A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Dependency and exploitation
by Ghassan Khatib
Palestinian labor in Israel was one of the early attributes of the relationship of dependency between Israelis and Palestinians. It was also one of the clearest features of the Israeli economic exploitation of occupied Palestinians.
It was thus part of a comprehensive and systematic cluster of policies that aimed at achieving the maximum level of economic exploitation, including the stealing of water from Palestinian aquifers, the using of Palestinian tourist sites for the benefit of the Israeli economy, the confiscating of Palestinian land for the benefit of Jewish settlers, and the overall restructuring of the Palestinian economy to become the second largest importer of Israeli products.
A Palestinian researcher once described the Israeli occupation as being the second most profitable project in the Middle East after oil. That might be a bit exaggerated, but not by much.
Most of the Palestinian workers in Israel used to come from rural areas. In particular, they tended to be farmers who lost their land--their only source of income--due to confiscation, or who became unable to make a living off of their land due to the unfair competition created by Israeli agricultural products. Ironically, many of these workers found themselves employed as inexpensive labor on their own land that had been confiscated and had become Jewish settlements. The phenomenon of Palestinian labor in Israel entailed denying workers certain rights, which rendered them both cheap and convenient.
They were cheap because Israelis deprived them of the various social benefits to which any worker in Israel is entitled. Moreover, many worked without official permits, allowing their employers to exploit their irregular status in order to give them low salaries.
They were convenient because Israel could benefit from a large number of non-Israeli workers without having to cope with the usual social or ethnic problems experienced by countries that depend upon immigrant labor. Although the number of Palestinians working in Israel was huge--even reaching 200,000 at a certain point in time--most of these workers did not have to stay overnight and thus did not become an ethnic community inside Israeli society. Rather, they would come in the morning and at night return to their own communities in the Palestinian territories.
This phenomenon carried another disadvantage for the Palestinian economy. It created an artificially high level of wages that put Palestinian employers in a difficult situation of competition over Palestinian workers. Palestinian employers had to compete with Israeli employers, who could afford high wages given Palestinian standards (albeit very low wages by Israeli standards). This reduced incentives for investment in Palestine, and consequently hindered economic growth.
When confrontations began between Palestinians and Israelis in September 2000, Israel suddenly began to prevent Palestinians from working in Israel. This policy coincided with many other measures of economic collective punishment that discouraged investment and caused many businesses to collapse. The result has been a huge increase in unemployment, ranging from one third to one half of the Palestinian labor force during the first four years of confrontations. With the Israeli unilateral disengagement plan, Israel is planning to bring the number of Palestinians from Gaza working in Israel to zero. That might have been a positive step, were Israel not accompanying such policy with a continuous closure over Gaza and restriction of persons and goods from Gaza to the West Bank, from Gaza to the rest of the world, and vice versa. Such ongoing closure will only lead to further deterioration of the economic and social situation.
The interests of the Palestinian economy, and Palestinian welfare more broadly, could require a gradual reduction of the number of Palestinians working in Israel, but only if paralleled by the opening of Palestinian borders with the outside world as necessary to attract investments of the kind that can increase production and exports. Any country with as small a market as that of the Palestinian territories would suffocate economically, unless it was able to export either its extra labor force or the products of its workers. Improvement in work opportunities and the reduction of unemployment, and consequently economic recovery, are not only of economic and social interest for Palestinians, but also a necessary prerequisite for security and political stability. This is especially the case given the significant statistical correlation between an increase in poverty on the one hand and an increase of radicalization and extremism, on the other.- Published 20/6/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Workers and bombers, north and south
by Yossi Alpher
In 1995, when Palestinian suicide bombings in Israel first became intense, the public was inclined to place the blame on the 130,000 or so Palestinian laborers commuting daily to Israel, even though there was no evidence linking them to these acts. Though Palestinians had been commuting to work in Israel since 1967, the advent of suicide bombings in the 1990s created a link in the public eye between their presence, the Oslo agreement, and the upsurge in terrorism. Consequently, the public outcry against the consequences of the Oslo agreement grew; eventually it would lead to the assassination of PM Rabin and contribute to the decline of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
In the absence of a security fence, the borders between Israel and the West Bank were wide open to infiltrators of every kind. At the time, the only possible link I could find between Palestinian labor in Israel and terrorism was the notion that Palestinian workers were quietly collecting intelligence on possible targets such as bus lines and key junctions where soldiers and others congregated--something they could do without arousing suspicion. Nevertheless I felt sufficiently concerned to suggest that the government temporarily end Palestinian labor in Israel.
In order to avoid the inevitable and disastrous economic consequences, the government could transfer the workers' salaries to them inside the Palestinian Authority. Although this would cost Israel money, it seemed a worthwhile investment because it might save the peace process.
