Being a Palestinian Worker in the Israeli Settlements

BY DAN-CHYI CHUA
Sep 27, 2010
*Special to asia!

Do you serve in the national struggle against the annexation of your people, or ignore it in order to put bread on the table?

Mahmood* is a Palestinian working in Mishor Adumim, one of the main industrial parks in Israel. He is one of 6,000-8,000 Palestinians from the West Bank towns of Jericho, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, employed by 155 Israeli factories there. From this January, their livelihoods became endangered, when the Palestinian government announced that it was banning all Palestinians from working in Israeli settlements.

Israeli settlements are solely Jewish communities built by Israel on land that it annexed during the 1967 war with its Arab neighbours. Under international law, this is occupied Palestinian territory and it is illegal for Israel to construct on it.

About 36,500 Israelis now live in Ma'ale Adumim, which is where the Mishor Adumim Industrial Zone is located.

Mahmood commutes from the West Bank to his job as a manager in an Israeli company producing aluminium products. He earns good money there. He is paid a daily rate of 178 shekels (US$44) for eight to 12 hours of work. Back in the West Bank, the salary for a Palestinian can be as low as 50-60 shekels (US$12–15) a day.

That is, if he can find work.

Abdel* is another Palestinian who works in the Mishor Adumim Industrial Park. Unlike Mahmood, he is a mere worker on the production line. I met him in Jericho, where he was meeting with an Israeli workers' rights organisation, Kav La’Oved. He is currently being paid 19 shekels an hour, which is less than the Israeli minimum hourly wage of 20.70 shekels. The Israeli Supreme Court had ruled that the minimum wage applies to workers in Israel and the settlements, and Abdel is here to see if the organisation can help him get better pay.

Even while being exploited to work under the Israeli minimum wage, Abdel acknowledged to me that he was still getting more money than he would be earning, if he were working in the West Bank. A Palestinian makes about 65-70% more working in the Israeli settlements than in the West Bank.

This is one reason why Palestinians like Abdel, who have to pay for company transport to work in the Israeli settlements, still prefer to work there. I asked Mahmood and Abdel both about how they felt working on land that Israel illegally took from the Palestinians in 1967. They both shrugged.

 

The Mishor Adumim Industrial Park is located in Ma'ale Adumim, one of the largest Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The Mishor Adumim Industrial Park is located in Ma'ale Adumim, one of the largest Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

 

This is not news to them. Every Palestinian would know that Israel has constructed the settlements illegally on Palestinian land. This is why the Palestinian Authority is calling for a boycott of the Israeli settlements, an attempt to economically strangle these communities.

And it is working. Some factories in these settlements have begun to move to other parts of Israel, after suffering losses partly a result of the boycott, and partly because of the Supreme Court decision ruling that they have to pay their Palestinian workers the Israeli minimum wage.

So the boycott is working. What does Mahmood think?

The Palestinians will pay me 50 to 60 shekels. The Israeli people pay me 200 shekels. You tell me, where do you want me to work?

“It is a very bad idea,” said Mahmood.

“A lot of people want to work in the settlements. No one in the Palestinian Authority (or the West Bank) can pay the way the Israeli people do. The Palestinians will pay me 50 to 60 shekels. The Israeli people pay me 200 shekels. You tell me, where do you want me to work?”

For him, it is a case of simple economics.

“I don't look for problems with the Israeli people. I like to keep a good life to myself, my parents, my children, my wife. I am just worried about my work and how to feed my family.

“If you don't want to give us work in the settlements, you must give us something to feed our families, like industries (in the West Bank).”

 

What is the Palestinian alternative?

This is the problem with the boycott called for by the Palestinian government. In May, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas implemented a ban on all products made in the Israeli settlements. Shops have been educated since on the need for a boycott, and inspectors make visits to businesses to confiscate any settlement products found.

The rationale behind all this is to stop Palestinians from financing the settlements, which are the most blatant manifestation of Israel's occupation of Palestinian land and people. Hence they are cutting off Palestinian labour to the settlement by the end of 2011.

With this announcement, Israeli employers in the settlements started dismissing Palestinian workers from the West Bank, and began to look into employing foreign, Arab and Jewish workers that live in Israel instead. Affected Palestinian workers got concerned. About a thousand workers started to visit the trade unions, enquiring about what would happen if they can no longer work in the settlements.

I spoke to Wael Natheef, a board member of the Palestinian trade union in the Jericho Chapter, about this. He told me candidly, “Until now the trade union has no answer.”

The irony is that the Palestinian trade unions are bound in how much they can do. They are not allowed to operate in the Israeli settlements, as they need security clearance to enter Israel. Therefore they have no access both to the employers, as well as examining the actual working conditions in the settlements of the workers they represent, and they are limited to holding meetings with the workers when they are not working.

What then happens is that they work together with Israeli workers rights organisations to confront or charge Israeli employers in cases of for instance, salary disputes or employee abuse.

For their part, these Palestinian trade unions have met with the Palestinian Labour Ministry to find out what the government plans to do to accommodate these soon-to-be unemployed Palestinian workers. There have been discussions of subsiding the Palestinian private sector to entice them to employ these workers.

But this is not a solution. The Palestinians workers had left the West Bank in the first place, because there are not enough jobs in Palestinian economy here for them. As Wael from the Palestinian trade union said, “The Palestinian economy is not enough for job creation.”

In Jericho, for instance, the main industries are agriculture and tourism, both of which are unable to provide enough jobs for the locals.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi