With no job opportunities in the West Bank, Israel is filling the Gap
Palestinian families are becoming increasingly dependent on wages earned in, of all places, Israeli settlements, being paid double or triple what they would for the same work in Palestinian cities. More than thirty thousand of these special work permits have been issued I 2017.
According to the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli military body which administers the West Bank, overall, some 100,000 Palestinians currently either work in Israeli settlements or in Israel proper, and the number is increasing by approximately 10% each year.
There is a financial benefit for Palestinian leadership in having its people work in Israel. COGAT estimates that the taxes collected from Palestinians working in Israel and the settlements accounts for an estimated 12% of the PA’s yearly receivables, or some five million NIS. Moreover, an estimated 10% of the Palestinian Gross Domestic Product (GDP)—a primary indicator measuring the health of a country’s economy—is generated from workers who earn their incomes outside of Palestinian cities.
Azmi Abdel Rahman, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Economy, thus told The Media Line that, “Working in Israel is not a point of view, it’s a persistent need.
“During Second Intifada,” he says, “the Israeli side banned about 180 thousand Palestinian workers from entering Israel; the situation was a catastrophe; all of them were without an income. We had consumers much more than producers.”
Today, some 400,000 Palestinians in the West Bank remain unemployed. Each year there are some fifty thousand Palestinian graduates, but the Palestinian marketplace can absorb only 10% of them. The rest, according to COGAT, don’t have readily available job opportunities. Hence the trend of Palestinians working in Israel and the settlements.
One example is Efrat, situated 12 kilometers south of Jerusalem. The settlement has about 10,000 residents, who employ some 1000 Palestinians daily; mainly in construction, although a few work in shops and school kitchens. One worker, Hisham Abuhashem, 57, told The Media Line, “I have a permit to work in Efrat—there is no money in the West Bank. In Israel, I make 200-500 NIS per day; in Palestine I work for eight hours to make 70 NIS, and sometimes employers postpone paying.”
Efrat’s mayor, Oded Revivi, told The Media Line that, “Palestinians are local, so it’s much easier for them to commute and get to the workplace here.” He admits, however, that, “We are governed by the Israeli army, and part of issuing these workers permits include the army checking their background and history.”
But the journey for Palestinians to enter settlements is not an easy one, quite different than those entering Israel proper, as employees cannot simply walk to their workplaces after the security check. Hisham Abuhashem, the worker in Efrat, explains that Palestinians “are not allowed to step inside any settlement. The police told me ‘this is for ours and the settlers’ safety’. We [need to] order a taxi or the family we work for comes to pick us up at the entrance of the settlement.”
Palestinians employed within Israel also face difficulties, having to leave their houses early in the morning to navigate through checkpoints.
A single mother of seven told The Media Line, on condition of anonymity, “I leave Ramallah through Qalandia checkpoint to the north. I clean the houses of Israeli families.” The woman, originally from Jericho and now living in Ramallah, explained that she could never have raised her seven children working in the West Bank.
“In Israel, families pay me 200 to 300 NIS per day. When I visit my children in the summer, I try to work in Ramallah; they pay me 1700 NIS for a whole month working 6 days a week.”
The woman told The Media Line that the Israeli families “treat me nicely and give me gifts all the time.”