announcements for promotion to the rank of ambassadors, 23 of which were for offspring and relatives of serving members of the diplomatic corps, accounting for 27% of the total number of published appointments.
In the past six years, the investigators have found 1324 job advertisements made by the PPC, most of which were for level 2 jobs (491 advertisements), followed by level 3 and level 5 jobs.
Article 17 of the Palestinian Civil Service Law of 1998 stipulates that the President of the Palestinian National Authority appoints deputy (ministers) and general directors (for ministries) based on recommendations made by the Council of Ministers, while senior government personnel are appointed according to decisions made by the Council of Ministers based on the recommendation of the director of the concerned department.
Bilal Barghouthi, legal advisor of the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), says that these appointments are based on the Palestinian Civil Service Law of 1998, which expands the authority of the PA President and enables him to appoint senior officials. Though, this is in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law of 2003, that is considered the legal blue print of the country and supersede other acts of the law.
Illegal Diplomatic Promotions
On May 1, 2013, a presidential decree was published in the official gazette “Al-Waqa’e” appointing Walid Al-Shakaa, the son of Ghassan Al-Shakaa, former member of the PLO’s Executive Committee (EC), as a First Counsellor in the diplomatic corps. On September 20, of the same year, he was promoted to the rank of Ambassador, which is a violation of the executive regulations of the Diplomatic Corps Law which stipulates that counsellors must have completed 4 years in their rank before getting promoted.
Similarly, on March 13, 2014, a presidential decree was published in the official gazette appointing Ra’ouf Najeeb Al-Maliki, brother of Riyad A-Maliki, Foreign Affairs Minister, as a First Counsellor and Head of Palestine’s Diplomatic Mission to Columbia. On May 1, 2015, about 13 months after his appointment, he was promoted to the rank of Ambassador and continued to serve as head of that diplomatic mission.
Linda Suboh Ali was promoted on May 1, 2015, to the rank of Ambassador and became the country’s Ambassador to Venezuela, about 13 months after being appointed as First Counsellor according to her appointment decree which was also published in the official gazette on March 13, 2014.
According to article 40 of the Palestinian Basic Law, the President of The National Authority shall appoint or terminate the services of the National Authority’s delegates to foreign countries, international organizations and foreign agencies. Article 7 of the Diplomatic Corps Law, stipulates that other diplomatic corps personnel shall be relocated or transferred back home upon a decision by the Minister. Article 2 of the Diplomatic Executive Regulations of the Diplomatic Law stipulates that diplomatic appointments shall be based on public competition, announced 30 days prior to its execution, after which Ministry shall appoint its diplomatic corps via a specialized committee that has been formed for this purpose.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry has not responded to inquiries sent via email on February 25, 2021, regarding the diplomatic appointments and promotions mentioned in this report.
It should be noted that the Foreign Affairs Ministry ranks first among sectors suffering from nepotism in Palestine. 25 relatives of ministry officials have been appointed in administrative and diplomatic positions, equalling 35% of the total number of appointments during the past decade.
Foul play suspected in the appointment of Deputy Prosecutor.
Legal violations in appointments and promotions are not limited to the diplomatic corps. On April 19, 2017, the Public Prosecution announced a vacancy for the position of Deputy Prosecutor. On June 12, it was announced that five new deputy prosecutors had been appointed, all of whom were relatives of PA officials.
Bashar Faraj, son of Majed Faraj, Head of Palestine’s General Intelligence Service, was appointed in the position of Prosecutor despite being dismissed by Dubai’s Police Academy for exceeding the number of allowed absences while attending the Academy sponsored by a grant from the UAE. Amal Faraj, the wife of Majed Faraj, was appointed Deputy President of the State Audit Administrative Control Bureau in 2017.
On August 21, 2017, Palestine’s official gazette published a decree promoting 46 Deputy Prosecutors to the rank of Prosecutor, 17 of whom were relatives of governmental officials. Those included, Alaa’ Al- Sharafi, son of Kamel Al- Sharafi, PA President’s advisor and former Minister of Social Development, Asem Mansour, son of Mohammad Mansour, Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Interior, and Khaled Qaraqe, son of Issa Qaraqe, Minister of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs.
The Public Prosecution office responded that these appointments were made in accordance with the by-laws of the Judicial Authority Act of 2002. Article 16 of this law stipulates that “any person appointed as a member of the judiciary should hold a license (degree) in Law or Sharia from a recognized university.” Hence, the appointment of Bashar Faraj was based on his recognised law degree obtained from Dubai’s Police Academy in 2014, and the appointment of Alaa’ Al-Sharafi, Asem Mansour and Khaled Qaraqe was done in accordance to the law and after they all passed a judicial competition.
Al-Sharafi, Mansour and Qaraqe all held the position of Deputy Prosecutor in 2016, before they were promoted to Prosecutor in 2017. According to Article 70 of the Judicial Authority Law no. 15 of 2005, a Deputy Prosecutor may be promoted to Prosecutor if they had served at least 3 years as Deputy.
