Palestinian laborers in Israel: between a rock and a hard place
Working in Israel
Every year around 40,000 Palestinians cross over to Israel to work; about half of this number does so illegally. Because wages in Israel are double, even three times more than wages in the West Bank or Gaza, Palestinians go through the hassle of acquiring work permits and or they take the risk of crossing over to Israel illegally. While wages in Israel might be attractive, working in Israel is no bed of roses for Palestinians. Starting from the bureaucratic and “security” procedures they have to pass through to get the permit, to actually crossing through checkpoints and getting to work on time, to receiving the proper social benefits at the end of their work contract, Palestinians face challenges.
For those who work in Israel illegally, the challenges are even greater. Their “illegal” status makes them vulnerable to exploitation by their employees. Often times, Israeli employers deny illegal Palestinian workers the minimum wage and under write their working days which later affects the employment benefits and insurance they are entitled to. Legally speaking, the Israeli labor law that regulates workers’ rights, wages, benefits etc. is applicable to Palestinian workers legally or illegally working in Israel. Employment benefits, minimum wage, work insurance and other rights and benefits the law ensures for Israeli workers is also applicable to anyone working in Israel, regardless of nationality or the legality of his/her presence in Israel.
Further, 15,000 out of the 20,000 Palestinians who cross over to Israel illegally are detained by Israeli officials. While the detention is meant to deter others from attempting to cross illegally, Israeli officials often mistreat and abuse detainees while in their custody. They also use it to threaten and to try to coerce people to “collaborate” with them on security matters. Oftentimes such abuses and threats are not well investigated and happen without proper legal redress for the detainees.
Working in Israel: over the years
Right after the 1967 war, the West Bank and Gaza were considered closed military zones and whether or not Palestinians from these territories could enter Israel was disputed. It was only settled by the Ministerial Committee for Economic matters in 1968 when it decided to allow Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to work in Israel . As a result, a significant number of the Palestinian labor force started working in Israel and unemployment rate went down to almost five percent .
After the first intifada in the late 80s and early 90s, Israel started restricting the number of Palestinians seeking work in Israel and introduced a stricter permit system. It made a distinction between “green card” ID holders (residents of the West Bank and Gaza) and “blue card” ID holders or permanent residents of Jerusalem. After the Gulf war of 1991 and the end of the first intifada, the general entry permit of 1972 ended and a new one was to start. As B’tselem - an Israeli human rights organization put it “if past procedure had been to allow entry into Israel except in extraordinary cases, now the rule was that Palestinians were not allowed to leave the occupied territory except in extraordinary cases in which the applicant met stringent conditions and received an individual permit” . Accordingly, Green card holders are required to have “magnetic cards” which are issued based on Israel’s “security” criteria. This significantly reduced the number of Palestinians who could legally seek work in Israel as can be seen in the graph below.