Har Adar attack puts Palestinians who work in settlements under scrutiny

The fact that the attacker held a work permit – the application process entails detailed background checks by the Israel Defense Forces – indicates a security failure.

September 27, 2017 04:21
3 minute read.
Har Adar attack puts Palestinians who work in settlements under scrutiny

Soldiers arrest the brother of Har Adar terrorist Nimr Mahmoud Ahmad al-Jamal near Ramallah Tuesday.. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)


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Tuesday morning’s terrorist attack is raising both economic and security questions about the estimated 50,000 Palestinians who work either legally or under the table in Israeli settlements.

The attacker, Nimr Mahmoud Ahmad al-Jamal, 37, was a father of four from the neighboring Beit Surik village. He held a permit to enter and work in the settlement of Har Adar, where the attack occurred, although he was fired from his job some four years ago, according to Channel 2.

The fact that Jamal held a work permit – the application process entails detailed background checks by the Israel Defense Forces – indicates a security failure. It may the second time a Palestinian work permit- holder has killed Israelis since the beginning of the so-called “stabbing intifada” in October 2015.

Around 30,000 Palestinians hold permits to enter and work in settlements, said the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit – the Defense Ministry branch that administers the West Bank.

Many of the Palestinians work in construction, building the settlements.

“Permits are issued in accordance to security procedures and criteria,” a COGAT representative told The Jerusalem Post.

Aside from the permit-holders, some 20,000 Palestinians work unofficially in the settlements as of 2015, said Sari Bashi, the Israel/Palestine director of Human Rights Watch. Because many of them are working illegally, it is unclear what type of security clearance they receive and in what labor conditions they work. Industrial parks often benefit from government tax breaks and a cheaper labor pool – as comparable workers within the Green Line would cost much more.

By working in the settlements, often in construction, Palestinians earn on average double what they would make from a Palestinian employer, getting around 200 NIS ($57) a day from Israeli employers.

Many of the permit-holders work in West Bank industrial zones close to the Green Line, such as at Barkan Industrial Park, 25 km. east of Tel Aviv. Around half of the 7,000 employees at Barkan are Palestinian, said a spokeswoman, and they must renew their permits and be subject to security screening every six months.

“We don’t need to have security. For the last 30 years, coexistence is here and there has never been an attack, because economics is more powerful than politics,” Esther Allouch, spokeswoman for Barkan Industrial Park, told the Post, adding that Palestinian livelihoods would be destroyed if the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement succeeded in shuttering the site.

“[The Palestinians], they’re very satisfied, they have no interest to make trouble. It’s a win-win situation,” Allouch said.

Legally speaking, Palestinians working in Israeli West Bank industrial parks enjoy the same labor and health protections as Israeli workers, along with earning the Israeli minimum wage and getting sick days. Israel’s minimum hourly wage is NIS 26.88 ($7.62), much higher than the minimum wage in areas governed by the autonomous Palestinian Authority.

But because of the West Bank’s special status under Israeli law, it is unclear which if any Israeli regulatory body sends inspectors to ensure that Palestinian workers are not being mistreated by their employers.

“Within those settlements, there is no supervision of labor laws because the Ministry of Labor refuses to send supervisors to the settlements,” said Bashi, whose Human Rights Watch has issued numerous reports on the matter. “That makes exploitation all too easy and common.”

The Barkan Industrial Park spokeswoman disputed that, saying that Palestinians could enforce their labor rights through hiring a lawyer, a service that left-wing NGOs often provide.

Bashi also claimed that the Palestinian villages surrounding Har Adar lost their agricultural farmland when the West Bank security barrier was built in the early 2000s.

“Many of them lost their livelihood and thus, went to work in the settlements in order to make ends meet,” she said.

According to the World Bank, the Palestinian economy loses some $3.4 billion annually, a third of Palestinian GDP, because of restrictions on access attributable to the settlements. It is unclear whether the World Bank report takes into account Palestinian remittances and the comparably higher salaries they earn in the settlements.

The restrictions on access are there because of Palestinian terrorism, Israel says.

Many Israeli security officials support allowing Palestinians to work in Israel and the settlements, saying that such jobs help reduce political tensions.

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