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The Wall, 10 years on / part 8: A working class under siege

 The wall was built to stop suicide bombers from entering Israel, so they say. But the people who do enter Israel on a daily basis are the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work here. Some go through hours of waiting at checkpoints, others climb the wall and risk injury or arrest – but all have experienced a dramatic change for the worse in their lives.

The Wall: 10 years on (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Project photography: Oren Ziv / Activestills

We arrive at Eyal checkpoint at 4:30 a.m. The sky is pitch black yet minivans packed with laborers are already passing us in the opposite direction on their way to work. We park outside the massive checkpoint compound, and wander amongst the hundreds of people who are talking quietly, drinking tea, praying or sleeping on the ground. All are waiting. All are expecting to work.

Dozens of “service” taxis are spread all around. Drivers yell out names of Israeli cities: “Kfar Saba!” – “Netanya!” – “Herzliya!” Workers whose employers do not arrange for transportation board the taxis, while others wait to be picked up. At around 5:30, the employers start showing up with trucks labeled with names of construction, engineering, carpentry and metal work companies.

Workers passing through the Eyal checkpoint (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Workers passing through the Eyal checkpoint (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

The local taxi company is run by Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. At first they fear that we are tax inspectors, but when they pull out a phone and quickly check out my caricature and stories from +972, they start chatting freely about the hardships the workers suffer, about the difficulties caused by the wall, and especially about the x-ray machine used in the checkpoint – which all the workers believe causes cancer and impotence.

The story of the machine reminds me of my last visit to this checkpoint on the outskirts of Qalqilya, when three years ago the workers went on a unique strike, all refusing to pass through the checkpoint due to what they defined as its humiliating conditions. The place had recently been privatized, and was now run by the “Modi’in Ezrahi” company. A director from the company came to negotiate with the spontaneous leadership that had sprung up. The workers won. Almost all of their demands were met: a separate route for women with female inspectors, a new area slated for prayer outside the checkpoint, sheds for shelter from the rain, and speedier and more dignified treatment by the staff. Only that machine was left unchanged.

Three years have passed, and things have changed. The checkpoint has grown considerably, and now looks like a giant factory, manufacturing human beings at a pace of two or three per second. At least 2,000 people appear to go through here on a regular day, and even more on Sundays. The area where people wait now has a place for prayer, a small coffee shop, and a shed – in and around which many people sleep until their employers arrive.

Following a strike, the workers gained a place to carry out morning prayers (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Following a strike, the workers gained an area for morning prayers (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Outside the shed a group of workers is sitting around a fire with a big pot of tea. “I’ve been working in Israel for years in construction, and although it pays okay, things have deteriorated a lot since the wall,” says Sabber (alias). He’s 54 years old and has been working in Israel consistently since the age of 13, but only speaks Arabic. “Once, you could go to work any way you wanted to. Now you have to go only through this bottleneck of a checkpoint. It means getting up at 3 a.m., standing for hours in line, and then waiting here until the sun is up. You get back home after the sun sets, you sleep a little, then off again to work. It’s like leaving and returning to prison every day, but we don’t have a choice.”

Beatings, accidents, injuries and exploitation

It’s hard to say exactly how many Palestinians work in Israel on a regular basis. Estimates range from between 60 and 80 thousand – half legally, half not. A 2007 B’Tselem report on the violence of security forces against workers without permits stresses that a fundamental provision in international law requires an occupying power to guarantee the well-being of people under its military rule. In 1983, then vice president of the Israeli Supreme Court, Meir Shamgar, ruled that this duty implies that Israel cannot detach its own economy from that of the occupied Palestinian territories. “Any detachment of the economies is liable to have immediate ruinous effects on the economy of the territories and on the welfare of the population living there,” wrote Shamgar.

The report also elaborates on how Israel purposefully under-developed the Palestinian economy, leading to its dependence on workers traveling to work for Israelis in settlements and in Israel itself. The blockades, the permit regime and the wall – which came as security measures – created an economic crisis and a drastic rise in unemployment. These were just partial effects the wall had on Palestinian society.

Eyal checkpoint. In the background: Qalqilia (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Eyal checkpoint. In the background: Qalqilya (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

“More and more workers are now forced to sneak through parts of the wall still unbuilt, climb over it, or pay a lot of money for truck drivers to hide them in their cargo,” says Ahmad Sub-Laban of the organization Ir Amim, which focuses on the political future of Jerusalem. “They have to get up very early to dodge army patrols, while people who have permits must get up earlier for the long lines at the checkpoint – so that everybody starts their day at around 2 or 3 a.m. Due to the effort and high costs of the journey, more people choose to stay at their place of work throughout the week, causing a disconnect from the family and extra costs for a bed and food, which get subtracted from their pay checks. At the same time, workers get paid less and less, as those without permits are more desperate, and those with permits depend on their employer to renew their permits every three months – so they have to accept his terms.”

Several NGOs have also documented a growth in work related injuries and deaths of Palestinian workers due to the wall. Some report that employers save money on safety equipment on construction sites, and others stress the many accidents caused by climbing the wall. “People break bones falling off the wall, or get run over by cars in the highways near the wall, in addition to accidents at work,” says Abed Dari of Kav La’oved, a workers rights NGO. “The employers’ solution to this is almost always to send them back to their villages, or drop them off at a checkpoint, just to save money on healthcare.”

“Nine to Five”

Sabber and his friends who hold permits get up early in the morning to go through the checkpoint and try to make a living at Israeli construction sites. Anyone can see them, every day, at the special designated checkpoints along the wall – checkpoints which separate two territories that are both controlled by Israel, through which Israelis and Jews can cross freely both ways.

It is those workers without permits that it is harder to see. Harder – but not impossible. In 2009, Israeli director Daniel Gal accompanied a group of such workers as they sneak illegally into Jerusalem, and documented them in a short film called “Nine to Five,” produced for Ir Amim.

The film shows a group of men of different ages as they carry their small parcels in the dead of night, avoid patrols, call scouts who inform them of dangers on the way,  climb a series of walls, crawl under barbed wire, dash across a highway, and disappear into the city for another day of building houses in the Israeli capital.

“For us, going to work is like going to war,” says Nidal Kawasba in the film. He is 31, and has worked in Israel since the age of 15. He has no permit to enter Israel. “Like when preparing for war, you have to take into account that you can get hurt, get killed or be arrested. When we leave our home we say goodbye to our children because we may not return. There is no work in the West Bank. I support my seven children, my wife, my home and my mother too. So I have to work and bring food to my children. We don’t go working for a different country. We work for Israel, building their homes. All I can hope for is that my children have a better future than mine.”

Workers waiting outside Eyal checkpoint (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Workers waiting outside Eyal checkpoint (Oren Ziv / Activestills)

Previous chapters in this series:

Part 1: The great Israeli project
Part 2: Wall and Peace
Part 3: An acre here and an acre there
Part 4: Trapped on the wrong side
Part 5: A new way of resistance
Part 6: What has the struggle achieved?

Part 7: A village turned prison

Part 9: Dividing land – water, fauna, flora


See more pictures from a Bethlehem checkpoint here:

Photo Essay: Rush hour at Bethlehem Checkpoint

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    1. Daniel de França MTd2

      Yeah, now I’d like an explanation the reason about why the *terrrrurist suicides* stoped. Surely, it was the wall, uh huh.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Haggai Matar

      Glad you asked. Stay tuned – as post number 11 in the series will discuss just that

      Reply to Comment
    3. As I pointed out a day or two ago, the fact that at least some refugees were able to get into Israel from the Sinai without being spotted, implies that suicide bombers could have done so also, in fact more easily, since they can be trained by people with some paramilitary experience.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Daniel de França MTd2

      Hi Haggar!

      Wow, so, it’s been really well planned in advance. Why not publishing a book? The embedded videos could be converted into a comic story format.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Rehmat

      Most of the so-called “suicide bombing” was carried by Mosaad andmembers of the former terrorist groups Irgun, Hanagath, etc.

      The Wall and Israeli blockade of Gaza do hurt Palestinians but it also provides boost to Israel economy.

      The Gaza Strip is the most aid-dependent area in the world. Without the ability to export and to import raw materials, without the needed infrastructure for local industry, the Gaza Strip is unable to generate sufficient local income to sustain its population and must depend on aid. The Israeli siege thus creates the conditions for large amounts of aid to be sent to Gaza.

      This aid must pass through Israeli ports and airports, with customs,3 storage fees, and transport fees ending up in the coffers of Israeli companies. The limitations set by Israel on the number of trucks allowed to enter Gaza and the prolonged checks the goods must go through increase the transportation and storage costs dramatically.

