MAAN updates EU delegation on its efforts to return Palestinian Workers to work in Israel

An Introduction by Assaf Adiv, Executive Director of MAAN, to the Briefing at the EU premises with foreign delegations March 11th – in Tel Aviv

Some 200,000 Palestinians have been banned from their work places in Israel since Oct. 7th. With no form of safety net in place, this has created an unbearable situation in the cities and villages of the West Bank. Employers in Israel – especially in construction and Agriculture – have also been left in a limbo as they have no real alternative to the Palestinian workforce.

After Hamas’ attack and the outbreak of the war, a state of emergency was declared in Israel. The entry of Palestinians into Israel was prohibited, and 11 checkpoints connecting the West Bank to Israel were shut. While Palestinian workers cannot find jobs in the bankrupt Palestinian economy, plans of some ministers in Israel to replace Palestinians with migrant workers are not viable and serve only populist political aims.

MAAN Workers Association (hence MAAN) – an independent trade union in Israel that works to defend Palestinian workers, is engaged with other forces in a campaign to pressure the Israeli Authorities to open the gates of Israel for the return of Palestinian workers.

Hunger among West Bank workers

Five months of forced unemployment has left workers in a dire situation. Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who were employed in the Israeli labor market until October 7th contributed over 20% of the Palestinian Gross National Product, (App. US $ 4 billions) a year. (see the recent report by INSS https://www.inss.org.il/publication/palestinian-workers/)

However, these workers do not have unemployment insurance. This was highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, when tens of thousands were put out of work due to the closures and restrictions that were imposed and left with no source of living for months. Today, workers testify to state of skipping meals and hunger, while uncertainty about the future worsens the concern and the mental well-being.

In a testimony we published on the MAAN website (in Hebrew), one such worker described how he used up all his savings and was left unable to buy even milk for his children. Another worker complained about the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah which, similarly to the times of the coronavirus pandemic, showed no sympathy with the workers. Several workers sneered at the proposals put forward by PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, to “return to cultivating the land and living off the vegetables and fruits they grow“. A worker who talked to us mocked this idea and said: “I have my apartment in the city and no one meter of land to cultivate. This call is mere fantasy. Shtayyeh knows that without the income of the workers his PA is finished”.

Numerous workers testify to terrible frustration also regarding Israel’s position. After years of working in Israel, leaving at dawn for a hard day’s work, and returning home after dark, contributing a fortune to Israel’s economy, they feel that they are being held responsible for a massacre they didn’t commit.

Replacing Palestinians with workers from India is unrealistic

Against the backdrop of the war and calls for revenge against all Palestinians, whether they are Hamas members or not, Israeli Ministers are calling to stop the work of Palestinians in Israel. The leading person among those pushing to replace Palestinians with workers from India is the Minister of Economy and Industry, Nir Barkat (Likud), who has repeatedly stated his intention to bring in 160,000 workers from India and a number of African countries to replace Palestinian workers in all branches of the economy. Minister Barkat and extreme right-wing Finance minister Bezalel Smotrich, who call to end the reliance of Israel on Palestinian workers are putting forward ideas that cannot work. Israeli economy lacks today not only the 200,000 Palestinian workers, but also an estimated 17,000 migrant workers who have left Israel since the war’s outbreak.

The difficulty in recruiting workers abroad is ever present and there is no likelihood of bringing tens of thousands within a few months even under normal conditions, let alone during a ruthless war going on. The fact that on October 7th, over 40 foreign workers were murdered/kidnapped makes the idea of working in Israel much less attractive. Despite Barkat’s far-reaching statements, the number of workers arriving to Israel by the end of February 2024 (five months into the war) was minimal. See (Globes article that reports the arrival of the first 1000 Indian workers at the end of February)

The Calcalist newspaper defined Barkat’s plan as “illusionary”. The article quoted a senior official who claimed that even before the war, Barkat’s plan to bring 30,000 workers from India had been stalled for months. The Director General of the Ministry of Economy, Amnon Merhav, also explains in the article that there are no magic solutions, and that the plan is unrealistic.

The security forces insist that Palestinians must be returned to work

Israel’s security establishment, which in October announced a complete closure and ban on entry of Palestinian workers into Israel, has since dealt with a complex dilemma. On the one hand, it recognizes the overwhelming sympathy of Palestinian public opinion for Hamas and its actions, and hence the fear that entry of Palestinian workers into Israel will be accompanied by terrorist activity. Additionally, there exists the fear of friction with Palestinians and the pressure this fear creates on Israeli mayors and policy makers. On the other hand, the Civil Administration and COGAT warn that leaving 200,000 workers at home without any compensation or source of income will certainly cause extreme economic hardship and possibly a violent explosion.

A cabinet proposal was thus formulated at the end of November to allow entry of 28 thousand workers in the construction and agriculture sectors, as a first stage. A month later the Council of National Security came with a plan to employ 80,000 workers. However, a cabinet discussion on December 10 ended with no results, given the opposition of several right-wing ministers to the move. Smotrich claimed that “A country that values life doesn’t allow entry to citizens of the enemy during a war”. Netanyahu collapsed in the face of this opposition, postponed the vote, and the situation remains as it was until now (early March 2024): Palestinian workers are not allowed to return to their jobs in Israel.

