+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Who really profits from Israel's permit regime?

The number of work permits the Israeli army gives to Palestinian workers nearly tripled, a new Bank of Israel report reveals. Did all those people suddenly become less dangerous, or do the permits serve interests other than security?

Palestinian construction workers in an Israeli settlement (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinian construction workers in an Israeli settlement. The number of Palestinians granted entry permits has tripled in the past seven years, according to a Bank of Israel report. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The normative framework for viewing Israel’s permit regime is that it stems purely from the state’s security needs — a tool that allows the state to differentiate between those Palestinians who threaten Israel’s security, and those who do not.

This notion remains largely unchallenged despite the fact that, time after time, its arbitrariness is made clear: during every Jewish holiday the permits are canceled and a full closure is imposed on the occupied territories. People who are otherwise considered non-threatening workers are jailed for a few days in the West Bank. During every major Muslim holiday, and especially during Eid el-Fitr, all of a sudden the checkpoint gates swing open, allowing thousands of Palestinians to enjoy one day at Al-Aqsa Mosque or at the beach in Tel Aviv. And then they return to their previous classification as “dangerous,” as if they didn’t pose a threat during the holiday. And all that is without even getting into how work permits and medical procedures as a way to extort Palestinians as collaborators — to use Palestinian society against itself.

On Tuesday, the Bank of Israel published statistics on the increasing number of Palestinian workers in Israel. Over the last seven years, the number of workers with permits nearly tripled, while the number of workers who entered the country without permits nearly doubled. What led to the rise in permits? According to the Bank of Israel, the reason is the Israeli government’s decision to increase the size of the construction and agriculture workforce, as well the “relative quiet” in the West Bank.

While “relative quiet” is a security determination, it applies exclusively to the collective, rather than individuals. It is a political determination that punishes Palestinians for “disturbing the peace,” rewards them for “keeping the peace,” but has nothing to do with any individual person. The fact that there were 21,000 Palestinian workers with permits in 2007, and 59,000 Palestinian workers with permits in 2015 does not mean that there were 38,000 very dangerous Palestinian workers seven years ago, who have since rehabilitated their dangerous ways.

Furthermore, the fact that Israel has 33,000 Palestinian workers without permits — who likely pass through the incomplete parts of the separation barrier, or jump over it or crawl under it — says something interesting about the way Israel views the security provided by its barrier and permit regime. Just look at how easily tens of thousands of people are able to enter Israel. Just like that.

From the Israeli point of view, it is important to understand how the permit regime serves employers while harming the employees — Palestinians and Israelis alike. Palestinian workers’ dependence on their employers, who can not only fire them but also prevent their entry into Israel or the settlements (where they often work) almost at will, makes it difficult for those workers to demand their rights, leaving their average monthly wages far below the legal minimum, NIS 3,500 a month ($875). Undocumented workers make even less, around NIS 2,700 a month ($675), according to the report.

Palestinians holding Israeli work permits take cover from the rain as they wait to cross into Israel before dawn in order to make it to their workplaces, Eyal Checkpoint near Qalqilya, January 4, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Palestinians holding Israeli work permits take cover from the rain as they wait to cross into Israel before dawn in order to make it to their workplaces, Eyal Checkpoint near Qalqilya, January 4, 2015. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

And then there are the workers whose employers fire them when they are injured. There are those who try to unionize, against whom employers can use the army, the permit regime and “security” excuses of in order to forbid them from working.

When Palestinian workers are so disempowered, so dependent on the kindness of their employers or the army, and suffer from the sad economic situation of the Palestinian Authority — which Israel is responsible for as the ultimate, sovereign entity in the West Bank — then even the interests of Israeli workers are harmed. Who needs minimum-wage workers when you can use frightened subjects who lack basic rights, wake up every morning at 3 a.m., and have almost no way of protecting themselves?

So is the permit regime really based on security? Today, it seems as if it serves the state as a tool of political pressure, and serves employers as a way to make more money off their workers. The Bank of Israel report demonstrates all of this perfectly. So much for security needs.

This article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

Newsletter banner 5 - 540

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. Pedro X

      The belly aching never ends. The fact is that the majority of Arabs employed by Israeli employers are employed in a decent and dignified way. For instance Haaretz reports that in the Barkan Industrial zone in Judea and Samaria 20,000 workers are employed, almost one half of them Palestinians. Lipski, a maker of sanitation and plumbing products, pays its Palestinian workers up to 9,000 NIS per month. Israelis and Palestinians work next to each other. Israeli companies pay vacation pay. Israel enforces safety codes.

      The law in Israel is represented by the 2007 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that required employers to provide the same salaries, benefits and conditions to all employees, Palestinians as well as Israelis. Any person who is denied his rights can petition the court for redress. Employees can unionize and strike. This means fighting civilly for rights and being prepared to endure the costs of doing so. The problems for Palestinian employees and unions is that there is that Palestinian scab labor does not stand in solidarity with their brothers and sisters but is prepared to take their jobs and accept the lower wages and conditions of employment.

      And of course people working illegally whether in Israel or other countries really cannot expect protection of the law when they are there in defiance of the law.

      Reply to Comment
    2. “of course people working illegally whether in Israel or other countries really cannot expect protection of the law when they are there in defiance of the law.”

      This is not true at all, at least in the US. An employee cannot violate safety rules just because he employs illegal residents, otherwise that hiring would be a way of dodging law which applies to employers as such. Then there is the matter of enforcement radar. Illegal aliens are much less likely to approach the government over abuse for fear of being jailed or deported. They may accept inferior wages, against the law and off record, for otherwise their choice is to have nothing or risk jail–and the latter can mean separation of family when they are a crucial means of its support.

      Something of an aside, Arizona has a law which requires police to inquire into the legal residency of anyone they encounter, for any reason, when there is reasonable suspicion they might be illegal. One consequence of this law is that abused women are less likely to call the police for help. The police arrive, encounter Spanish only speaker poor residents, and have to ask whether they have legal documentation. These women don’t want to be jailed and deported, nor lose, as may well be, contact with their children, who will be taken into child protective services until deportation of the mother. So they learn, through rumor and story, not to call for help. Before this law, they would call. This AZ law had many provisions. All but the one I’ve sketched were stricken by the US Supreme Court. The Obama Administration responded by decertifying AZ police on immigration enforcement. That is, before the federal government allowed AZ police to arrest and hold over the FEDERAL violation of illegal entry; now AZ cannot. So while the police can ask for papers, they can’t do anything to you if you don’t have them. This too has become a rumor and story among these women.

      “Employees can unionize and strike. This means fighting civilly for rights and being prepared to endure the costs of doing so.”

      Not in the settlements, where rather small gatherings are illegal. The IDF can disrupt a picket line as dangerous and can as well disperse any outside rally which a union might organize. Threat of this can tip the economic costs of union activity into inaction. Further, an employer can simply tag a disgruntled employee as unstable or dangerous and, as you say, there are always “scabs” to replace him. Who shall the IDF take seriously, the Israeli employer who might live in a settlement or the occupied Palestinian resident who lives a life of being told to shut up?

      Pedro, I mostly avoid the internal comment sandbox because of comments like yours, marshaling a mountain of “facts” to drive home their opening line, here “The belly aching never ends.” If you really took the pieces here seriously, positive engagement would sometimes find their positions of value, even with criticism. Instead you want us all to walk away mind numbed in true belief–to be as silent as the Palestinians should be.

      People are hurting out there, Pedro, and they don’t have the benefit of an Israeli press which speaks of them each day. Rather, really, the reverse.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sorry, this is a reply to Pedro, above. I got knocked off while writing it twice and eventually forgot to place it under “reply.”

        Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        Indeed – is Pedro a masochist, continually belly aching about the “belly aching” of this site. He is ever present, despite utterly despising the liberal, often pro-Palestinian and respectful of human rights approach which this site espouses. Are there not sites like Arutz Sheva or Ynet that he could frequent – or are they too religious or too Hebrew? Is it not deeply anti-social to continually contradict, to show no respect, to constantly sabotage, to spit in the face and to defecate on the front lawn of a site that offers a progressive forum?

        Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        Greg, I think you missed the point. Legal workers and permanent residents can expect the protection and benefit of the law, while illegals cannot because they are outside the law. For instance in my province legal foreign workers and permanent residents can expect and enjoy a number of rights attaching to their employment, clean and sanitary living conditions for those employed in agriculture, minimum wages, over time wages and vacation pay, maximum work hours and right to refuse overtime, workers compensation coverage, health care coverage and benefit packages equal to other workers. People who work illegally in the province do not enjoy the same rights and advantages. They do not earn pension credits with the Canada Pension Plan, they have no health coverage, no worker compensation protection, no one from the Department of Labour will do a spot inspection of an unknown work place, and if they work in dangerous environments without the proper safety gear and not in accordance with provincial labour laws they are more likely to suffer injuries and deaths than their legal counterparts. They are more likely to earn less and be subject to unfair labor practices. This is reality.

