Unlicensed Crane Operator Arrested in Tel Aviv as Construction Deaths Rise

Court slams employers after worker falls to his death at Ashkelon construction site

Cranes at the construction site where the foreign worker was arrested, May 27, 2019.
Israel Police

Police arrested a woman who was operating a construction crane at a Tel Aviv building site on Monday after they discovered she did not have license to operate it. The woman, who has a Russian passport and does not have a visa to work in Israel, was arrested during a check by the police and Labor Ministry inspectors.

The woman showed the police a forged ID card of a woman who is licensed to operate a crane. She is suspected of fraud, criminal impersonation and forgery. The court ordered the woman held for three days, saying she was a flight risk and could obstruct the investigation. Her lawyer said she had made arrangements in Russia to work in Israel and that she had no idea she was working illegally or that her documents were forged.

The woman worked at a building site of the firm Electra Construction at the corner of Weizmann and Arlozorov streets. In 2018, Electra led the list of construction firms that received safety violations from the Labor Ministry. Ten workers died in accidents at the company’s construction sites over the past three years.

>> Read more: Israel's construction workers' lives matter, too | Opinion ■ Migrant construction workers in Israel three times more likely to die in on-site accidents than locals

The union of crane operators estimates that 20 percent of all cranes are operated by people without a license.

Last week, four workers were killed in a crane accident at a building site in Yavne while they were dismantling a crane. In the wake of the accident, the acting chief construction supervisor in the Labor Ministry issued new safety instructions requiring crane operators to carry an official ID document instead of the easily forged, flimsy paper crane operator’s license that has been in use until now.

On Monday, Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court ordered into custody the factory manager and contractor who carried out construction work to install solar panels on the roof where Wasim Albaz Abu Keif was killed on Sunday in a construction accident. Abu Keif, 22 from the village of Umm Batin in the Negev, fell to his death while working without a harness, work shoes or helmet on the roof of the factory in the southern industrial zone in Ashkelon.

The manager and contractor are suspected of negligent homicide and obstruction of justice. A preliminary investigation shows that the contractor was not licensed to carry out such work at heights.

Abu Keif was evacuated to Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon in extremely serious condition, and he died of his injuries on the operating table.

Prosecutors accused the two suspects of equal responsibility in the death, saying they had been out to save money at the expense of safety and people’s lives, and at the very least were negligent and turned a blind eye to the danger.