The Rabin government and its successors eventually did phase out Palestinian labor, but without compensation. They replaced Palestinian commuter workers with guest workers from all over the world, from Thailand to Turkey. The result has been aggravated economic hardship for Palestine, and a host of new problems for Israel in dealing with the socio-economic ramifications of hosting hundreds of thousands of imported workers, many of whom have become illegal immigrants. As for suicide bombings, even when, eventually, no Palestinians at all worked inside Israel, the rampage never diminished. The only really effective measure against bombers has been the security fence.
Nonetheless, the public continues to associate Palestinian laborers with terrorism. The logic goes as follows: if Palestinians who cross into Israel carry out suicide bombings, then keep all Palestinians--whether day laborers, illegal migrants, or car thieves--out of Israel. The fence, of course, does precisely this. Yet the state of security technology today enables us to use the fence to filter rather than completely prevent the entry of Palestinians. Worker visas in the shape of magnetic cards, coupled with electronic fingerprint or handprint identification, make it possible to monitor and track every worker who enters Israel through secure gates in the fence.
The Sharon government prefers to phase out the remaining Palestinian laborers by 2008 and rely on Chinese, Thai, Nepalese and other workers. This may be helpful to the economies of the Far East, but it is devastating for Palestinians. Further deterioration in the Palestinian economy makes it harder for Palestinians and Israelis to coexist in separate states, contributes to the rise of the radical Islamist movements, and generates more terrorism. If, in contrast, Israel were to present a green-line based fence to the Palestinian public as a way of making it possible for large numbers of Palestinians to work in Israel again, then Palestinian (and international) opposition to the fence might be reduced.
Beyond these local security and economic considerations, there is an additional aspect of the Palestinian labor question that has broad regional implications. In a way, we confront a classic "north-south" issue. Like other post-industrial economies in the US and Europe, Israel requires cheap imported labor to do jobs that Israelis no longer agree to do. This makes it a magnet for manpower from the surrounding, less developed Arab states. If an Egyptian can earn eight times more doing menial labor in Israel than working--if he can find a job at all--in Egypt, he will take considerable risks to reach Israel. Hence during the relatively quiet and prosperous years of the early Oslo period Israel was "invaded" by more than 100,000 Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian illegal laborers, many of whom remain to this day.
If Israelis want to retain a relatively high standard of living within a Jewish and a democratic state, we have to find the least problematic way, from the economic and security standpoints, to 1) import labor, 2) ensure it does not remain in the country and does not endanger us, and 3) not further impoverish our neighbors in the process. The fence, coupled with new technologies, points the way.- Published 20/6/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies and a former senior adviser to PM Ehud Barak.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Waves of frustration
an interview with Atef Saad
bitterlemons: About how many Palestinians are currently working in Israel?
Saad: There are about 20,000 Palestinians working in Israel with permits and another 20-25,000 working without permits. Compare this to 1999, when the number of Palestinians working in Israel was 170,000.
bitterlemons: What has been the effect of this reduction of the number of workers in Israel upon the Palestinian economy?
Saad: In 1999, every Palestinian worker was responsible for feeding three to four people. Now every worker has the burden of supporting many more people.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Labor, 31 percent of the work force is unemployed. Unemployment and poverty are the main core of Palestinians' suffering. This has many ramifications in society. For example, take child labor, which involves thousands of Palestinian children. Here in Nablus a 12 year-old boy working in a bakery was recently killed when a machine fell and smashed his skull. Those who went to investigate found another six children aged 13 and 14 working in the bakery, each paid only 20 shekels a month. There is a clear connection between this crisis of child labor and the issue of Palestinian labor in Israel. As a recent report issued by the Birzeit University Development Program and UNICEF showed, many of these children are forced into work because their parents have lost their jobs inside Israel.
bitterlemons: What are some of the difficulties faced by Palestinian workers in Israel?
Saad: Those who have permits live with the worry that the Israeli authorities might take them away. Those who don't have permits, on the other hand, go inside the green line at the peril of their very lives. Many have been shot and killed making this risky journey. Many are arrested and have to pay fines as large as $2,000. Hundreds of other Palestinian illegal workers are now in jail, some of them sentenced to more than six months.
Palestinian workers are also vulnerable to exploitive employers. Some Israeli employers are good and fair, and workers appreciate them and develop good relations with them. But many other workers complain that there are Israeli employers who try to exploit the system of restrictions in order to threaten them. The trade unions have received many complaints from Palestinian workers who worked for weeks but never received their wages. So even those workers who manage to make it past the different bureaucratic obstacles and obtain permits can fall into the grip of an exploitive employer.
bitterlemons: What difficulties exist for workers in obtaining permits?
Saad: Israel is tightening its permit restrictions everyday. Palestinians cannot receive a permit without a magnetic ID card, and they cannot receive this card unless they prove that they are 100 percent clean. In addition to the clear restrictions, such as checkpoints, there are also hidden restrictions. For example, Palestinian workers have told me that they pay underneath the table--up to 4,000 shekels--in order to get a permit from the Israel Ministry of Interior.
