High Court Petition Demands Health Insurance for Palestinian Laborers in Israel

Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf
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Palestinian laborers enter Israel.
Palestinian laborers enter Israel via the Qalandiya checkpoint, March 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Hagar Shezaf
Hagar Shezaf

Several human rights organizations filed on Tuesday a petition with the High Court of Justice seeking a court order that Palestinian laborers who have remained in Israel since the coronavirus outbreak be provided with medical insurance coverage and government oversight of their living conditions.

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The petition seeks to address the situation of large numbers of Palestinians who have been staying in Israel for more than a month rather than commuting to and from Israel for the day from their homes in the West Bank. They have been required to remain in Israel if they are to continue on the job out of concern that daily commutes could result in the spread of the coronavirus in Israel and in the West Bank. The petition is also seeking an order requiring that Israeli employers in the construction field stop the practice of holding onto their Palestinian employees’ identity cards, a procedure that had been ordered by the Israeli Construction and Housing Ministry.

Palestinian laborers working in Israel are entitled to worker’s compensation coverage for accidents on the job, but not regular medical coverage. The three petitioners in the case, Kav LaOved, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Physicians for Human Rights, stated in their petition that a legislative memorandum has been drafted for a proposed amendment to the law and that would require that the Palestinians receive medical coverage during the coronavirus pandemic, but the matter has not moved ahead.

The legislative proposal followed a directive that the Health Ministry issued on March 24 requiring the Palestinians’ Israeli employers to arrange the coverage during the Palestinians’ continued stay in Israel if they are to continue employing them. The ministry also required that the employers provide proof of the coverage before the Palestinians entered Israel, but in practice, the directive has not been complied with.

When the laborers arrived in Israel for an extended stay in March, the health and construction ministries issued a number of directives relating to their working and living conditions during their stay, but there is no government entity ensuring that the employers meet the conditions. At two Israeli chicken slaughterhouses where Palestinians have been employed, in Jerusalem and Lod, some of the workers have become infected with the coronavirus, and the court petitioners have therefore demanded government oversight to ensure their health and safety.

In mid-March, the government approved a measure permitting extended stays in Israel for 70,000 Palestinians, but since then, a large number of the Palestinians have opted to leave Israel due to pressure from the Palestinian Authority or due to difficult work and living conditions. There are about 20,000 Palestinian laborers now in Israel, and authorities are considering allowing an additional 48,000 laborers to work in Israel during the current Muslim holy month of Ramadan on the condition that employers provide them with proper overnight accommodations.

The Israel Builders Association is seeking to advance the plan, which is expected to get the approval shortly of the relevant government authorities, and to come into effect as early as Sunday.

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