However, this security rationale was quickly revealed to be utterly unfounded when employers in the settlement industrial areas (known also as area C), the same settlers represented by Smotrich in the Knesset, demanded they be allowed to return their workers to the factories. This settler pressure led to the entry of 10,000 Palestinian workers  from the West Bank to work in the settlements.

For over 4 months, approximately these workers have been employed in the settlement areas without causing clashes or violent confrontations. There is no reason why only Israeli employers inside Israel should be denied the opportunity to employ Palestinians.

Palestinian workers are the right economic alternative

Contractors and farmers in Israel, who for years have relied on Palestinian workers, harshly criticize the government. President of the Israel Builders Association, Raul Srugo, explained to the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers (25.12) that contractors are in dire straits. “The construction industry is at an almost complete standstill and is only 30% productive. 50 percent of construction sites are shut down and this will have an impact on Israel’s economy and the housing market.” A situational report presented to the Knesset committee by the Ministry of Finance showed that shutting down the building industry costs Israel’s economy NIS 3 billion each month.

While referring to the fact that Palestinian workers were not allowed to enter Israel but work in the settlements, Chairperson of the Association of Renovation Contractors, Eran Siev said: “This is a ridiculous decision by a bunch of delusional people in the Israeli government who are directly harming manual laborers and the renovation industry, which is in total collapse. The current decision is disconnected from Israel on the ground and from business owners in the field who are facing bankruptcy and economic collapse.” Siev further added: “We call for uniformity and the avoidance of cheap politics – the law in Judea and Samaria as in Israel.” (Real Estate Center 12.21, Hebrew).

If implemented, Nir Barkat’s plan to replace Palestinians with migrants will have devastating effects on the Israeli labor market as well. The massive importation of workers from countries with which Israel does not have bilateral agreements will produce ugly phenomena of labor trafficking, collection of huge brokerage fees from poor workers, and extreme exploitation, in violation of international norms and treaties to which Israel is bound. Furthermore, the long-term harm to Israeli workers from the establishment of an army of cheap and weakened workers has been researched and irrefutably proven.

The editor of The Marker, Merav Arlosoroff, mentioned the negative meaning of the plan in her article published in Hebrew on the 12.12.23. She emphasized that “stopping the employment of Palestinian workers will not only result in collapse the Palestinian economy and increase the security risk – it will also harm the Israeli economy. They will be replaced by less skilled foreign workers. Additionally, this kind of import is tainted with corruption worth billions of shekels yearly and is in practice a type of modern slavery”.

In her article, Arlosoroff quotes extensively from Prof. Zvi Eckstein’s comprehensive 2011 report on behalf of a government committee, in which he explains the difference between employing Palestinians who return to their homes every day and migrant workers: “Palestinian workers are many times better for the economy than foreign workers,” says Eckstein.” They work in Israel for years, learn the language and specialize in the type of work required here – and their productivity is much higher.”

Workplaces in Israel are also of crucial importance for the workers and the Palestinian economy. In the absence of alternative sources of employment in the territories of the Palestinian Authority, working in the Israeli labor market has become the main source of livelihood for West Bank residents. Palestinian residents with academic degrees also prefer to work in Israel in construction or service industries and receive a monthly salary of NIS 6,000 (professional construction workers earn a higher salary) instead of accepting a position as a teacher for a monthly salary of NIS 3,000.

The Palestinian Authority long ago ceased to be relevant to the lives and livelihoods of West Bank residents. Its leaders spout national slogans that define those who work in Israel as being ‘less patriotic’.) see for example the refusal of top PA official to acknowledge his meeting with Israel security leaders on Feb 6th  – Arabic). These slogans, however, do not affect the workers, who rightly claim that until the PA is able to provide alternative jobs, or even financial assistance to workers during periods of forced unemployment such as during the corona pandemic or war, it has no standing to demand they stop working in Israel.

The economic and political significance of the return of Palestinian workers to Israel

There is accordingly great urgency in allowing Palestinian workers to return to work in Israel. Employers in Israel have no real alternative to the Palestinian workforce. Palestinian workers have no alternative to their work in Israel. The dangers involved in the friction between the populations can be solved. The proof of this is the successful experience of employment of thousands of Palestinians in the settlement industries, without any violent confrontations.

When thinking politically of the day after the Gaza war, the attitude toward 200,000 Palestinian workers employed in Israel is of great significance as it can impact on the prospect of creating a normal fabric of life, where Israelis and Palestinian find ways to work and live together for the good of all.

The return of Palestinian workers to the labor market in Israel is therefore an urgent need that should be addressed immediately.

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אנא כתבו את שמכם המלא, טלפון ותיאור קצר של נושא הפנייה, ונציג\ה של מען יחזרו אליכם בהקדם האפשרי.

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








As an organization committed to the rights of workers without distinction of religion, race, nationality, gender, or profession - democracy is our essence. We strongly oppose the authoritarian laws that the extreme government of Netanyahu, Lapid, Bennett, and Smotrich is attempting to impose.

Without democracy, there are no workers' rights, just as a workers' organization cannot exist under dictatorship.

only a victory of the democratic camp will enable a discussion on the Palestinian issue and lead to an alternative solution to occupation and apartheid while ensuring human rights and citizenship for all, Israelis and Palestinians alike. As long as the apartheid regime persists, the democratic camp will not succeed in defeating Israeli extremists. Therefore, we work to involve the Arab and Palestinian society in the protest.

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