Israel will grant work permits to Palestinians granted asylum in Israel who are LGBT, as well as those fleeing domestic violence, the government said on Sunday.
The announcement was made after a group of human rights organizations asked the High Court of Justice to rule on the matter. The government had been given four days to respond to the petition, but it instead chose to adopt a new policy, after which it said the High Court's injunction was no longer necessary.
The decision also came as the Knesset committee on foreign workers, chaired by lawmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana, was due to begin discussions on the issue.
Under the current policy, the government refuses to automatically grant work permits to these two categories of Palestinians given asylum, and a legal challenge to that policy has been underway for the past three years.
Israel said it plans to issue a circular clarifying to employers that Palestinian workers are entitled to equal rights and benefits under Israeli labor law, and that it will detail the new policy to the court within 21 days. The work permits aren’t limited to certain sectors of the economy or included in the quotas for the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel.
“Palestinians who have fled to Israel due to sexual orientation or family violence arising from social and family norms live here for months and years without any safety net,” said Adi Lustigman, the attorney representing the suing human-rights groups, which include Physicians for Human Rights, HIAS Israel, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, and the Worker’s Hotline. The state, she said, had "expected them to live on nothing."
As of last January, Israel had approved just 66 Palestinians for asylum for these two reasons, and they can currently only get a work permit if they are able to show that they have a job offer from an employer.
The government had said it feared that easing the terms for issuing the permits would encourage more Palestinians to flee to Israel and seek asylum. But after examining the issue, officials concluded that a permit allowing Palestinians to reside in Israel for “welfare needs” should include the possibility of working in the country, said state attorney Moriah Freeman in a statement to the High Court.
Lustigman said the decision took too long to materialize, but that it is a welcome and encouraging one. "We hope that it will be the first step in their rehabilitation and rescue from distress and the street, and will allow them a basic existence with dignity as human beings," she said.
The state noted that the work permits were intended to serve as a bridge until recipients found a permanent place of refuge. It also stressed that the permits would only be granted to those who had completed the asylum process, and not to those who were still in the process of applying.
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Ran Shalhavi, the director of The Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force, told Haaretz that granting work permits is "the most basic step the state can take for those who are being pursued and threatened in the Palestinian Authority because of their identity and are now trying to begin their lives again in Israel." Without it, he said, LGBT asylum seekers are left "in economic distress, forcing them into prostitution, temporary shelter and even the streets.
The decision "is a victory for those who are persecuted, tortured and silenced – and for all of us," Shalhavi said, adding, "The state has a long way to go toward ensuring a dignified existence – from access to health services to non-housing accommodations."