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Palestinian laborers from the West Bank who work in “Israel” (with or without permits) do not have their rights as workers protected – a reality that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by employers.
Those with permits have to set out from home early in the morning, undergo the grueling, degrading experience of crossing crowded checkpoints into Israel and return home after a long, exhausting workday.
Many also have to pay brokers thousands of shekels a month for the permit. Those who do not have a permit have to take risky routes to enter Israel, often endangering their lives.
None of these workers receive the social benefits to which they are entitled, and they are exploited by their employers – while the state of occupation refrains from supervising their work conditions.
After the corona pandemic began, Israel announced that Palestinians from the West Bank who wished to continue working in Israel would not be allowed to return home for fear of infection.
However, the occupation authorities did not issue any directives for accommodating them within Israel and some had to sleep at the construction sites themselves, in disgraceful conditions.
In 2020, Israel declared it would allow some 70,000 workers to remain in its territory, but many chose to return to the West Bank, citing fear of infection and the difficulty of being away from their families as key reasons.
About 20,000 stayed in “Israel”. These workers did not receive any compensation, such as unemployment wages or a grant, and many were fired without compensation.
The laborers now remaining in Israel have no medical insurance and should they have to return to the West Bank for treatment, they risk losing their job.
In three cases that the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B’Tselem) documented, laborers suspected of contracting the virus were taken to a checkpoint in the West Bank and left there, with no medical assistance or coordination with any authority on the West Bank.
According to media reports, some 50,000 laborers from the West Bank will be allowed into Israel to work in construction or agriculture.
They will receive a one-time entry permit and will not be allowed to go home until Ramadan is over, in about three weeks’ time.
The duty to provide them with fitting accommodation still lies with their employers – without any state supervision. Should they fall ill during this time, they will be sent back to the West Bank.
344 thousand are unemployed in Palestine
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics revealed, in a statement on this occasion, the high unemployment rate among individuals participating in the labor force in Palestine in 2020, reaching about 26% compared to about 25% in 2019, while the number decreased to 334,000 unemployed in 2020 from 344 thousand in 2019, due to the decrease in the proportion of participants in the workforce.
It explained that the unemployment rate among youth was about 39% (24% in the West Bank and 67% in the Gaza Strip) and that young graduates who have an intermediate diploma or higher are the most affected by unemployment among youth.
The unemployment rate among them is about 54% (36% In the West Bank and 79% in the Gaza Strip). This led to a decrease in the number of workers in the local market from 877 thousand workers in 2019 to 830 thousand workers in 2020, and the number of workers in Israel and settlements decreased from about 133 thousand workers in 2019 to 125 thousand workers in 2020.
The statement pointed out that the number of workers in Palestine reached about 955 thousand workers, by 604 thousand in the West Bank, 226 thousand in the Gaza Strip, and 125 thousand in Israel and settlements, of whom about 690 thousand are wage employees in Palestine (385 thousand employees work in the West Bank and 187 thousand work In the Gaza Strip, 100,000 employees work in Israel and 18,000 work in the settlements).
The private sector was the most affected as a result of the corona pandemic, as the number of workers in it decreased by 38 thousand workers between 2019 and 2020, especially those working in the activity of trade, restaurants, and hotels, and the number of workers in it decreased by about 27 thousand workers during the same period, followed by workers in the activity of services and other branches.
The number decreased by about 6 thousand workers, while those working in agriculture, forestry, and fishing activities were the least affected.
Captive Markets, Captive Lives
On International Workers’ Day, Al-Haq publishes the report “Captive Markets, Captive Lives: Palestinian Workers in Israeli Settlements”.
This report examines the experiences of Palestinian workers in Israel’s unlawful settlement enterprise in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).
Al-Haq illustrates Israel’s reliance on the Oslo Accords to maintain control over the occupied Palestinian population and deepen their fragmentation, while holding the Palestinian economy captive, in what amounts to ‘economic annexation’.
Fragmentation is the main tool through which Israel maintains its apartheid regime over the Palestinian people as a whole, including Palestinian workers.
The strategic geographic control areas of the Oslo Accords have contributed to the deepening and institutionalization of physical, territorial, and demographic fragmentation.
In turn, this has undermined Palestinian territorial and social continuity and integrity, while ensuring the maintenance of Israel’s institutionalized regime of racial domination and oppression over the indigenous Palestinian people.
Since 1948, Israel has de-developed the Palestinian economy, and the continuing Nakba has forced internally displaced and vulnerable Palestinians to seek employment in the illegal settlements.
These workers are caught in a jurisdictional limbo as the Palestinian Authority is unable to exercise enforcement jurisdiction over the settlements, and Palestinian workers do not have the same rights afforded to Israeli citizens.
This precarious and inferior position is manipulated by unscrupulous Israeli and international corporations to exploit a cheap and easily disposable Palestinian labor force.
The report presents documentation by Al-Haq, in which Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements are subject to human rights violations. Please find the link to “Captive Markets, Captive Lives: Palestinian Workers in Israeli Settlements” here.