By Natanel Gamss November 15, 2023 / The Marker
About 100,000 Palestinian workers have not been able to enter Israel since the outbreak of the war due to the blockade imposed on the territories. They were left with no income in October and no social safety net. The situation is even more serious due to the fact that some of them did not even receive their September salary, since the date of its transfer was already after the outbreak of the war.
Meanwhile, the war continues and it is not known if and when they will be allowed to enter Israel and return to their jobs. The meaning for those workers, their families and for the Palestinian economy as a whole, could be very difficult – and it is not certain that the damage will stop within the Green Line.
A number of labor rights organizations appealed to the head of the Foreign Workers Administration at the Population and Immigration Authority in an attempt to slightly improve the economic situation of the Palestinian workers. The organizations – Kav Loved, MAAN Workers Association and the Human Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University – are calling on the Authorities to allow them to withdraw a lump sum from their pension fund, for subsistence purposes.
In the absence of a compensation mechanism, unemployment benefits or severance pay for these workers, the organizations ask the Authority to amend the procedure that prohibits the partial withdrawal of the funds, which are set aside monthly by Israeli employers in the”Amitim Fund” – a fund that accumulates the pension funds for them – in order to provide an immediate response to their distress.
150 thousand families in the West Bank do not make a living
The fact that such a large number of Palestinians cannot make a living in Israel could have devastating consequences for the economy in the Palestinian Authority, and indirectly also exacerbate the security situation.
The Workers Hotline (Kav Laoved) estimates that 150,000 families in the West Bank do not make a living because of this, because some workers do not support only their nuclear family. This means that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are affected by the inability to work in Israel. Thousands of Palestinian workers were exceptionally allowed to enter Israel after the outbreak of the war due to the acute shortage of working hands, but the vast majority cannot enter.
“Most of the Palestinians who work in Israel are considered middle class in the PA, and the fact that they don’t bring in money is a severe blow to the local economy,” Kav Laoved says. According to them, the minimum wage in Israel – NIS 5,572 per month – is three times higher than that in the Palestinian Authority. Most of the Palestinians who work in Israel are in the construction branch, and according to the Kav Laoved the professional workers can even reach a salary of NIS 10,000 a month. A third of all workers come from the Hebron area and the rest from Ramallah, Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarm and other cities.
Beyond the fact that they did not bring in a shekel in October from working in Israel, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers pay NIS 2,500 a month in cash just to get the permit. This payment in the black market iscontrary to the law as work permits should not cost workers a penny. The money is divided between the Palestinian mediator and the Israeli contractor (Jewish or Arab). Some paid in advance for October to those brokers – although they did not work retrospectively.
“People in absolute despair”
Beyond the Palestinians who come to work in the Green Line areas, Kav Laoved says that there are about 50,000 Palestinians who work in industrial areas in the settlements on the other side of the line. They estimate that about two-thirds of them have not yet returned to work – which only exacerbates the developing crisis in the Palestinian economy. This, in addition to the fact that Israeli Arabs do not currently come to the territories to consume various products and services, so the damage is even greater. Beyond that, they explain, civil servants in the Palestinian Authority also did not receive their October salary due to the disruptions of the war, so the damage goes beyond that of the Palestinians who do not come to work in Israel.
“This is a huge group, and as soon as they are affected, the grocery and the furniture manufacturer around them will also suffer from a decrease in consumption and damage to income – and this will bring down the economy”
“We are on the verge of a total collapse of the economy in the Palestinian Authority”, warn sources familiar with the matter in Kav Laoved. “People are in complete despair. We are already in the middle of November, and with each passing day the pressure increases.”
Assaf Adiv, Executive Director of MAAN Workers Association, says that these workers are the basis of the Palestinian economy. “This is a huge group. We are not talking about 300 workers. As soon as they are damaged, the grocery store and the furniture manufacturer around them will also suffer from a decrease in consumption and damage to income – and this will bring down the economy.”
The black market is booming
The shockwaves of the crisis in the Palestinian labor market are also felt here. Contractors in Israel suffering from the lack of Palestinian workers, and are forced to pay inflated wages in the black market – which flourishes under such conditions.
In order to prevent a severance of the labor relations system between the construction industry in Israel and the Palestinian workers and to help address the plight of the workers, the Contractors’ Association proposes to make use of the 930 million shekels accumulated in the treasury and collected since 2005 from the employers in the industry and the Palestinian workers. The Contractors say that it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense. These are funds collected as part of the ‘comparison levy’ which is intended to compare rights granted to Israeli workers in the National Insurance with those of Palestinian workers, including unemployment benefits.”
The Population and Immigration Authority responded to our question regarding the proposal put forward by labor rights groups:
“As a general rule, Palestinian workers who are legally employed or have been employed in Israel may submit requests for early withdrawal of the pension funds and compensation accrued to their credit in the pension fund managed by the Population and Immigration Authority and operated through Amitim (the Baraka program handles such requests). Each request is examined on its merits in accordance with the criteria established in the procedures published on the Authority’s website in Hebrew and Arabic.’
“The Authority emphasizes that early withdrawal of the funds, before reaching retirement age, has consequences for eligibility to receive an allowance in the future, and therefore a Palestinian employee who chooses to make an early withdrawal is required to confirm that he is aware of these consequences.”