(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A dozen employees of the Modi’in Ezrahi company that provides private guards in
east Jerusalem protested outside the company’s office in downtown Jerusalem on
Monday, over what they said were unfair working conditions and withheld
The company won the Housing Ministry’s tender to provide guard
services to Jewish families living in majority Arab neighborhoods, such as the
Old City, Silwan and Ras al-Amud. Modi’in Ezrahi guards also work at many of the
checkpoints and crossings between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
east Jerusalem created a worker’s union over a year ago with the help of Koach
La Ovdim – Democratic Workers’ Association, to press for improved conditions
such as water and bathrooms at all guard stations, five shifts per week,
shuttles to and from work during Shabbat and fair wages, including
There are 360 guards working in east Jerusalem, and 170 joined
the union, according to Matan Boord, an organizer with Koach La Ovdim. Modi’in
Ezrahi, a notoriously secretive organization whose name means “Civilian
Intelligence,” is thought to have more than 10,000 employees – although the
company refused to reveal those numbers.
“We’re there so the state
doesn’t have to take responsibility,” said Noam Petrusenko, a guard at the City
of David who has worked with Modi’in Ezrahi for seven years. “If something
happens, heaven forbid, it’s a company that takes the fall and not the
The positions are usually filled by former combat soldiers who
are completing degrees and need a job with flexible hours that fits with their
class schedule. It is a relatively high-paying job for students, with most
guards making around NIS 35 per hour. According to pay stubs provided by the
company, some guards make upward of NIS 11,000 per month. The armed guards do
similar work to soldiers and conduct regular patrols of the neighborhood, and
sometimes escort children to school in the Old City.
Modi’in Ezrahi frequently withholds wages and cheats guards out of overtime. He
said most employees keep track of their withheld wages during their tenure and
when they quit, they sue the company in labor court to get the wages
Petrusenko added that in every case he knew, the labor court always
sided with the former employees and required the company to pay back
Modi’in Ezrahi spokesman Eliran Bareket accused Koach La Ovdim of
manipulating the guards and engaging in a “territorial war” with the Histadrut
labor federation. He added that the company’s administration met monthly with
guards and that negotiations to improve conditions are ongoing.
slammed the guards for bringing their issues to the public sphere, while the
guards countered that negotiations had stalled. “We’re willing to work with
them, but not this way,” said Bareket. The spokesman also provided screenshots
of some of the central organizers’ Facebook profiles, where they compared the
company to Hitler.
On Monday, a dozen guards associated with the union
demonstrated on Jaffa Road outside of the Modi’in Ezrahi Jerusalem office. They
chanted “No profit, no guards!” and “If you don’t want Molotov cocktails, you
need to give us services!” The company did not provide them with proper defense
equipment despite requiring them to patrol in dangerous areas, until their
“costumes” were replaced by real bulletproof vests a few months ago, Petrusenko
“We work in cooperation with Yassam [the police’s anti-riot unit] a
lot, and they have the proper equipment and they know what they’re there for,”
he said. “For us, only with God’s help do we get out alive.”
organizations such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel oppose the use
of private guards in east Jerusalem because the company is not held accountable
in the same way soldiers can be held accountable.
In September 2010, a
Modi’in Ezrahi guard in Silwan shot and killed an Arab resident, Samr Sirkhan,
after his patrol jeep was surrounded by people throwing rocks.
was questioned for a few hours and released.
Sirkhan’s death touched off
the most intense period of unrest in east Jerusalem in the past few years.
Dozens were arrested and more than ten people were injured in the rioting.