Cheap Labor, Cheap Deal

On the eve of the evacuation of the Gaza settlers, 3,200 Palestinians were working for them - mostly in agriculture, but also in factories and sewing workshops.

Omar had a reason to laugh: Good people from Tel Aviv are agitated that the Evacuation Compensation Law passed by the Knesset discriminates against Palestinian and foreign workers, on the one hand, compared to Israeli workers. The good people are the Kav La'Oved organization and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which gave up on the idea of petitioning the High Court of Justice because it expected the court would not get involved in this piece of legislation.

Omar is a 28-year-old resident of Khan Yunis who has worked for an Israeli employer in the hothouses in Gush Katif since 1996. ACRI and Kav La'Oved are troubled by the fact that he, as a Palestinian, won't receive the "acclimation payment" the law assures to workers who lose the source of their livelihood as a result of the evacuation. But Omar is laughing because he never even received his basic rights: His last salary was NIS 50 for a full workday - slightly more than a third of minimum wage, which is NIS 145 a day. And he didn't get vacation or sick leave. According to Omar, the most workers could earn in Gush Katif was NIS 60 for a full workday. But even if it is NIS 80, as Israeli inspectors in Gush Katif reported, it is still a lot less than minimum wage.

The Evacuation Compensation Law, without shame, explicitly states that only Israeli workers have the right to the acclimation payments, up to six months worth, based on the average monthly salary for every year worked. Neither the Palestinians nor foreign workers (Thais, Chinese, Nepalese) have the right to acclimation payments. The same law also gives Israeli workers the right to quit and be considered laid off for the purposes of severance pay. Omar, on the other hand, is going home, after nine years of labor, without any severance pay.

As his employer and other employers told Omar, his colleagues, and Haaretz: We're not the ones who fired you. The state is forcing us to leave, they say, and the state should be the one to take care of your severance pay.

The concept of having the state take care of things is not completely unfounded. In 1982, the state decided that the minimum wage law should apply not just to Israelis, but also to Palestinian workers in the settlements in occupied territory. Israel Defense Forces officers issued an order determining that the salary Israeli settlers pay Palestinian workers "shall not be less than the minimum wage" in Israel. The Civil Administration was supposed to supervise the implementation of this order, and those who violate it are supposed to be fined and/or jailed for one year.

But in Gush Katif, they didn't know about the existence of the military order (how convenient for them), and are convinced that the minimum wage law does not apply to the Palestinians. The state, in the form of the Civil Administration or in its new incarnation as the liaison administration, was not strict in making the many violators obey the law, "because there were no complaints," as administration officials told Haaretz. However, as Hanna Zohar from Kav La'Oved pointed out in a letter to the Civil Administration, regarding non-enforcement of the minimum wage law in the Gaza industrial zones, "the task of enforcement is to protect weak workers and hold inspections in the workplaces without endangering the workers." It's clear what will happen to a Palestinian worker who submits a complaint against his employer, a settler violating the law: He will be fired immediately.

The state did not work to enforce the injunction that it brought into existence because the low wages and the ability to evade respecting the rights of Palestinian workers functioned as important incentives for Israelis who went to live and work and prosper in land that was not theirs. Several settler employers against whom Kav La'Oved filed complaints (because they were not paying minimum wage) told Zohar they felt deceived, saying they were always encouraged to go to the territories and decided to invest, establish factories and pay less - when suddenly it became clear that they have to pay minimum wage.

On the eve of the evacuation of the Gaza settlers, 3,200 Palestinians were working for them - mostly in agriculture, but also in factories and sewing workshops. Some 800 foreign workers also worked in Gush Katif. That is, some 8,000 settlers had 4,000 workers.

This is another way to understand how the single-family homes so painful to leave today were established, the 220 square meters being replaced by the "small" 90-square-meter luxury trailers.

After all, there are many Israelis who work very hard within the State of Israel, have several jobs and have never had a single-family home immersed in greenery, or even a 90-square-meter luxury trailer. It's not just valuable Palestinian land that was given to the settlers for free or dirt cheap, not just generous subsidies, not just the last sweet-water supplies left in the Strip. They were also given very cheap labor. Without it, the settlers would not have been as comfortable as they were, and now they are demanding full compensation for it.