726 Palestinian laborers arrested

Police hope series of raids made impact on illegal workers in country's center.

Border Police apprehended 726 Palestinian illegal laborers in a 24-hour series of arrest raids that culminated on Tuesday morning. Officers from the Sharon Battalion of the Central District Border Police streamed into the eight subterranean floors of an abandoned construction project near the Geha Junction before sunrise and discovered 232 Palestinian workers spending the night in caves, corners, tunnels and holes, sleeping next to piles of feces. A Border Police officer called the scene "terrifying." The workers, he said, had neither water nor bathroom facilities. On some of the floors, the officer added, there was "barely any air," and the stench was oppressive. The 232 workers were all employed in and around Tel Aviv and Petah Tikva. Police said Tuesday night that they believed the site was a gathering point for many or all of the illegal Palestinian workers in the area. The workers, whom police described as a security risk, all had criminal files opened against them. Those who were repeat offenders, or who had entered Israel despite being classified by security services for restricted entry, were taken to the Sharon District Military Court for trial. The remainder, after having their files opened, were taken to the West Bank by bus. "It is quite possible that this operation had a significant impact on employers of Palestinian illegal workers in the center of the country," said the Border Police officer. "The Central District of the Border Police is addressing the phenomenon of employers, drivers and boarders in a targeted fashion," he continued, adding, "The operations to apprehend the illegal workers will continue." Southern District Border Police also conducted an operation against Palestinian illegal workers in Ashkelon and Ashdod in the pre-dawn hours. In that operation, police arrested 67 West Bank residents working at building sites in the two cities. Of the Palestinians apprehended on Tuesday and late Monday, 15 were wanted for questioning by security forces and 18 of them had already been prohibited by security forces from entering Israel. A number of stolen vehicles were also found in the workers' possession. In addition to the workers, police also arrested five people suspected of transporting the workers from the West Bank to Israel, two people suspected of employing the workers and one person who allegedly provided them with sleeping quarters. Later Tuesday, the Shfela Battalion of the Border Police's Central District nabbed five Gaza residents in the central city of Lod. Two of the five were wanted by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for security-related offenses, and the other three were suspected of committing multiple crimes in Lod and the south. After searching the house in which the five were discovered, Border Police discovered four radios that were apparently stolen. The phenomenon of illegal Palestinian workers was addressed last month in a working meeting between then-Internal Security Minister Gideon Ezra and Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi in advance of a meeting that was to be held between Ezra and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the subject.