On International Workers’ Day, at least 400,000 Palestinians face unemployment, and 150,000 work under precarious conditions in Israel and Jewish-only settlements within the West Bank.
The Israeli occupation has had devastating consequences for Palestinian labor. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) “decades of occupation have created pervasive unemployment and a fragmented and ineffective labor market.”
Furthermore, 320,000 Palestinian families live below the poverty line, according to General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions Shaher Saad.
According to Saad 45 percent of young Palestinians haven’t had a chance to work. In the context of a declining Palestinian industrial capacity, 95 percent of Palestinian industries in the West Bank and Gaza lack real operational capabilities, the only work possibility for many is in Israel or its illegal settlements.
Matthew Vickery, author of Employing the Enemy: The Story of Palestinian Labourers on Israeli Settlements, explains “the land isn’t the only thing that is occupied – so is the Palestinian economy,” arguing the 1994 Paris Protocol signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) “cemented” the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israel.
The protocol imposed the use of Israeli currency in the occupied territories, and left Palestinian imports and exports under Israeli control, Vickery argues.
To access Israeli work permits one must be over 35 years old, be married and have no police record. Given these conditions around 35,000 Palestinians enter Israel illegally risking their lives to find an income.
In the case a Palestinian gets a permit he or she is subjected to degrading conditions. To start they have to cross one of several bordering checkpoints where waiting periods can reach three or four hours in the early morning rush hour.
From those working in the West Bank and Gaza, 150,000 work in the public sector with guaranteed benefits and good working conditions. The other 200,000 who work in the private sector are subject to unfair treatment and wages below the minimum wage established by the Palestinian Authority.
Despite attempts by Israeli employers to extort Palestinian workers, Saad explains that over the past years the federation has been able to retrieve financial dues for 6,430 workers inside the West Bank for a total of over US$1 million, for 10,860 workers who worked inside Israel for a total of over US$6.3 million and an additional US$231,000 for workers at border industrial zones.