Increased security measures and travel time creating havoc for Palestinian laborers in Israel
At the crack of dawn, Palestinian workers leave their houses in the West Bank for Israel, mainly to work menial jobs. Over the past week, however, following the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by U.S. President Donald Trump, violence has erupted. Promoted by most Palestinian factions, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the public demonstrations have had a significant impact on laborers.
This is even truer for those Palestinians who work, in of all places, Jewish communities in the West Bank, which are deemed to be illegal by the Palestinian leadership. Under normal circumstances, the journey to these cities and towns is more difficult for Palestinians to make than travelling to Israel proper. For example, after going through mandatory security checks, employees working in Jewish areas across the 1967 borders can only access their places of employment by vehicle—”for their and the settlers’ safety,” according to Israeli police—and not by foot.
Abu Ali, who asked The Media Line to not use his last name, confirmed that the conditions have further deteriorated since the beginning of the latest outbreak of violence. “I leave at four in the morning to avoid the traffic and clashes in order to get to work by 6:30. The problem is not only at the many checkpoints, either,” he explained. Abu Ali said that he has friends that must leave at 2AM, especially those crossing through the checkpoint in Bethlehem, which has been a flashpoint for skirmishes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli security forces.
Abu Ali added that because of the heightened tensions Israeli soldiers are taking enhanced measures, which he described as “facing a lot of racism.” Abu Ali is, in fact, one of the luckier workers, as his employers provide him with transportation back to his Palestinian village. “I work in a place that is relatively far from the clashes but still feel it. I feel badly for the people in Jerusalem or the nearby settlements,” he concluded.
Another Palestinian worker who spoke to The Media Line on condition of anonymity stressed that each “day of rage”—as the PA refers to its call for clashes with Israeli security personnel—or national strike translates into lost income. “What’s happening now is simple compared to what might happen,” he elaborated, “as we rely on Israel for importing and exporting. Any problem will cost us a lot.”
Other laborers shared these same concerns with The Media Line, revealing that they have, of late, been late to work as they must take detours to avoid the demonstrations. “Sometimes I risk it,” one worker said, “because I have a family to support. And taxis are really expensive and it offsets what we earn for the day.”
On the macro level, one successful Palestinian businessman told The Media Line that the current political situation is having a negative impact on the economy, since corporations are hesitant to invest in the market amid the unrest. “Things are slow and I’m losing business and opportunities,” he stated. “Every six months we face a wave of turbulence and its effect could last for months.”
The entrepreneur noted that he believes the Palestinian public is acting out of emotion and without a clear direction. “People need to get organized and to stop worrying about where the American embassy is relocated,” while adding that he nevertheless considers President Trump’s declaration to be “ludicrous” given Washington’s ostensible role as an honest broker in the peace process.
In this respect, many Palestinian workers fear further escalation, which if extended into Israel could completely prevent them from earning a living. “If the clashes threaten the security situation inside the country [Israel] then we lose our jobs until the situation goes back to normal,” one Palestinian youth stressed.
Palestinian families are becoming increasingly dependent on wages earned in Israeli settlements, in particular, 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 to Palestinians in 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 communities over the Green Line or in Israel proper, a number increasing by approximately 10% each year.
There is also a financial benefit to the Palestinian leadership for having its citizens employed in these positions. COGAT estimates that the taxes collected from Palestinians who work for Israeli businesses accounts for 12% of the PA’s yearly receivables, or some five million shekels (about US $1.5 million). Moreover, an estimated 10% of the Palestinian Gross Domestic Product—a primary indicator measuring the health of an economy—is generated from workers who earn their incomes outside of Palestinian cities.
Azmi Abdel Rahman, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Economy, told The Media Line that, “working in Israel is not a point of view, it’s a persistent need.
“During the Second Intifada,” he noted, referring to the period of unbridled violence typified by bus bombs and suicide bombers between 2000 and 2005, “the Israeli side banned about 180,000 Palestinian workers from entering, which led to a catastrophe. All of them were without an income.”
Today, some 400,000 Palestinians in the West Bank nevertheless remain unemployed. Each year some fifty thousand Palestinians graduate from universities, but the Palestinian marketplace can absorb only about 10% of them. The rest, according to COGAT, do not have readily available job opportunities. Hence, the trend of Palestinians working next door.