Palestinians in Ma'aleh Adumim employed by Israel but on Jordanian terms
In recent weeks tensions between the Palestinian laborers and the municipality have risen.
"Ma'aleh Adumim is a shining pearl in the State of Israel," declares its mayor, Benny Kashriel, on the municipality's Web site. Indeed, Ma'aleh Adumim tries hard to distance itself from its image as a place in the periphery with a bourgeois population, like many other Israeli cities. But the efforts seem to come to a halt when it affects Palestinians working for the municipality. In this matter, Ma'aleh Adumim adheres fanatically to Jordanian law and avoids Israeli labor laws.
Eighty Palestinian employees, members of the Jahleen Bedouin tribe living on the city's edge in the West Bank, have served the citizens of Ma'aleh Adumim for decades, mostly in gardening and sanitation jobs. The workers must be doing a good job because Ma'aleh Adumim is considered one of Israel's cleanest and best-maintained cities.
The municipality is proud that every year it scores the highest marks according to the organization Israel is Beautiful. But the gaps between the municipality's Israeli and Palestinian employees are great and stem from Jordanian labor law, which was applied in the territories in 1965. Even amendments over the past 45 years that have made Jordanian legislation more progressive in terms of labor rights are not applied in the case of Palestinians employed by the municipality.
The differences are vast. Under the original Jordanian law the employees had two basic rights - very limited severance pay and holiday pay. All other social benefits that are part of Israeli labor law such as rehabilitation pay, pensions, travel expenses and education funding do not exist in the Jordanian law.
The legal basis for the municipality's stance is a warrant by GOC Central Command, affecting Jordanian labor law. The municipality also relies on an agreement signed with the workers in 2005, under which they agreed to accept Jordanian law in regulating their employment.
Attorney Shlomo Lecker is now representing the workers and filed a suit on their behalf at the regional labor court asking that Israeli labor law be applied. He argues that the agreement is invalid because of flaws in its preparation and the fact that the workers were asked to sign a contract on the basis of the 2005 agreement.
Lecker also argues that the agreement should be voided because of a later Supreme Court ruling. In 2007, a panel of seven justices ruled that Palestinians employed by the Givat Negev local council in the West Bank should be employed under Israeli labor law. The justices argued that the area was bound by Israeli law and the principle of equality between Israeli and Palestinian employees in Israel should apply.
In recent weeks tensions between the Palestinian employees and the municipality have risen after the rejection of a request for greater numbers of workers to be allowed to take part in Friday prayers. The municipality's refusal resulted in a strike, while the director of the municipality ordered the dismissal of three employees. There was also a warning of pending dismissal to three other workers, and 14 other employees were suspended.
"Ma'aleh Adumim was built on lands of the Jahleen; these people were pushed to the edges of the community," Lecker said. "This is not a hostile population and the city should be interested in ensuring that this community is not hungry."
According to Eli Har-Nir, director of the municipality, "We are not trying to avoid the image of a settlement - this is an image that does not exist. Jordanian law is not very different from the conditions offered by Israeli law, and in the territories there are many laws of the Hashemite Kingdom, including the law on planning and construction, that are different in Ma'aleh Adumim from the law in Israel."
He added that in the 2005 agreement the employees received rights out of a "humanistic approach."
Regarding the dismissals, Har-Nir said the request was for a significantly higher number of employees to be allowed to go to prayers, and that the strike was unruly and lacked a basis for dialogue.
He warned that as long as Lecker is involved "there will be no negotiations with them."