(photo credit: Associated Press [file])
As underlined by Gaza's ongoing dependence on Israeli fuel and power, and by the problems of supplying it to a Hamas-run, Kassam-firing quasi-state, Israel's departure from the Strip in 2005 wasn't quite as final as presented. Another reminder was supplied last week by the Beersheba District Labor Court. It obliged a manufacturing plant, which was first crippled by Gazan terror and then evacuated following disengagement, to pay hefty severance pay to 88 of its former employees - all from Gaza.
The surreal trial involved the Oz-Rom factory, which used to produce metal frames for hothouses. In the years when the Erez Industrial Zone was able to realize the laudable goal of forging Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation and providing desperately needed employment to Gaza, Oz-Ron employed 142 Gaza Strip residents. After it was forced to relocate, 88 of those ex-employees sued for compensation.
In a precedent-setting verdict - now likely to haunt many other Israeli employers in pre-disengagement Gaza - Judge Ilan Sofer decreed that the workers merited compensation because their "place of employment" no longer existed. Moreover, the judge ruled in favor of extending this right not only to those Gazans who worked until the plant's closure, but also to those who had earlier been prevented from reaching their jobs at the industrial park because of terror alerts and security closures.
Oz-Rom's owners were ordered to pay NIS 856,000 to the workers, plus interest - a total in excess of NIS 1 million. The Israeli employers must also pay NIS 80,000 to cover the workers' legal costs.
The court rejected the contention that Israeli labor regulations did not apply in Gaza. It also decided that the owners could not claim exclusion from Israeli regulations on the grounds that force majeure - circumstances totally beyond the defendants' control - prevented them from employing the plaintiffs. The judge agreed that the employers were wholly unable to do anything about terror threats and security closures and that they had no option but to relocate following disengagement, but compensation was mandated nonetheless. "Disengagement could mean one thing only - the plant's closure. The workers' place of employment no longer exists," argues the ruling. "This, therefore, is tantamount to an act of dismissal which entitles the workers to severance pay." Barring a successful appeal, Oz-Rom will either have to pay up or try to sue the government and have the Treasury pay. The first conclusion would discourage Israelis not already deterred from risking participation in goodwill initiatives to rescue Palestinians from poverty. The second would impose another Gaza-linked burden on the Israeli taxpayer and in effect further subsidize what has become an enemy entity.
This entire bizarre case seems to have been tried in a bubble, impervious to the escalating anti-Israeli hostility that Hamas, now Gaza's government, and other Palestinian extremist groups have made the norm of post-disengagement Gaza. Israel rightly protests when international courts and ostensible international arbiters of appropriate humanitarian behavior ignore the terror-driven root of poverty and other suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel rightly objects to (but nonetheless generally respects) international pressure not to so much as scale back the supply of fuel, water, food and medical assistance to a Gaza populace that helped freely elect the terrorist leadership that is causing their, and our, misfortune. Yet here is the Israeli legal system showing the same narrow focus.
Ancient Jewish tradition determined that "he who shows mercy to the cruel, will end up showing cruelty to the merciful." The ruling against Oz-Rom is a case in point, and a further example of the kind of post-disengagement absurdity that required uprooted settlers to continue paying mortgages and/or insurance on homes and businesses that had been razed by order of their government.
These Israeli citizens should not have to personally bear the financial consequence of official actions. Terrorism ultimately forced the relocation of Oz-Rom's admirable effort at employing Palestinians from Gaza. The factory's owners should not have to pay this further price.