      Much of the aid comes in the form of products – food, animal feed, petrol, cooking gas, medicine, etc. – procured from Israeli companies. These companies have thus been able to find a captive market in Gaza, get paid up-front (because checks from banks in the Gaza Strip aren’t accepted in Israel), and increase their sales. Most importantly, this aid is funded with foreign currency, but the goods come from Israeli companies which must be paid in Israeli currency. The result is that massive amounts of foreign currency are converted at the Central Bank of Israel into Israeli shekels in order to fund aid, and the Central Bank of Israel gets to keep the foreign currency. In effect, the Israeli siege of Gaza has transformed the aid industry into one of Israel’s biggest exports – companies that would normally provide domestic services have become sources for foreign currency, which contributes to Israel’s overall economic strength and has already eliminated Israel’s trade deficit almost entirely.


      Reply to Comment
    6. Haggai Matar

      Rehmat – I’m sorry, you can say a lot of bad things about Israeli security services, but once thing you cannot say is that they were the ones to carry out suicide attacks against Israeli citizens in Israel. It is beyond question that Palestinian groups were behind the attacks, and anyway – Mossad only works outside Israel, and Irgun and Hagana were disbanded in 1948…

      As to the way Israel profits from the occupation or the siege – that’s a different story, and I won’t argue with you there.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Maybe Rehmat is referring to the theory that the various militant groups were riddled with Shin Bet informers, and not inconceivably, provocateurs.

      Reply to Comment
    8. palestinian

      isnt that what they call “cheap labor” ,lower rates , no health insurance ,and you can fire them the minute you like ,perfect.Notice Israel “doesnt” know about them although they can catch Palestinian flies trying to cross the golden line …..how creatie evil minds can be

      Reply to Comment
    9. Kolumn9

      I agree that this situation is deplorable. They have to stand in line, go through metal detectors, get paid very little money [compared to Israelis] and don’t get enough sleep. I agree with Palestinian that Israeli security forces should more strictly prevent all Palestinians from working in Israel. Palestinian areas of the West Bank should be treated like the Gaza Strip and cut off entirely from the Israeli labor market. It is the only way to make sure that Israeli employers do not take advantage of Palestinian laborers and that Palestinian laborers do not go through such humiliating security checks on their way to low paying jobs in Israel.

      There are construction jobs in the West Bank but they pay less than a third of what a Palestinian can make in Israel. Perhaps that salary can’t support seven children, but that is the problem of the 31 year old father who didn’t know how to use birth control during the past 12 years of bad economic conditions in the West Bank and whose wife almost certainly never had a job. If the Europeans want to send them aid let them go ahead. On the bright side, according to many studies, cutting off Palestinians from the Israeli labor market is actually a good thing long-term for the Palestinian economy since it would create more emphasis on education by cutting off the ‘easy money’ of getting work in Israel. Right now a Palestinian construction worker working in Israel could make more money than a college professor.

      Notice that there are not many complaints about poor conditions of Gazan workers in Israel. That problem has been resolved.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Kolumn9

      As for the whole issue of Palestinians getting into Israel despite the fence. At the moment there are no Palestinian groups that seem to be interested in blowing up buses. They think, hehe, that ‘peaceful resistance’ is going to get them somewhere. As such there isn’t a reason to be terribly hard-ass about preventing all Palestinians from jumping the fence or bypassing it where it has holes. If the intelligence comes in that the Palestinians have decided to go back to suicide bombings, then we can make a determination about how leaky is the fence. Based on the period between 2002-2005 I have absolutely zero doubt that the fence worked and that it will work again in the future when needed. Intelligence cooperation with the PA is even more effective, but that simply can not be relied upon. That was the lesson of 2000,2001.

      Reply to Comment
    11. AMIR.BK

      I’m gonna play Devil’s Advocate here for a sec; Many right-leaning Israelis believe that the current modes of peaceful resistance employed by the Palestinian public are a result of the effectiveness of the wall rather than a core paradigm shift in the Palestinian struggle.

      Reply to Comment
    12. The third possibility, Amir, is that the aforementioned Shin Bet provocateurs have been exposed and are no longer effective.
      By the way, this site was once again unobtainable for an hour today. Either the server software or hardware is wonky, or someone is messing around with it.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Maybe the problems I’m seeing are side-effects of the Flame virus. Apparently this thing has been running riot over the last few days, causing massive network malfunctions, across the mid-East in paryicular.

      Reply to Comment
    14. caden

      Rowan and Rehmat, who killed Kennedy? And where does Elvis Presley live. Now that would be interesting.