So this is why, in order to avoid such difficult costly bureaucratic procedures, Palestinian workers go to work in Israel without a permit. They risk their lives for the chance to earn 200 shekels a day. Many have to stay in Israel for two or three weeks at a time without coming home. But they have no other choice.
bitterlemons: Israel is discussing a plan to phase out Palestinian labor by 2008. How do you expect that this policy will affect Palestinians?
Saad: The 20,000 documented workers in Israel currently earn about $130 million annually for themselves, their families, and the economy in general. You can multiply this amount by two in order to count the additional amount earned by undocumented workers. Now with Israel's "new strategy", these people will be unemployed and Palestinians will lose this source of income. Add these figures to those who are already unemployed in the Palestinian territories, and I can't imagine the waves of frustration that will result.
bitterlemons: What do you think of the argument that Israel must end Palestinian labor in Israel for the sake of its own security?
Saad: Work in Israel is essential for the Palestinian economy until it reaches a rate of growth and the occupation ends and Palestinians have independence.
The Israelis, and also the Americans, continue to evaluate matters from a security point of view rather than a political or social point of view. As Condoleezza Rice made clear in her visit to the region just a few days ago, the Americans don't see that unemployment is the main challenge facing Abu Mazen's government today. Look at those who are making troubles for Abu Mazen from within his own political organization, Fatah. If you look at what is pushing them to create disorder, you will see that it is primarily economic and social. Many of these people need jobs and salaries. Preventing Palestinians from working in Israel will only increase poverty, which will lead to despair, extremism, and more violence.- Published 20/6/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Atef Saad is a media consultant for the General Secretary of Palestinian Trade Unions and editor of the monthly magazine The Labor Voice.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
Not a security risk
an interview with Dov Sedaka
bitterlemons: What do you think of the Sharon government's plan to phase out all Palestinian labor in Israel by 2008?
Sedaka: In my view this is basically not a promising plan. By 2008, and even beyond, Israeli-Palestinian relations will still not be stable. Therefore the Palestinian economy, which is now again taking its first steps for the nth time, will not be able to function alone. A portion of the Palestinian national product depends on employment in Israeli workplaces both within Israel and, until now, at the Erez joint industrial zone. Erez is going to lose 4,000 Palestinian workers.
bitterlemons: What is the multiplier effect for every Palestinian who loses a job?
Sedaka: For each family directly supported by a Palestinian worker, another three or four families are affected. At Erez the effect is already evident. The next major damage will be inflicted by disengagement: another 4,000 Palestinians work in the Qatif settlement bloc; if the hothouses are not transferred to Palestinian hands, these Palestinians will likewise lose their jobs.
bitterlemons: How long do you estimate that it will take the Palestinian Authority or a Palestinian state, with massive international assistance and under optimal conditions, to create enough work places to obviate the need to work in Israel?
Sedaka: A rough estimate goes well beyond 2008; in the best case, another ten years. I would like to see an independent Palestinian economy, but I don't think it will happen.
bitterlemons: From your experience do Palestinian workers constitute a security risk for Israel?
Sedaka: Absolutely not; they are nowhere near being a risk. Throughout all the years of Palestinian labor in Israel there was only one incident in which a licensed worker carried out an act of terrorism. The Palestinian side was very attentive to monitoring workers, and the magnetic card system worked for Gaza. Indeed, Gaza shows how a fence can enhance security monitoring of workers. Former senior security officials like Avi Dichter [former head of Shabak, the General Security Service] and Uzi Dayan [former IDF deputy chief of staff], who advocate a security fence, point to the improvement in security [regarding workers].
bitterlemons: What do you propose concerning Palestinians working in Israel?
Sedaka: At this stage I'm against any quotas. We should let them in to work while we see what happens at the political level after disengagement. It's a mistake to set a deadline.
bitterlemons: And at the broader level of principle? How do you see the overall idea of Palestinians working in Israel?
Sedaka: Israel needs labor. Palestinian labor is preferable to other foreign labor, because the latter becomes a demographic problem while the Palestinian worker goes home after a day's work. Palestinian laborers and Israeli employers have learned to work together, and speak a common language. Palestinian labor has been a success even in the settlements. In Qatif there are settler hothouses that lie beyond the security fence; Palestinians work there yet, due to shared interests, there are no terrorist incidents.
bitterlemons: And at the level of infrastructure, over the long term?
Sedaka: In the long term I'm in favor of joint industrial zones and Palestinian use of Israeli ports.
bitterlemons: The Erez joint industrial zone on the border with Gaza was closed by Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert due to security reasons.
Sedaka: I don't understand why Olmert did that. It was premature, and the reasons were neither economic nor security. We played into the hands of Hamas [who attacked the zone repeatedly]. It should be possible to build a "sterile" industrial zone. Just as we didn't close down Israeli public transportation because of attacks on it, we shouldn't close down a joint industrial zone. It works at Irbid [site of joint QIZs with Jordan] and it can work between the Palestinians and us.- Published 20/6/2005 (c) bitterlemons.org
Brigadier General (res.) Dov Sedaka was head of the Civil Administration first in Gaza, then in the West Bank. He retired from active duty in 2004.
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