Rights groups allege corruption over Palestinian permits

Approval given for 5,000 more construction laborers.

maaleh adumim construction 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
maaleh adumim construction 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
When permits are issued for Palestinians to work in construction, information on which contractors have received the permits, and how many, should be made public, human rights organizations say. Suspicions of black market trade have arisen following the approval of 5,000 new permits. The cancellation of a proposed levy on work permits for Palestinians opens the door to the regulated entry of 5,000 construction workers each day, but workers rights group Kav Laoved (the Workers Hotline) says that high demand and an active black market in the transfer of permits may harm the Palestinians. The levy was eliminated when it was left out of the Economic Arrangements Bill approved that was approved on July 14. Kav Laoved and Gisha, a group that advocates Palestinian freedom of movement, have filed a request, under the Freedom of Information Law, to find out the names of contractors who received permits, details regarding how many permits each received, and the criteria according to which contractors are allowed to apply for permits. "Announcements about work permits, including the names of the employers and the number of permits they have, are issued regularly on the Internet when it comes to foreign workers in construction and agriculture. But when it comes to Palestinians, the government is strangely refusing to publish the figures," Hanna Zohar, director of Kav Laoved, said on Thursday. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Zohar spoke of ongoing corruption and bribery in the permit issuing agencies, corruption that she said came at the expense of the workers. "Some contractors have begun operating like employment agencies. They apply for the permits in their own name, but then transfer them to others in exchange for money. The contractors don't mind paying because the money is deducted from the workers' wages anyway." Zohar said she expected the details of Palestinian work permits to be made public, in the same way as those of foreign workers. "The Palestinian workers have been designated as foreign workers, just like all the others. There is no reason why the information will be withheld. They can't use the excuse of national security either, because each and every one of the workers had to be cleared by the Defense Ministry before receiving a license to work in Israel," she said. According to official sources, 47,000 Palestinians work for Israeli companies on both sides of the Green Line, 16,000 of them in construction. The demand for the labor has increased following the government's closed skies policy on the entry of foreign workers for the building sector. Historically, the Palestinian Authority has been a major source of labor for the construction sector and was practically the only source of foreign workers before the second intifada erupted in late 2000. "Without clear and public criteria for obtaining work permits and publicizing the identities of employers who have received hiring permits, civil administration officials may be empowered to distribute permits at whim, or even sell them," Kav Laoved said in a statement. "Recently a gag order was lifted after a month regarding the arrest of Ami Kavilo, head of employment in Gush Etzion, who was responsible for issuing work and entry permits to Palestinian residents." Kav Laoved said that the grave suspicions that he had sold work permits indicated a need for transparency. The Post was not able to obtain additional details on the refusal to publish the permit holders' identity and the criteria for issuing the permits, before going to press. The only formal response given came from a Finance Ministry representative, who said that the special levy that has been rescinded was never collected and that it was removed from the Arrangements Bill where it had initially appeared. Questions regarding the amount of the proposed levy and the reason for rescinding it went unanswered.