Following several attacks by West Bank residents in Israeli cities recently, Israeli media “discovered” that tens of thousands of Palestinians seeking work enter Israel daily through breaches in the fence that separates the main West Bank cities from Israel. The common wisdom in TV panels is that Israel should close these breaches.
It would be good if these commentators internalized an important fact: the last ones who need these breaches are the Palestinians.
As Nahum Barnea (Yedioth Ahronoth, April 4) and Yaniv Kubovitch (Haaretz April 9) explain: Israeli defense chiefs do not believe that the barrier can prevent terrorist attacks. On the contrary, Kubovitch quoted an army source as saying that after the recent attacks, Israel should be giving work permits to many of those who are in Israel illegally, on the assumption that having a job will make them less likely to join militant groups or commit terror attacks.
Palestinians employed in Israel’s construction, agriculture, hotels, and factories do not pose a danger to Israelis. Those who chose in recent years to enter through the breaches did so because the permit regime has failed.
Every day, about 150,000 Palestinians stream into Israel and the settlement industrial areas. They hold key positions in the Israeli economy and deserve to be treated with respect and equality.
Tens of thousands who are forced to choose the breaches jeopardize their safety, knowing that they may be detained or even shot. Often they wind up working for employers who just run away and refuse to pay them, in poor safety conditions and without accident coverage. None of them would have chosen the breaches if he had, as an alternative, a regulated employer and a viable permit system.
In addition, about 43,000 are employed through brokers, to whom they pay thousands of shekels each month for a permit from an “employer” they do not work for.
This anarchy in employing Palestinians allows contractors and business owners to make millions that are not reported to the Tax Authority. It was only recently revealed that some who regularly employed a small number applied for and got over 300 permits which they sold on the black market.
Instead of looking for the lost coin under street light, the Authorities should focus on the core of the problem and find ways to stop the failed permit system.
MAAN, together with Legal Aid to Palestinians (LEAP), has recently published a position paper that proposes to issue a “Green Card” for Palestinian workers that will neutralize the influence of the brokers and the peddling in permits. Under the proposal, employees will receive a permanent permit to work in a particular profession, and will be able to look for an employer freely without fear of having the permit revoked.
Palestinian workers do not need breaches in the fence. What they do need is freedom of movement and freedom to choose an employer. The Green Card will allow them to enter through the front door without the humiliation and exploitation that result from the current failed system of permits.
Green Card position paper for Palestinian workers in the first note