Open the Gates of Israel for the Return of Palestinian Workers!

The banning of 200,000 Palestinian workers from working in Israel has become a political contention point of the extreme right wing ministers who want to use the war in Gaza to implement their racist agenda.

The banning of 200,000 Palestinian workers from working in Israel has become a political contention point of the extreme right wing ministers who want to use the war in Gaza to implement their racist agenda. But Employers in Israel – especially in construction and Agriculture have no real alternative to the Palestinian workforce, while Palestinian workers cannot find jobs in the bankrupt Palestinian economy. Plans of some ministers to replace Palestinians with migrant workers are not viable and serve only populist electoral aims. MAAN leads the campaign to open the gates of Israel for the return of Palestinian workers. Three months of forced unemployment has left them in a dire situation with no source of living.

Until October 7, over 200,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were employed in the Israeli labor market. This represented over 20% of the Palestinian gross National Product, close to 4 billion dollars each year. With 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 closed completely. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian families were left without a source of income for three months, and with no horizon for returning to work. On the other hand, Israeli employers especially in Construction and Agriculture face bankruptcy without their employees.

Hunger among West Bank workers

Workers who are residents of the Palestinian Authority (PA) 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 imposed at the time.  With no safety net, banning Palestinians from working in Israel brings them closer to a state of hunger, while uncertainty about the future worsens the situation. Our hotline receives dozens of calls from worried workers asking us : What will be”.

An oral testimony we published on our Hebrew website 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 is useless just as it was during Corona.  The workers sneer 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 me 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 yearly income of  4 Billion dollars of the workers his PA is finished.

Frustration among workers is unanswered. After years of working in Israel, leaving at dawn for a hard day’s work and returning home after dark, and contributing to Israel’s economy, they tell as “we are  being held responsible for a massacre we 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, some 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 170,000 workers from India  to replace Palestinians 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 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 month or two even under normal conditions, let alone during a war. The fact that on October 7th, over 40 foreign workers were murdered and kidnapped makes Israel as a ‘work destination’ much less attractive. Despite Barkat’s far-reaching statements, the number of workers arriving to Israel by the end of December was minimal. At the beginning of November, 200 workers arrived from Malawi while by the end of December, 1,300 construction workers came from Moldova.

Professional sources contend there is no possibility of bringing tens of thousands of workers to Israel in a short time such that they would be an alternative to the Palestinians. The Calcalist economic supplement of Yediot Aharonot daily defined Barkat’s plan as “illusionary” (Hebrew). 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 call on the return of Palestinians 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 the Palestinian public for Hamas’s attack, 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 (in Israeli cities) and the pressure this fear creates on Israeli mayors and policy makers. On the other hand, the Civil Administration and COGAT (the Israeli military authority that takes responsibility over Palestinians) 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 the entry of 28 thousand workers in the construction and agriculture sectors, as a first stage. In a later forum the Council of National Security came with a plan to employ 80,000 Palestinian 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 desiring life doesn’t allow enemy citizens entry during times of war”.  Netanyahu surrendered in the face of this opposition, postponed the vote, and the situation remains as it was: Palestinian workers are banned from returning to their jobs in Israel.

However, this security rationale was quickly ridiculed when employers in the settlement industrial areas, the same settlers represented by Smotrich in the Knesset, demanded they be allowed to return their workers to the factories, a demand that led to the entry of 10,000 Palestinian workers  from the West Bank to work in the settlements.

For over one month 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 criticized 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.

Chairperson of the Association of Renovation Contractors, Eran Siev, contended: “This is a ridiculous decision by a bunch of delusional people in the Israeli government who are directly harming manual laborers and the industry of house renovations, 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 (the Settlements A.A) should be as the one in Israel.” (Real Estate Center 12.21, Hebrew).

If implemented, Nir Barkat’s plan 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, and extreme exploitation, in violation of international norms and treaties to which Israel is bound. Furthermore, the harm to Israeli workers by creating an army of cheap and weakened workers has been researched and irrefutably proven.

The editor of The Marker, Merav Arlosoroff, mentioned the negative implications of the plan in her 12.12.23 article (Hebrew) and emphasized that “stopping the employment of Palestinian workers will not only result in collapse of the Palestinian economy and increase the security risk – it will also harm the Israeli economy. They will be replaced by foreign workers, less skilled workers, the import of whom is tainted with corruption worth billions of shekels yearly and are 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. Even those with academic degrees prefer to work in Israel in construction or service industries and receive a monthly salary of NIS 6,000 (and above), instead of accepting a position as a high school 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’. These slogans, however, do not affect the workers, who rightly claim that until the PA is able to provide alternative livable jobs, 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, and proof of this is the current employment of thousands of Palestinians in the settlement industries, without any violent confrontations.

When seriously thinking of the “day after” the Gaza war, the attitude toward 200,000 Palestinian workers employed in Israel is significant. It can further impact the possibility for creating a normal fabric of life, and even generate support for a political platform that will be based on genuine recognition of the two peoples working out a new peace platform taking into account political and economic needs of both sides.

 

MORE...

The East Jerusalem Project

Significant Achievements of MAAN – Workers Association in Protecting Workers’ Rights

Since the outbreak of the war, MAAN – Workers Association has secured the labor rights, social security benefits, unemployment benefits, and support for work accidents for over 300 residents of East Jerusalem. This includes opening checkpoints and distributing food vouchers, translating to over 3 million NIS in benefits. Notably, over 40% of those who received assistance are women.

READ MORE »
Palestinian Workers

The government’s decision to massively import overseas workers is social lawlessness, a disaster for both the economy and security. It must be revoked and Palestinians must be allowed to return to their jobs in Israel

Wednesday, May 15, the Israeli government approved a structural reform on employment of migrant workers where it allowed a ceiling of 330,000 overseas workers in the Israeli job market. MAAN sees this decision as a step that defies all economic logic, contradicts labor market planning, and opens the way to a dangerous expansion of human trafficking for labor purposes in Israel. In addition, the decision reflects complete disregard for the consequences of the continued halt in employment of Palestinians.

READ MORE »
The East Jerusalem Project

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.

READ MORE »
Palestinian Workers

MAAN and Kav Laoved write to Immigration and Population Authority and demand to reserve a place in the quota for Palestinian workers with a permit who resigned/fired during the “Iron Swords” war

The two workers’ rights groups wrote on Feb. 13 to Mr. Moshe Nakash the head of the Immigration and Population Authority and demanded that special measures will be taken to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian workers and also to enable Israeli employers to overcome the crisis and keep their experienced workers.

READ MORE »

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.

We invite you:

To march with us in protests and to build an alternative, democratic, Jewish-Arab professional union in Israel. Join our quiet WhatsApp group today, "Marching with us in protest."

To join MAAN and unite workers in your workplace. Read here how to join the organization.

To follow MAAN's work on social networks.

Please write your full name, phone number, and a brief description of the subject of your inquiry, and a representative from our organization will get back to you as soon as possible.