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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
In a landmark ruling handed down Wednesday, a panel of nine High Court justices ruled that Palestinians working for Israeli employers in Judea and Samaria settlements should be given work benefits provided by Israeli, rather than Jordanian, law.
"In the cases before us, given the circumstances under consideration, Israeli law applies to the labor relations between the Israeli employers and the Palestinian workers who are residents of the West Bank," concluded Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin, who wrote the main decision. The ruling was unanimous.
The case involved Palestinians employed by the Givat Ze'ev Local Council and several private companies in Judea and Samaria. Originally, they petitioned the district labor courts, demanding that their Israeli employers pay them benefits included in Israeli labor laws, such as minimum wage, compensation for dismissal and other social benefits that are not included in Jordanian law.
The employers claimed that since the companies were located in the West Bank, Jordanian law applied.
The district courts upheld the petitions. The employers then appealed to the National Labor Court, which overruled the lower courts. The employers petitioned the second ruling to the High Court of Justice.
The state, which represented the Givat Ze'ev Local Council, argued that in cases where the contract between the employer and the employee did not specify which law would apply, the local law, in other words, Jordanian law, would apply by default to the Palestinian; the fact that his employer was Israeli was irrelevant.
However, the court ruled that in the case of the West Bank, there were essentially two territories: the Palestinian-occupied areas and the "Israeli enclaves," which had a special status.
"In the case of the 'Israeli enclaves in the occupied territories,'" wrote Rivlin, "there is a complex reality within the territory itself, as well as a multifaceted legal situation. Large sections of Israeli law apply to the Israelis living in these areas alongside military law, which applies only to Israelis. At the same time, the Palestinians living in the very same areas are subject to Jordanian law, together with military orders, which apply only to them. Therefore, the law of the area where the work is being carried out is not uniform and not dependent upon the territorial criteria."
Thus, wrote Rivlin, the territorial issue was complicated and did not necessarily work in favor of the employers. Given that, other factors that must be taken into account in determining which law should apply take on greater significance, such as wages are paid in shekels, letters of dismissal, salary slips and attendance cards are written in Hebrew and holidays are observed in accordance with the Jewish calendar. Furthermore, he wrote, that Israelis and Palestinians who do the exact same work are given different work conditions violates the principle of equality.
In the overall balance, wrote Rivlin, the case for granting work conditions according to Israeli law outweighs the case for granting work conditions according to Jordanian law.