Thousands of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip with permits to work in Israel are not eligible for social benefits, the result of a tiered permit system that has heightened differences between day laborers from Gaza and those from the West Bank.
Over the past two weeks, Israel has begun issuing “financial needs permits” to select laborers from the Gaza Strip, which do not include social benefits. Despite now being easier to obtain, the coveted Israeli work permits are distinct from those offered to Palestinian workers from the West Bank, who receive a salary slip and basic benefits.
In October 2021, Israel announced that it would increase the number of work permits for merchants and laborers from Gaza from 7,000 to 10,000. This was done as part of an effort to calm the security situation in the Strip and prevent renewed military escalation, apparently the largest quota since the beginning of the second intifada. However, until mid-January, Israel gave workers from Gaza “commerce permits” only, which do not grant social benefits. Not only merchants but thousands of laborers, some of them very poor, applied for this permit.
Palestinian sources familiar with the details told Haaretz that receiving a commerce permit is very expensive and involves issuing numerous permits. According to these sources, many laborers had difficulty obtaining all the documents and worried that such a permit would exclude them from receiving economic assistance from the Welfare Ministry in Gaza or humanitarian grants, like Qatari funds.
“The State of Israel is committing a crime in broad daylight when it issues Gaza residents work permits without defining them as such,” says attorney Michal Luft, who represents many Gaza merchants. According to Luft, in case of an accident, no one will compensate them, and their employers will also be exposed to lawsuits.
“While the employment of Gaza residents in Israel is welcome, there is only one way to do this according to law, and that is to grant them work permits,” she says. “Any other kind of employment is illegal. It is unacceptable for Israel to turn a blind eye and for its current invention of the “economic needs permit,” she added.
Merchants from Gaza who spoke to Haaretz protested that Israel reports tens of thousands of work permits but in fact, to a great extent limits permits for merchants – 1,500 out of tens of thousands.
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“Preventing the entry of long-time merchants to Israel and the West Bank only increases and perpetuates the dependence of Gaza’s residents on Israel, and shows that Israel does not want to rehabilitate Gaza economically,” a number of merchants said.
Israeli sources familiar with the details did not deny that “economic needs permits” is not a work permit in Israel. According to these individuals, the change of status depends on the political echelon and not on a decision by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
However, Israel prefers to present a different picture, by which an increase in the number of permits is leading to an improvement of conditions in Gaza. It is estimated that Palestinians from Gaza working in Israel bring into the Strip an excess of 60 million shekels ($18.8 million) a month, and economic growth has gone up by 3 percent in Gaza recently.
According to figures from the Gaza Welfare Ministry and the World Bank, the unemployment rate in Gaza had reached 46 percent, 65 percent of whom were under the age of 30. In addition, 68 percent of Gazans are defined as poor, and 75 percent lack nutritional security.
According to a senior Gaza welfare official, the entry to Israel of thousands of workers can improve personal situations, but will not generate real growth as long as the Gaza Strip continually faces uncertain and delayed reconstruction efforts.
In response, the Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued the following statement: “In October 2021, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced an increase in the quota of Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip working in Israel, for the first time in many years. Today, a Palestinian resident of the Gaza Strip who holds an economic needs permit or a merchant’s permit may enter Israel for work and commerce. All the permits are issued in keeping with criteria and security scrutiny.”