Tuesday, January 15, 2013

'Working in settlements not profitable for Palestinian workers'

Palestinians are often employed to build houses in the settlements
Israeli and international companies that face criticism owing to their activities in the occupied West Bank often attempt to legitimize their businesses in settlements by claiming that they provide labor to Palestinian workers. These claims are just empty words, as the organization Who Profits, a research project by the Coalition of Women for Peace, that monitors the activities of Israeli and international firms which operate in the West Bank, makes clear in a recent report. 
Gross violations of labor rights are common in the West Bank because the Israeli labor regulations,  are rarely enforced in the Occupied Territories, and the workers cannot demand these rights for fear of losing their permits, Who profits reports. In order to work in settlements, Palestinians must obtain work permits from the Israeli Civil Administration, which also entails the approval of the Israeli internal security service (the Shin Bet). This permit can be annulled at any time, especially when workers demand their rights or try to unionize, or if they (or one of their family members) engage in any kind of political activity. This situation exposes Palestinian workers to extortion by the Israeli internal security service.
Israeli employers of Palestinians in settlements have a clear economic interest in maintaining the occupation of Palestinian land and the exploitation of resources, says Who Profits. Companies establish factories in the occupied West Bank mainly in order to enjoy low taxes ad other economic benefits provided by the Israeli government, as well as to have access to cheap Palestinian labor and the indirect benefits of operating in industrial zones with low safety and environmental standards and with very lax monitoring and enforcement.
In the year 2011 the settlements employed 26.831 Palestinian workers with permits, and some 10.000 more worked without permits, most of them in the Jordan Valley during the olive and date picking seasons. Some of them are 12 year old kids. Of the workers 93% are not represented by a union, and the vast majority -also the skilled workers among them - earn less than the Israeli minimum wage, many even less than half the minimum wage. Their wages are often withheld, they don't have any social rights and the working conditions are often dangerous because there is no enforcement of safety regulations.  

According to a study conducted by Dr. Majid Sbeih from Al-Quds University for the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center in Palestine, 82% of Palestinian workers have the desire and willingness to leave their jobs in the settlements, provided that a suitable alternative is available. However, suitable alternatives will not be found as long as the Palestinian economy is under occupation.
Palestinian workers lost their land and livelihood to the Israeli occupation. 11% of Palestinian workers in settlements work on confiscated lands originally owned by their families or one of their relatives. Providing Palestinians with jobs on their own stolen land is another humiliating insult that they are forced to bear in order to provide for their families.
The political reality of the occupation does not allow Palestinian workers to make a free and informed choice regarding their livelihoods. Most Palestinians are compelled to work in settlements, since their economy is in ruins after 45 years of Israeli military occupation. 
 The document that manifested the structural tourniquets imposed on the Palestinian economy is the Paris Protocol – the economic annex to the Oslo Accords. The Paris Protocol places Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories under a joint taxation envelope, the same currency (New Israeli Shekel), and imposes severe restrictions on manufacturing, exporting and importing goods to and from the Occupied Territories. This trade agreement does not truly promote free trade, but instead seeks to protect Israeli and multinational corporations from competition by local industries. Moreover, this situation blocks the development of an independent Palestinian economy and keeps it as a captive market for Israeli and international companies.
(For the full Position Paper - click here)

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