Severe employment crisis in East Jerusalem ahead of Ramadan

On the eve of Ramadan, Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are facing an economic and social crisis exacerbated by a 7.6 per cent increase in unemployment since the outbreak of the war. Despite the crisis, the government is severely undermining its own five-year plan for East Jerusalem. MAAN Workers Association (hence MAAN) calls on the mayor and the incoming city council to secure budgets to reduce socio-economic gaps in the city.

The population of East Jerusalem (EJ) suffers from severe structural discrimination and neglect. Poverty indices in the past decade among Palestinian Jerusalemites reached 80%. The Government’s five-year plan for EJ, first implemented in 2018, was a breath of fresh air and brought some relief, but against the background of the war and cuts in the budget, we are plunging into an unprecedented crisis.

The five-year plan for EJ was groundbreaking. This was the first plan targeting EJ since its annexation in 1967; it was the first time the government announced its intention to reduce socioeconomic gaps between East and West Jerusalem. In particular, the program is designed to promote the employment of women. Only 21% of Palestinian women in Jerusalem participate in the labor market.  By comparison, , women’s rate of participation in general (Jews and Arabs) is 76% and the rate of Arab women in Israel who participate in the labor market was 42% in 2022.

 

As a result of the implementation of the five-year plan, there has been improvement in important areas: a significant increase in the number of Palestinian students at the Hebrew University and colleges in West Jerusalem, as well as construction of schools and kindergartens, and more. But severe distress remains.

However, when Netanyahu’s right-wing government took office in January 2023, the renewal of the five-year plan was put in question. Although a new plan was finally approved in August 2023, its implementation and the transfer of budgets have been suffering repeated delays.

Now, against the backdrop of the war, the government has decided to cut the program’s budget by 14%. Moreover, in the first week of March, the frozen budgets and the lack of clarity regarding implementation led to terminating the contracts of the seven researchers and managers who head the managerial staff. Even if implementation is renewed at some point, the loss of top staff will likely cause irreparable damage to the program. This damage takes place against the background of the war and the severe economic downturn Israel has experienced.

In East Jerusalem, the situation is worse than elsewhere in the country. Since the outbreak of the war, MAAN’s branch there has dealt with requests from EJ residents who were facing a wave of layoffs and unpaid leave. These are due both to reduced business activity and to the phenomenon of open racist discrimination, including the refusal of employers to continue employing Arabs.

In addition, EJ residents fear for their safety in coming to work. They also have difficulty getting there because of police-enforced restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as arbitrary closures of the crossings from neighborhoods beyond the Separation Barrier (especially Sho’afat Refugee Camp and Kufr Aqab).

A weighting of Employment Service data on those registering to seek jobs, together with the most recent Jerusalem Yearbook, reflects the difficult picture. In 2022, the Palestinian labor force in the city stood at 96,200 (of whom 73,600 were men and 22,600 women). Since the outbreak of the war, there has been a cumulative increase of 7,338 workers who are permanently registered with the Employment Bureau as unemployed (5,896 men and 1,442 women).  This represents 7.6% of the Palestinian workforce in Jerusalem. It is worth mentioning that the rise in the rate of unemployment in West Jerusalem for the same period was 4%.

Such a severe blow to the labor force is likely to exacerbate the economic, social, and security distress in Jerusalem for years to come, especially if the government persists in its policy of decimating the five-year plan for EJ.

Today, on the eve of Ramadan, no joy reigns over the city. Ordinarily, the holy month promotes economic activity in Jerusalem, but this year the future seems darker than ever.

In East Jerusalem, MAAN has operated a center for exercising rights since July 2000. For more than two decades, MAAN’s activists have been helping thousands of EJ residents – especially women – to cope with bureaucratic difficulties vis-à-vis the Employment and National Insurance Bureaus, as well as treating cases of employer abuse. MAAN’s office participates in projects for the advancement of EJ women, helping them learn Hebrew and imparting skills for integration into the labor market.

Along with organizations such as Kulna and the Rossing Center, MAAN has been leading the EJ operations-room since October. In addition to helping workers keep their jobs within the city, the organizations help needy families receive basic necessities and obtain eligibility for government food stamps.

To avoid worsening the economic crisis, the Jerusalem Municipality must act responsibly: increase employment of EJ residents; prevent discrimination against them; work toward a permanent solution that will allow freedom of movement into Jerusalem from neighborhoods beyond the Separation Barrier; and transfer all the funds promised in the five-year plan to improve the socioeconomic situation.

 

  • Erez Wagner is MAAN’s East Jerusalem director.

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رجاءً اكتبوا اسمكم الكامل، الهاتف، ووصف قصير حول موضوع توجهكم، ومندوب عن نقابة معًا سيعاود الاتصال بكم لاحقًا








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