        The solution is not to make it easier for illegal workers or immigrants to avoid the legal system and impair the rights of all workers. The solution is to limit illegal workers to a small number as possible and increase legal work permits and permanent residents in accordance with the needs of both the community and the workplace. It is better to have legal workers and residents with enforceable legal rights and benefits.

        With respect to Palestinian union activity, no one said exercising union rights would be easy. It is not easy starting from the ground up in challenging circumstances but unions have overcome many obstacles over time and have permitted unionized workers to enjoy good working conditions and wages and enact legislation to keep the gains which labour won. The gains of the Canadian labour movement have been incremental starting from the point that one risked life and injury to demonstrate to demand labour rights. The Palestinians might learn something from the Canadian experience, there is a price to be paid for earning labour rights and benefits to be gained.

        A seminal event in Canadian labour history was the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike in which almost every adult worker in that City went on strike. The Federal, Provincial and municipal governments put down the strike ruthlessly by dismissing its own police force, hiring a rogue force, bringing in a militia and the army to suppress the strike. Hundreds were injured and a few killed, leaders arrested and jailed or deported. Many of the strikers lost their jobs and others suffered demotions.

        You might ask how this strike advanced labour unions. In the wake of the strike, the Federal government fell and a new government enacted new labour law protections. Trade unions joined together to form umbrella unions to increase their strength, such as for trades and construction industries. Strike leaders and participants went on to form the CCF socialist party which would gain power in its own right and then as the New Democrat Party in several provinces in Canada. The CCF and NDP have been responsible for the most progressive labour laws of Canada, such as first contract legislation and laws concerning unfair labour practices in the workplace.

        If Palestinians want their labour rights uphleld, they need to pay the price. If they picket, they need to picket peacefully and be prepared to be arrested and possibly fired. They need to organize the work place so that dismissals are challenged in court and the worker supported in the meantime. They need to form umbrella unions to negotiate and bargain for employees in specific industries. They need to prevent scab labour from poaching their jobs. They need to organize politically and challenge their own government’s anti-union busting policies and actions. It would also not hurt for them to engage Israeli trade unions in their fight.

        The bottom line is that it is much easier to whine and bellyache than to take positive action which might better one’s situation.

        Reply to Comment
    3. It is pity people treat the employing of Palestinians from 1967 occupied areas as mainly an economic thing. For sure the employing of these Palestinians help the Israeli capitalists – as they are cheaper than the guest workers. But, the the conflict between the two main trends of the Zionist settler colonialist elite – the exploiter one and the transfer one was all the years dominant by the pro transfer one. It seems the power relation start to change and the increase of the employing of Palestinians is a kind of marker.

      Reply to Comment
      • Whiplash

        It is a pity that Ilan does not understand what colonialism is. The only reason that there are any Arabs living in Judea and Samaria is that Islamic and Arab armies looted, raped, pillaged and conquered Christian, Jewish and other peoples’ lands in the middle east and subjugated them to Muslim rule followed by colonization of the land by Arab people.

        Jews have lived in Judea and Samaria for thousands of years. Their history in Hebron goes back 3500 years. In 1948 the Jordanian army ethnically cleansed all Jews from Judea and Samaria. Israel liberated the lands in 1967. However, pro-Palestinians think that because of 19 years of ethnic cleansing by Arabs of Jews, Jews have no right to live Judea and Samaria. They might want to note that in 1922 by unanimous approval of all of the countries of the League of Nations Mandate Palestine, which included Judea and Samaria, was designated for Jewish development and the re-establishment of the Jewish home in its historic country.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          “It is a pity that Whiplash does not understand what colonialism is. The only reason that there were any Jews living in Judea and Samaria is that (if the Hebrew bible has any credibility) millions of Jews moved out of Egypt led by a warrior called Joshua and looted, raped, pillaged and conquered the Canaanites, conducting a lightning campaign in which more than thirty cities were taken and utterly destroyed (apart from young virgin girls that God sad it was OK to preserve as a reward for the troops).” I’m sure I don’t need to quote the Bible but one among numerous examples in the Holy Book is the injunction in Numbers 31, 17-18 “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.”

          This biblical version of the Hebrew conquest of Canaan has about as much truth to it as Whiplash’s account of the Arab conquests. The Arab armies came from areas of very low population density and conquered such a vast area in such an incredibly short time (stretching from Spain to India) that colonisation was simply impossible (there were not enough people in the Arabian peninsular). The Arab victors became a ruling elite, and the people converted from Judaism and Christianity to Islam as long as paid their taxes, which were often lower than the extortionate taxes levied by the previous Sassanids and Byzantines.

          So please Whiplash do not invent your own version of history because you simply do not know what you are talking about.

          Reply to Comment