Companies that try to justify their activities in Israeli settlements by claiming they offer employment to Palestinian workers make “blatant attempts to distract public attention from the Israeli occupation and the daily hardships suffered by Palestinians,” Who Profits? — a research project of the Tel Aviv-based Coalition of Women for Peace — has stated in a new position paper.
Settlement businesses profit from the occupation of Palestinian land and the exploitation of Palestinian resources. They enjoy economic and tax benefits from the Israeli government and have access to cheap Palestinian labor. Furthermore, they benefit from Israel’s lax enforcement of safety and environmental standards. Therefore, settlement business representatives cannot be taken seriously when they claim to represent the interests of Palestinian workers.
Here is a summary of the Who Profits? paper:
In 2011, around 37,000 Palestinian workers worked under harsh conditions in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Gross violations of workers’ rights occur in the settlement industries, because Israeli labor regulations are not enforced there. For example, Palestinian workers in the settlements earn much less than the Israeli minimum wage. Moreover, their wages are often withheld, their social rights denied and they are exposed to danger in the workplace.
In order to work in a settlement, Palestinians have to apply for a work permit at the Israeli Civil Administration, a military body which oversees the occupation of the West Bank. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service which is also known as the Shabak, needs to approve the granting of such a permit and can cancel it any time. Engagement in trade union or political activities by workers or their family members can lead to annulment of a work permit.
Ten thousand of the Palestinians workers in the settlements have no work permit. They work mainly in the Jordan Valley during the olive harvest and date-picking season; some of these workers are children as young as 12.
Palestinian workers have no preference for settlement jobs. An unpublished 2011 study by Dr. Majid Sbeih — cited by Who Profits? — revealed that 82 percent of the Palestinian workers would prefer to quit their settlement jobs, provided that a suitable alternative is available. However, the Palestinian market cannot provide sufficient jobs because the economy is in ruins after 45 years of Israeli military occupation. Private investments are needed for economic development. However, the Israeli system of physical and administrative restrictions are the greatest obstacle to private investment in Palestine, according to a World Bank report from 2012.
Economic development in Palestine is further hampered by the economic annex to the Oslo accords — the Paris Protocol — which imposes severe restrictions on manufacturing, exporting and importing goods to and from the West Bank and Gaza.
This trade agreement does not truly promote free trade, but instead seeks to protect Israelis and multinational corporations from competition by local [Palestinian] industries. Moreover, this situation blocks the development of an independent Palestinian economy and keeps it as a captive market for Israel and international companies.
Holding to account
Settlement companies are responsible for their conduct towards Palestinians and should be held accountable. The Who Profits? database provides an extensive overview of companies with businesses in settlements, including SodaStream whose main production site is in Mishor Adumim, an industrial zone located in an illegal settlement in the West Bank.
Richard Falk, a UN special rapporteur, recently highlighted the activities of a number of companies in a report to the UN General Assembly. Falk specifically mentioned Veolia, a French firm that owns and operates the Tovlan dump in the Jordan Valley; the Ahava cosmetics company owning a factory in the settlement Mitzpe Shalem and using Palestinian natural resources from the Dead Sea; Mul-T-Lock/Assa Abloy which owns a manufacturing plant in the Barkan industrial zone; and Cemex, owning Israeli Readymix Industries with plants in several parts of the West Bank.
Falk has called on campaigners to “vigorously pursue initiatives to boycott, divest and sanction” (BDS) the companies mentioned in his report, until they bring their policies and practices into line with international laws and standards.
BDS activists should not allow settlement companies to distract the attention from the Israeli occupation and exploitation of Palestinian workers with a claim that they provide labor to Palestinian workers. Instead, they should remind the public that all the Palestinian trade unions, political parties and almost all Palestinian civil society organizations support the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.