In its response, the Public Prosecution office stated that the provisions of Article 62 of the Judicial Authority Act 0f 2002 regarding the promotion of deputy prosecutors does not specify a minimum number of service years for promoting Deputy Prosecutors to the position of Prosecutor. It stipulates that “upon soliciting the opinion of the concerned prosecutor, the Attorney-General shall draft a report on the work of the Deputy-Prosecutor, indicating the extent of his qualifications and his suitability for judicial work.” It also stipulates that “This report, along with any written comments submitted by the member, shall be submitted to the Minister of Justice, who shall decide whether the member is suitable for appointment to the position of Prosecutor, or, if not, whether the member should be given a grace period, not to exceed one (1) year, for a re-evaluation of his qualifications and suitability.”
The Ministry of Justice comes in second place among ministries suffering from nepotism and the appointment of officials’ relatives, which reached a staggering 32% of those vacancies filled in the ministry. Among these appointments, 23 were made in the Public Prosecutor office, including 15 promotions from Deputy Prosecutor to Prosecutor. The number of advertised judicial positions during the past 6 years was 75 positions, the most senior ones were 25 vacancies for Grade 3 Clerks vacancies.
The 2016 report of the Public Personnel Council indicates that 13 appointments were made by President Mahmoud Abbas as an ‘exception’. Although the 2019 PPC report was devoid of any mandate for appointments by exception, Ibrahim Al-Barghouthi says that these types of appointments are still taking place and are in violation of the Palestinian constitution.
In an interview she gave to journalist Ahmad Saeed and published ‘live’ on his Facebook page on June 27, 2020, Minister of Women Affairs, Dr. Amal Hamad, responded to a question regarding the appointment of her nephew as her personal assistant by saying that, as a woman, she has the right to be accompanied by a family member or “backbone” (as it is commonly described in Palestine to mean very close relative).
Fifteen days after her statement, documents were leaked to the media regarding the promotion of relatives of top Fateh Organisation, and PA officials to senior positions in the Ministry of Health. Those included, Motasem Muhaisen, son of Jamal Muhaisen, Fateh Central Committee member, who was appointed as Director of the Health Department in Ramallah and Al-Bireh. Another appointment was that of the nephew of Hussein Al-Sheikh, Fateh Central Committee member, Wael Al-Sheikh, who was appointed as Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health. Additionally, Maha Awad, sister of former Health Minister Jawad Awad, was appointed as Director of the Women’s Health Unit in the ministry.
Wael Al-Sheikh responded that his promotion came after 20 years of service in the ministry and that he reached the rank of General Manager before being promoted to Deputy Director. He added that being a relative of a senior PA official should not have any bearing on whether or not he holds this position. Maha Awad stated that she had been working in the ministry long before her brother’s appointment and that she received this promotion after many years of service.
In June of 2020, official decrees were issued for 11 appointments, 8 of which were for relatives of PA officials, including Ahmad Saeed Al-Ahmad, nephew of Azzam Al-Ahmad, Fateh Central Committee member. The hashtag took off again in October of the same year after activists accused Ahmad Abu Huly, member of the PLO Executive Committee of appointing his niece, Aya Ahmad Al- Amawi, in a senior position in the Health Ministry in Gaza, at a time when all appointments to new positions were suspended according to an official government decree.
Abdul-Sattar Qassem, a university lecturer, spoke to ARIJ before his passing last February, stating that many of his gifted and exceptional students graduated with high GPAs last year but had no luck being appointed anywhere. He added that “the Palestinian state has become a ‘private club’ to a handful of influential families who continue to practice nepotism. Some students I taught were relatives of PA officials, those received their job appointments even before graduation.”
The authors of this investigation contacted all persons mentioned in this report to give them the right to respond. Fourteen of them did not reply to our requests. The rest of the potential respondents reacted through turning their phones off, or asking the journalists to direct their queries to the ministry or authority responsible for such appointments instead of contacting the employees directly. Others stated that their appointments were based on merit, and not as a result of nepotism.
The financial crisis that has struck the PA as a result of the Corona Virus pandemic resulted in salary freeze in most government sectors. But this report show that family members of Palestinian officials appointed to new government jobs constituted 15% of the total appointments documented in this report for the past 10 years. The year 2020 rank second after 2016, when the number of such nepotism related state jobs allocation reached 25%.
Up until the end of October, 2020, the Public Personnel Council advertised only 7 job vacancies most of which were for temporary contracts. In that same year, 11 relatives of PA officials were either appointed or promoted to various governmental and diplomatic positions. Article 13 of the Law by Decree No. 8 of 2020, concerning the emergency public budget stipulates restricting appointments and promotions due to the state of emergency created by the pandemic.
Many of the candidates in the Palestinian legislative and presidential elections, expected to take place during the next two months, are PA officials whose appointment of relatives is bound to guarantee their votes. These elections will come at a time when many high school graduates would be entering the job market with no prospects of appointment, since all positions will be allocated for the chosen few, the “backbones;” a hashtag that, according to denouncing tweets, will remain part of the fabric of the current Palestinian culture.
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(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WCT staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)