Palestinian laborers work at a construction site in a settlement near Jerusalem .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a case with huge implications for Israeli-Palestinian work relations as well as possible diplomatic consequences, three Palestinians who work in Israeli industry near Tulkarm on Tuesday demanded that the National Labor Court recognize their right to equal work conditions to Israelis.
The core of the debate, which has come up in parallel cases, is whether Israeli law applies to the Palestinians since they have Israeli employers, or 1967 Jordanian law, since the industrial workspaces are in Area C of the West Bank.
Under international law, an “occupying country” (in the legal sense, absent the political debate, occupying just means a country that has conquered territory) is supposed to apply the law that already existed to the local population that comes under its rule.
Since Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, Israel has always taken the position that 1967 Jordanian law applies to Palestinians in a number of areas of life.
But in 2007, the High Court of Justice issued a major ruling that Palestinians who lived in the West Bank but worked for Israelis in the Givat Ze’ev settlement would get the same minimum level work conditions as Israelis in terms of pay, vacation days, work days and termination pay.
The three Palestinians along with Combatants for Peace and the Wac-Maan – Workers Advice Center want to apply that 2007 ruling to this case.
The National Labor Court has already applied the 2007 High Court ruling in other cases, including in December 2013.
But the employers here claim that the 2007 ruling does not apply because the industrial zone near Tulkarm falls into a special category.
They have argued, and a lower labor court already ruled, that because their industrial zone was part of a special joint effort under the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and part of the purpose is specifically to supply jobs to Palestinians, that Jordanian, not Israeli, should apply.
The employers’ lawyer, Shahar Hoffman, also noted that the IDF has only recently been issuing orders to liberalize certain labor laws for Palestinians to “catch up” the laws to Israeli law – meaning that the Palestinian workers in this case, whose claim dates to 2010 did not benefit from the new legal trend.
Despite many supporters in attendance and a powerful human and emotional argument about the Palestinian workers getting equal treatment and escaping demeaning work conditions, the reaction of the five-judge panel on Tuesday seemed to indicate that the workers have an uphill battle ahead of them.
National Labor Court President Yigal Plitman peppered the Palestinians’ lawyers with questions as they made their arguments, and put on a skeptical and impatient face throughout.
Plitman seemed to accept the premise of the lower court ruling and the employers that this case, with essentially all Palestinian workers, was different than the 2007 case, which included both Israeli and Palestinian workers, and could there - fore support a discrimination accusation.
The Palestinians’ lawyers argued that the key distinction should not be the mix of employees, but the fact that the employer was Israeli and that the area is under Israeli control through the IDF and because it is Area C where the PA has no role.
One lawyer, Ehud Shiloni slammed the lower court ruling, which he paraphrased as saying “You should be judged according to a law which does not apply anywhere in the world, the 1967 Jordanian labor law that has not applied in Jordan for a long time.”
Shiloni added that both Israeli and current Jordanian law are much more modern and favor able to workers.
Wac-Maan National Director Assaf Adiv spoke dismissively of the employers’ claims, framing their legal distinctions as an excuse to underpay and poorly treat Palestinians, especially since, he and others said, the PA has no presence or involvement.
A spokeswoman for Combatants for Peace said that if the court fails to apply Israeli law to the industrial zone, the zone will continue to be a legal no-man’s-land in which chemicals and other pollutants are dumped in a way that harms the environment.
She claimed the employers there came to the area knowing they could exploit legal loop - holes to avoid taxes, environ - mental laws and workers’ rights laws.
The court signaled it would rule soon.