Palestinian laborers from the West Bank who work in Israel (with or without permits) do not have their rights as workers protected – a reality that leaves them vulnerable to exploitation by employers. Those with permits have to set out from home early in the morning, undergo the grueling, degrading experience of crossing crowded checkpoints into Israel, and return home after a long, exhausting work day. Many also have to pay brokers thousands of shekels a month for the permit. Those who do not have a permit have to take risky routes to enter Israel, often endangering their lives. None of these workers receive the social benefits to which they are entitled, and they are exploited by their employers – while the state refrains from supervising their work conditions.
After the corona pandemic began, Israel announced that Palestinians from the West Bank who wished to continue working in Israel would not be allowed to return home for fear of infection. However, the authorities did not issue any directives for accommodating them within Israel and some had to sleep at the construction sites themselves , in disgraceful conditions.
In March, Israel declared it would allow some 70,000 workers to remain in its territory, but many chose to return to the West Bank, citing fear of infection and the difficulty of being away from their families as key reasons. About 20,000 stayed in Israel. These workers did not receive any compensation, such as unemployment wages or a grant, and many were fired without compensation. The laborers now remaining in Israel have no medical insurance and should they have to return to the West Bank for treatment, they risk losing their job. In three cases that B’Tselem documented, laborers suspected of contracting the virus were taken to a checkpoint in the West Bank and left there, with no medical assistance or coordination with any authority on the West Bank.
According to media reports, as of this Sunday, 3 May, some 50,000 laborers from the West Bank will be allowed into Israel to work in construction or agriculture. They will receive a one-time entry permit and will not be allowed to go home until Ramadan is over, in about three weeks’ time. The duty to provide them with fitting accommodation still lies with their employers – without any state supervision. Should they fall ill during this time, they will be sent back to the West Bank.
Today, International Workers’ Day, B’Tselem is sharing the stories of three laborers.