The municipality of the West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit has begun to charge a special security fee from contractors that employ Palestinians in the city, but some of the contractors are passing on the costs to the workers themselves.
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For years the municipality has been charging contractors a fee to employ Palestinians, arguing that it needs to beef-up security due to concerns that the workers would engage in terrorist activity or commit other crimes. In December, after employers complained that these fees were illegal, the local council passed a bylaw imposing a NIS 314 monthly fee for each laborer. Some of the contractors said that they would pass at least part of these costs onto the workers. The owner of a large supermarket chain told his workers that he would deduct a third of the fee from their wages.
Yosef Havilio, a lawyer representing some of the contractors, has submitted a legal demand to the city's mayor, Meir Rubinstein, challenging the fee on the grounds that it is discriminatory against Palestinians. According to Havilio, the fee is illegal and the settlement does not have the authority to impose it upon the workers or the contractors. He said "the bylaw illegally discriminates between Palestinian workers and other workers, including Israeli workers and foreign workers. Every Palestinian worker received an entry permit to Israel from the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria, and a work permit for a specific employer…ultimately, the law reduces the Palestinian workers' salaries."
The employers are also claiming that the main purpose of the law is to line the municipality's pockets, and say that security has not been stepped up since the fee was imposed. "It's designed to cover the city's debts," says Ra'anana Hershkop, who employs 40 workers. "If security is important to them then why isn’t there any security? Why aren't there any patrols? This area is very quiet. If they make the worker's lives difficult then trouble will start. People aren't being allowed to make an honest living."
The city argues that the fee was imposed in order to meet the security targets set by the Israel Defense Forces' Central Command. "Under the new law, the security guards will be former combat-unit soldiers who have been properly trained. They will be employed by security companies under the supervision of the municipality. The cost will be covered by levying a charge from property holders that wish to employ Palestinians within the jurisdiction of the Betar Ilit municipality."
The city also said that the Palestinian workers who have authorization to work in Israel and are subject to the fee will be issued with magnetic cards. "These cards only give them permission to work within the confines of the building they are employed in. The security guards will carry out the necessary enforcement in order to ensure that the workers only spend time in authorized areas, and will not allow workers to wander around the city without specific approval." The city spokesman also firmly denied the claims that security had not been stepped up since the law took effect.
Betar Ilit, just over the Green Line near Jerusalem, is predominantly ultra-Orthodox and one of Israel's largest settlements with a population topping 40,000.