The National Labor Court has recently suggested recognizing Palestinians injured or killed by a Qassam rocket while working in an Israeli community as work-accident victims.
In June 2005, three workers, one of them Chinese, were killed and four were wounded when a Qassam rocket slammed into a packing shed in the Ganei Tal settlement in the Gaza Strip. Unlike their Chinese colleague, the Palestinians were not recognized by the National Insurance Institute as victims of an act of hostility, as the law prevents recognizing them as such if they are working outside Israel.
The Palestinians' request to be recognized as work-accident victims, submitted immediately after the attack, was also rejected by the NII, again because they were hurt outside Israel. This law, however, was amended three months later, and laborers hurt while working outside Israel can now be recognized as work-accident victims.
The Regional Labor Court also rejected the Palestinians' claim for compensation because the Qassam attack occurred before the amendment came into effect. Two months ago, the three Palestinians appealed to the National Labor Court, which suggested in a hearing two weeks that they be recognized as work-accident victims for humanitarian reasons.
"The workers entered the settlement lawfully and were hit by the rocket exactly like the Chinese worker," said attorney Sawsan Zaher of Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, which is representing the workers. "Making a distinction between the workers means that two different laws are being applied to victims on the same ground, causing the Palestinian workers' exclusion and infringing gravely on their rights," Zaher said at the hearing.
In 1970, the law pertaining to victims of acts of hostility was amended to enable recognizing all those entering Israel as victims of an act of hostility in the event they are casualties in an attack. The defense minister decided to apply the law in the territories under the rule of the Israel Defense Forces, including the Golan, West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 1998, the labor minister amended the law to include Palestinians entering Israel lawfully.
The Regional Labor Court ruled that the Palestinians who moved from Gaza to Ganei Tal had not entered Israel, so the law did not apply to them. Adalah said in the appeal that this interpretation leads to discrimination against the Palestinian workers in relation to other laborers.
National Labor Court President Nili Arad realized this absurdity and suggested a lenient approach under which the NII would recognize the Palestinians as work-accident victims.
"These are people who were invited by Israel and received legal permits to work. It was also in our interest that they work in an Israeli settlement," Arad said.
"[Say] a hired Israeli worker and a Palestinian are driving tractors in Ganei Tal and both overturn. The Israeli would be recognized [as a work-accident victim] and the Palestinian would not. Why? They were planting in the same hothouse, with an Israeli foreman... There is no reason not to recognize them as [victims of] a work accident," she said.
The NII said they were looking for ways to implement the court's suggestion. "The incident occurred before the amendment so we have a great difficulty," an NII official said. "But we're working to solve the problem." A meeting with Justice Ministry officials was scheduled in January to find a solution, he added.
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