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Palestinians face ‘scandalous exploitation’ working in Israel, illegal West Bank settlements: report

Palestine's economy depends heavily on Israel [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 13 April, 2021

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The general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation said an independent Palestinian state is required to achieve economic prosperity for the Palestinian people.
Palestinians working in Israel and illegal West Bank settlements are subject to "scandalous exploitation", a report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has found.

The document reveals that violations are visible even in the permit scheme, the pathway through which Palestinians gain employment with Israeli companies.

For instance, it says that the system has the effect of "bonding workers to employers".

Permit requests are filed by Israeli companies on behalf of prospective Palestinian employees.

Once approved the permit lasts for six months and the holder is only allowed to work for that organisation.

However, the ITUC says this "can be arbitrarily annulled at any time" by Israeli authorities or host companies.

Read more: Is Israel an apartheid state?

It cites the Israeli Workers Advice Center, which says employers threaten to revoke permits as punishment for those who organise politically or within a labour union.

Mohammed, 23, an infrastructure worker in an illegal settlement, recounted how he and his colleagues were forced to forfeit their rights.

"When we demanded our rights… [the employer] handed us papers and told us to sign them or lose our permits," he said.

"We all signed, we had no other choice."

The permit system also contributes to the income inequality between Israelis and Palestinians.

While the ITUC acknowledges that the wages paid by Israeli businesses are more than twice Palestinians would otherwise expect, it says that there is still "significant wage discrimination".

Based on numbers from multiple sources, the report found that Palestinians working in Israel or in Israeli settlements earned, on average, $1,872 per month as of 2019.

This is around 56 percent of the average Israeli's income.

Even taking into account that Palestinians are more likely to work manual jobs did not fully close this gap, with Israelis in the construction industry still earning on average $1,000 a month more than their Palestinian counterparts.

Palestinians' take-home wages are further hit by permit brokers, who offer permits for a fee of as much as $740 a month.

While this is illegal, brokers provided 45 percent of all permits as of 2018, according to the Bank of Israel.

Although the Israeli government has recently taken steps to prevent permit brokerage, these efforts only pertain to the construction industry.

The ITUC has called for an end to this practice across all sectors.

Another choice for those unable to secure a permit is to work in Israel illegally.

The one-state reality
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There are currently 26,000 forced to do this by the dire economic circumstances, according to Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics numbers.

They can expect to earn around 58 percent of the pay their permitted compatriots do.

Samer, who was profiled in the ITUC report, is an undocumented worker at a factory in Israel in Jaljulia, a majority-Arab town.

He can't get a permit due to a security ban on his record, though he says he has not been told why this was done.

"Not having a permit means I'm a prisoner. A free man choosing to be imprisoned to earn a living," he said.

Working 15 hours a day for less than $9 per hour, he sleeps in a room with eight others.

The ITUC's general secretary, Sharan Burrow, said the Israeli occupation of the West Bank also contributes to the inequality.

"Israel's continued occupation of Palestine and the illegal settlements are the roots causes of the plight of these workers," Burrow said.

She added that the establishment of an independent Palestinian state - per the UN Security Council’s resolutions - is the only way to ensure economic prosperity for the Palestinian people.

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