      Reply to Comment
    15. palestinian

      Waw Rehmat , I knew about “lucky Larry” ,not in details but just one look into his beautiful eyes and I felt he had “nothing” to so do with the attacks.Great info thnx

      Reply to Comment
    16. Daniel de França MTd2

      @REHMAT – Not an anti semite or anti jew, but sort of Illuminatti nut job. But with with provocateurs like KOLUMN9 or CADEN, this kind of links to such websites will surely appear and help derail any rational discussion.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Yeah, it’s a bit of a mess. I have always said that the Khazar hypothesis has no significance whatever unless you are either a racist or a religious literalist to begin with. Whereas the Frankist hypothesis (that the modern Jewish elite are crypto-Frankists) has everything to do with the way they actually behave, and their false pose of being “philanthropists”.
      On the Twin Towers themselves, this is worth a hundred of those fantasy pages. You can see the cutting charges still burning:

      Reply to Comment
    18. caden

      Rehmat, I knew it, The Jews killed kennedy. Thanks for clearing that one up

      Reply to Comment
    19. Wouldn’t it be better if we said, “The Cuban Mafia, the CIA and US Army Intelligence killed Kennedy”? It’s a lot more self-explanatory.

      Reply to Comment
    20. caden

      Rowan, I clicked on the link that Rehmat provided. The Jews killed Kennedy, instigated WW2. And the holocaust was a myth. I see the light

      Reply to Comment
    21. That site actually belongs to someone who has decided that ancient dualistic gnosticism is the answer to the riddle of existence, Caden: viz., the god of the Jews is in fact an inferior being (Yaldabaoth) which erroneously imagines itself to be the supreme god. According to this theory, the real supreme god sent Yeshu ha-Notsri to inform the pious that this was the case. Some of these gnostics adopted complete chastity, on the theory that the false god (the god of the Jews) had created these bodies of flesh, which we should therefore endeavour to ignore; others adopted extraordinary degrees of sexual license (if we are to believe the church fathers), on the grounds that the false god (the god of the Jews) had written all that purity legislation in the Torah and it would be good to defy him by disobeying it. In this context, it hardly matters who finally killed Kennedy.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Alan

      Daniel writes: “@REHMAT – Not an anti semite or anti jew, but sort of Illuminatti nut job. But with with provocateurs like KOLUMN9 or CADEN, this kind of links to such websites will surely appear and help derail any rational discussion.”

      Translation: RHEMAT’S anti-Semitic posts are caused by the “bad” Jews, Caden and K9.

      Reply to Comment
    23. caden

      Rowan, it seems a little contradictory that the Cubans the mafia, and the CIA killed Kennedy. Hard to get those three together. Was it because the ultimate strings resided with the jews and there was really no free will that they could exercise. Secondly, are you saying that there was something of a subconspiracy out of Frankfurt that installed some group of super Jews over the rest of us. How did you find that out? It’s a closely guarded secret

      Reply to Comment
    24. Daniel de França MTd2

      @ALAN yes

      Reply to Comment
    25. Caden, the Kennedy assassination was a very complicated thing. The Cuban mafia (basically, this means casino owners and associated gangsters) was intimately associated with the CIA Miama station (JM-WAVE). The immediate precipitating factor was the Bay of Pigs fiasco, which the CIA blamed Kennedy for not supporting. There was also the fact that Kennedy was actively pursuing detente with the Soviets, which the armaments lobby naturally would oppose, since then as now they made their money out of global war frenzy.
      The Frankist heritage is seriously under researched, even in hebrew sources. You may recall that when Scholem wrote as an established fact that Eibeschutz had indeed been a Frankist, the Israeli chief rabbinate mounted a campaign against him in the Israeli press.

      Reply to Comment
    26. sh

      Haggai, thanks for this great series. It helps us make sense of things we observe going on around us but can’t explain.
      Your +972 cartoon is good enough to be an ID so I’m not surprised the people you were writing about in this piece accepted it as a validation on sight. I know that because I passed you in the street the other evening!

      Reply to Comment
    27. Haggai looks a lot like an elf in that cartoon.
      By the way, off-topic though it is, I should take this opportunity to modify my statement to Caden that “The Cuban Mafia, the CIA and US Army Intelligence killed Kennedy.” I was relying too much on P D Scott for this assessment, but Scott has been roundly criticised by M C Piper for neglecting the crucial relationship between Meyer Lansky (the Cuban Mafia kingpin) and the Mossad.

      Reply to Comment
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