Gazans Eagerly Seeking Permits To Work in Israel To Escape Harsh Reality
A Palestinian worker waits at the last station in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, before reaching Israel through the Erez crossing to work, on Feb. 23, 2022. (Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images)

Gazans Eagerly Seeking Permits To Work in Israel To Escape Harsh Reality

It’s ‘an Israeli strategy to keep financial and security pressure on Palestinian factions in Gaza to maintain calm,’ economist says

[Gaza City] “The government of Gaza is making steady progress toward supporting a number of vital sectors during 2022, under the rubric ‘the Palestinian citizen first,’” Essam al-Dalis, the head of government administration in the Gaza Strip, announced this week.

The government will try to reduce unemployment by providing 30,000 Israeli work permits during the coming period, depending on negotiations with the Israeli authorities, he stressed.

So far, no Gazan has left for Israel because of such a permit, and so nothing has changed on the ground.

But Mohammed Abu Jayyab, a Gaza-based economist, told The Media Line, “The current statements mean that we might be close to a quantum leap in terms of changing the [Israeli] occupation’s approach in dealing with the workers’ file by allowing 30,000 Gazans maximum to enter Israel as workers who enjoy full rights to pension, health insurance, and work-related compensation.”

Abu Jayyab believes 30,000 is not an arbitrary number.

“The Israeli decision to increase the number of workers allowed into Israel is a carefully thought-out move aiming to increase the flow of cash into Gaza to make it reach, from all sources, $150 million, the amount needed to keep Gaza on the brink,” he said.

“This is obviously an Israeli strategy to keep financial and security pressure on Palestinian factions in Gaza to maintain calm,” Abu Jayyab said.

There are two types of Israeli documents, merchant permits and financial needs permits, which are granted to Gazans to differentiate real traders from workers applying as traders. Both types enable Gazans to enter and work in Israel, exclusively in agriculture and construction, but not under the title of “worker,” for a maximum of six months, a source from the General Authority for Civil Affairs in Gaza said on condition of anonymity.

“Before 2002, more than 120,000 Gazans, including women, were working in Israel, constituting a significant financial value, nearly 50% of the overall cash flow to the Strip,” Abu Jayyab said.

But that number continued to shrink until it reached zero in 2005 as a result of Israel’s disengagement from Gaza and the decision by Ariel Sharon, Israel’s prime minister, to halt recruitment of workers from the Strip, the economist said. Since then, Gazan women can only apply for trader permits, and not for the less expensive worker permits, meaning fewer women are able to enter Israel.

Between 2006 and 2020, fewer than 3,000 Gazans were allowed to enter Israel, but as merchants, not workers, even though in practice they functioned as workers. A slight improvement started to take place following last May’s 11-day war between Israel and Palestinians in the Strip, after tireless efforts by mediators led to the Israeli government expanding the quota for Gaza to 10,000 in October 2021 in an attempt to ease tensions in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.

Cruel living conditions and a devastated economy have prompted thousands of young Palestinians to seek permits to work inside Israel so they can earn a living and build a future, according to Abu Jayyab.

“Nearly 80% of Gaza refugees are poor and dependant on relief aid, the unemployment rate among youth is 50%, the Palestinian private sector, which is the largest employer in the Palestinian territories, has been multiply and continuously targeted by the Israeli occupation through destroying factories, banning exports and imports and imposing a suffocating blockade on the Strip,” he said. “In such a reality, young Palestinians don’t have the luxury to choose where to work.”

Palestinian authorities, both the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza, recognize the deep crisis. They can’t, at least officially, prevent people from working in Israel as they are unable to provide alternatives.

And even if alternatives are available, there is a huge difference between wages in Gaza and in Israel for the same jobs.

“The daily wage of a Palestinian worker in Israel is nearly 400 shekels, about $123.60, while in Gaza, the same worker takes only 40 shekels a day! There is no comparison at all. The desperate youth will grab any chance they get to escape the unemployment crisis,” Abu Jayyab said.

Ali Arooq, a Gazan who has applied for an Israeli work permit, told The Media Line, “When I can’t meet the basic needs of my family and I do not find any job opportunity here, it is not optional for me to seek any other opportunity even if it is in Israel. I’m sure the economic situation here would be completely different if a sufficient number of Gazan workers went to work in Israel.”

His neighbor, Ahmed Alhusari, said, “We all know how hard it is not to be able to feed your kids. I don’t blame Ali. Actually, I support him and wish him luck in this regard. If we had a chance to work in our own land and live decently, we would never think of working with the occupation.”

Some Palestinians believe working in Israel is desirable not just to meet material needs, but also to find an organized work environment.

Abu Mustafa worked in Israel years ago. “In addition to the high pay, there are clear rules to regulate work in Israel. However, the security fears, especially if we are staying overnight, are the biggest problems most Palestinian workers face,” he told The Media Line.

More than 70,000 Gazans have already applied for work permits through the Labor Ministry’s online portal, according to Sami al-Amasi, the head of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.

The Palestinian Labor Ministry is responsible for preparing the lists of applicants, but Israel decides whether to accept or reject them.

“He who controls the geography, the water, and the air is the one who determines the track of people’s lives,” Abu Jayyab said.

“Israel is the controller in this case. It prevents Palestinians from benefiting from their own resources and tries to undermine any real and sustainable economic development in the Palestinian territories through its repressive practices and unjust measures,” he said.

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