Photo: Ran Regev

Dear friends,

Kav LaOved is a non-profit organization upholding full and equal labor rights for all workers in the Israeli labor market. We advocate on behalf of the most marginalized workers through individual assistance as well as policy and legal advocacy to promote systemic change. Today, amidst the ongoing turmoil of the October 2023 war, our hearts are heavy with concern for the plight of Palestinian workers who, since the inception of this conflict, are barred from entering Israel. KLO has supported Palestinian workers for over three decades, and also amidst the current challenges, we remain in close, daily contact with them. In response to recent events, we have recognized the need to raise more attention to their desperate situation.

More than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel auntil 7 October 2023, often supporting their extended families, including parents, unmarried siblings, and grandchildren. A significant number of them are educated and skilled workers who work in Israel because of the wage disparities between Israel and the West Bank. In times of crisis, such as during the current war, their inability to earn, and the uncertainty about their future livelihoods, weighs heavily on them and their families beyond mere financial stability. This forced idleness significantly affects their overall sense of dignity and self-worth, as they grapple with the uncertainty of being able to provide for their families and fulfill their roles as providers. Uncertainty also leads to heightened stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy, impacting their mental health and well-being.

Sadly, their ordeal extends beyond periods of unemployment and persists also when they are employed. Theirs is an ongoing situation marked by systemic injustices that Kav LaOved has repeatedly addressed, seeking answers from Israel’s government: 

1.  Practices of exploitation and rights’ violations: Despite Israel's progressive labor laws, extended to all workers, Palestinians are disproportionately affected by a lack of enforcement regarding their rights. In recent reports we have detailed the challenges encountered by Palestinian workers in Israel:  leaving daily their houses at down, spending hours in crowded check points, relying  on permit intermediaries, paying  illegal brokerage fees in outrageous amounts for the "privilege" of working in Israel, being paid in black which denies them their social rights, incapability of  enjoying sick pay, vacation and holidays, unlawful dismissals, and collective punishment as a matter of routine by closing the crossings during wartime - with no compensation.
What are the government’s plans in addressing the stark disparity between Israel’s progressive labor laws and the practice daily faced by Palestinian workers? 

2. Chronic issues affecting the construction industryMore than 100,000 West Bank Palestinians are employed in Israel's construction and agriculture sectors, with a minority in industry. Due to significant transportation challenges, many workers endure harsh conditions overnight in Israel, facing exposure to the elements and unsanitary environments. On the job, their health and safety are compromised, resulting in alarmingly high rates of work-related accidents. A recent KLO safety at work report revealed that in 2023 the number of work accidents was 2.5 times higher than the EU average, attributed to inadequate enforcement, supervision, deterrence, and sanctions against employers, compounded by contractors' indifference to workers' well-being.
Palestinians constitute about one-third of the Israeli construction industry workforce, with 48 fatalities and 299 moderate to severe injuries reported in 2023, despite site closures during the war. We discern a direct connection between the victims’ ethnic identity and the meagre enforcement efforts by the State, as most construction workers in Israel, besides West Bank Palestinians, are Arab Israelis and migrant workers – also vulnerable workers groups.
Who is responsible for the systemic lack of enforcement and supervision that have resulted in disproportionately high rates of work-related accidents among Palestinian workers in construction? 

3. Lack of a social safety net: Unlike Israeli workers, who receive unemployment benefits when their work is halted due to security concerns, Palestinians get no compensation during periods of income loss. The recent appeal by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the President of the UAE for compensation of Palestinian workers highlights both the severity of the current crisis as well as Israel’s attitude towards Palestinians workers, which it considers cheap working tools rather than individuals with rights.  How disgraceful is it for a government to seek assistance from another state to safeguard workers' rights, highlighting its own unwillingness to provide adequate protections? Not surprisingly, the UAE did not oblige.
We have learnt recently that dozens of Palestinian workers who held permits to work in Israel, began applying to cancel them. Desperate for income, prohibited to enter Israel during the war, unable to find work in the West Bank, or to rely on any savings, these workers chose to cancel their permits to be eligible to withdraw their pension funds. They were forced to waive the already thin safety net for their retirement, in exchange for immediate relief. 

