Palestinians risk death to work without permits in Israel

Approximately 60,000 Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel every day for work. 

Najeh Hashlamoun APA images

RAMALLAH (IPS) - Hassan Hader’s application for a permit to work in Israel has been rejected four times. Now waiting to hear back from the Israeli authorities on his latest attempt, the 52-year-old father of five said he has no choice but to keep applying.

“I wasn’t even given a reason why my application was rejected,” said Hader, who worked at a quarry in the industrial zone of Maale Adumim, one of Israel’s largest settlements in the West Bank, for nearly 20 years before losing his job last year.

Hader lives in Ramallah and holds a West Bank-only identification card. He has no viable job opportunities in the Palestinian labor market. With his family’s savings slowly running out after more than a year without work, he said that getting a permit to work in Israel is his only option.

“I’m tired,” he said. “It’s not a good situation.”

Recently, local media reported that the Israeli government plans to increase the number of work permits allocated to Palestinian laborers from the West Bank. Barak Granot, spokesperson for the Israeli industry and trade ministry confirmed in an email message that an additional 5,000 permits would be issued to Palestinians to work in the Israeli construction industry.

“The increase was decided in order to assist and ease the stress and lack of employment in the West Bank, on one hand, and to ease the shortage of workers in the Israeli construction sector, on the other hand. This decision was made according to the government policy to favor Palestinian workers, rather than other foreign workers,” Granot stated.

The Israeli Civil Administration, the military body that controls more than 60 percent of the occupied West Bank, echoed this sentiment. “The increase in permit granting is supposed to reduce the activity of the foreign workers who stay in Israel for long periods, and might settle here. As opposed to them, Palestinians arrive in Israel [during the] day and usually leave in the evening,” the ICA stated in an email message.


As Israel imposed restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement after the outbreak of the second intifada, migrant workers from the Philippines, China, Thailand and Eastern Europe, among other areas, gradually replaced the Palestinian workforce.

Recently, however, an increase in the number of migrant workers and asylum seekers in Israel has caused panic among Israeli leaders, who say the presence of non-Jewish foreigners threatens the country’s “Jewish character.”

In response, the government has decided to gradually lower its quota of work permits for foreign workers, and has placed more limits on these workers’ freedoms once in the country, including binding caregivers to their employers and to specific places in Israel.

The Israeli Civil Administration said that there are currently 57,095 Palestinian workers employed in Israel and in Israeli settlements, and that permits for 8,000 more Palestinian workers would soon be approved, in addition to the 5,000 extra permits for construction workers.

Palestinians must be over 26 years old, married and must pass a security check to be eligible for the permits, the ICA stated.

Dismantling of economy

According to a recent World Bank report, between 2000-2004 the number of Palestinians working in the Israeli labor market fell from 26 percent to less than 12 percent. In 2010, approximately 14 percent of the West Bank workforce was employed in Israel or in Israeli settlements (“Towards economic sustainability of a future Palestinian state,” World Bank, April 2012 [PDF]).

Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, however, have been barred from entering Israel or the West Bank for work since 2006. Israel also stops almost all Palestinian products from being exported from the Gaza Strip.

“Gaza is undergoing a process of de-development where the economy is being dismantled. It’s an economy that is not allowed to be productive. Certainly allowing workers in Gaza to return to their jobs in Israel would provide a boost of hard-earned income to families who need it desperately,” said Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, the Israeli legal center for freedom of movement.

According to the United Nations, the unemployment rate in the West Bank and Gaza was 26 percent in 2011. Unemployment among youth, aged 15 to 29, was even higher, sitting at 35 percent and 53 percent in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip respectively.

“There needs to be recognition that Israel has obligations to those that are under occupation and who are trying to make a living,” Bashi said.

Gisha estimates that approximately 60,000 Palestinians from the West Bank — half with permits, half without — enter Israel every day for work. A better-regulated system could reduce the risks involved for Palestinian laborers who enter Israel without permits, Bashi added.

In late July, a Palestinian man was killed and three others were wounded when Israeli soldiers at a Jerusalem-area checkpoint opened fire at their car which was carrying more than a dozen Palestinian workers trying to enter Israel without permits.

“I am sure that it will not be the last incident and it’s not the first against Palestinian workers,” Shawan Jabarin, director of Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, said. “Most of the people have no salaries. They just want money to feed their families.”

Hassan Hader knows people who enter Israel without permits for work, but the consequences of getting caught — both for himself and for his family — deter him from even trying.

“It’s too risky to go into Israel without a permit,” he said. “I want to go through the door, not through the window.”

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