4. The Israeli government's hypocrisy exposed by allowing Palestinians to work in jobs deemed essential and in settlements: While the vast majority of Palestinians have been barred since 7 October from returning to their jobs in Israel, others are working without hindrance in settlements and factories deemed by the government as “essential”. Is there a real justification   to the disparity in treatment between Palestinian workers barred from returning to their jobs and those allowed to work in settlements? Especially considering Israel’s economic losses incurred statewide? This discrepancy underscores a political agenda driven by senior ministers aimed at advancing controversial policies and settlement expansion, exposing the fact that security concerns are a populistic pretext to prevent tens of thousands of Palestinians from resuming work.
Many Palestinian workers have expressed their desire to apply to work in settlements, as the only job alternative they have at the moment. Therefore, by closing the gates to Palestinian workers, Israel has driven many of them to work in settlements in service of the occupation, also increasing their vulnerability. These workplaces are notorious for their disregard for Israeli labour and occupational health and safety laws, which in many cases are not enforced at all in the Occupied Territories.

5. The historical replacement of Palestinian workers with migrant workers: Ongoing debates in the Israeli parliament center on the practical aspects of substituting Palestinian workers with migrant labor, a trend that began back in the 1990s. Government ministers are currently discussing a unilateral and discriminatory strategy to permanently end Palestinian employment in Israel, disregarding the foreseeable repercussions of such a step. Concurrently, amidst the current state of emergency in Israel, the Population Authority has been tasked with sourcing migrant workers to supplant Palestinians, ostensibly to prevent the collapse of the agricultural and construction sectors. Despite substantial efforts thus far, the success of this initiative remains limited, with little evidence of positive outcomes or consistent protection of workers' rights. Nonetheless, the potential for an irreversible shift in the employment landscape persists.
What are Israel’s plans to ensure the protection of labor rights to all workers, especially considering the level of disparity within various labor sectors and the prevalence of discriminatory practices? Furthermore, given the limited success of the government in safeguarding workers' rights in Israel, what steps are being taken to address these challenges and uphold fair employment practices for all newly arriving workers? 

6.  The instability of employment and the plight of Palestinian workers from Gaza: Palestinian workers in Israel often find themselves at the mercy of political decisions leaving them defenceless and uncertain about the continuity of their employment and rights. This is starkly evident in the case of several thousand workers from Gaza, who abruptly became undocumented illegal aliens in the throes of war (causing them to flee for their lives to the West Bank or to be arrested and detained in Israeli jails in intolerable conditions that even led to the deaths of two workers). Every year or two, workers with permits are suddenly sent back home due to military operations or security administrative decisions, left in limbo regarding their return to work and devoid of mechanisms to uphold their rights. Amidst the current conflict, we continuously receive distressing calls from workers who have yet to receive their September salaries, facing bleak prospects of remuneration.
Are there other instances globally where workers with valid work permits are arbitrarily detained by military forces, similar to the situation experienced by Palestinian workers during times of conflict in Israel?

Kav LaOved’s analysis of the reality Palestinian workers face at the outset of 2024 reveals that the prevailing discourse fails to address the most critical and pressing issues. Palestinian workers are human beings, many are skilled professionals and essential workers, unable to find adequate employment within the Palestinian Authority, where monthly income is significantly lower and job opportunities are scarce.

This situation did not arise by mere happenstance: since the 1970s, Israel has thrived on the back of an accessible and low-cost Palestinian labor force, sustaining industries that Israelis have shied away from, and perpetuating an economy of mutual dependence between the two entities. Now, amidst escalating security tensions, Israel is attempting to change this balance to its benefit, without taking any responsibility for its actions or weighing the profound repercussions they inflict. Tragically, those who have been unable to dedicate themselves to building their own nation or nurturing their own economy—they were busy sustaining Israel's economy—remain overlooked and disregarded in the tumult of geopolitical manoeuvring.

Thank you for reading and please don't hesitate to reach out for more information,

Kav LaOved