Thousands of Palestinians Unable to Work in Israel Due to Strike by Employees of West Bank Body

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Palestinian workers show their permits and IDs to Israeli Border Police as they head back to the West Bank after a day of working in Israel.
Palestinian workers show their permits and IDs to Israeli Border Police as they head back to the West Bank after a day of working in Israel. Credit: Tsafrir Abayov.AP

Thousands of Palestinians have been unable to renew their entry permits to Israel and or the settlements because of labor sanctions by employees of Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank.

The sanctions, which began six days ago, have also frozen invitations to bid on construction projects in West Bank settlements, and are liable to delay approval of plans for thousands of additional homes in the settlements.

The Civil Administration manages civilian life in those parts of the West Bank where Israel controls civilian affairs. Despite being a military agency, under the auspices of the Defense Ministry, it also has civilian employees, and they are the ones who are striking.

Many were actually in their offices at the agency’s main base in the settlement of Beit El Tuesday morning, but were refusing to help the public.

As a result, several thousand Palestinians have been unable to obtain entry permits over the past few days, according to the civilian employees’ union. Such permits can be valid for anywhere from a few days to several months, so the longer the strike lasts, the greater the number of Palestinians who will be unable to renew their permits.

The sanctions have also halted inspections and enforcement against illegal construction in the West Bank. On social media, right-wing activists urged taking advantage of this to build more settlement outposts, but so far, no one seems to have heeded that advice.

The one exception to the sanctions is Palestinians who need to enter Israel for medical treatment. They are still being issued permits.

Benny Elbaz, the union chairman, said the sanctions have so far harmed some 4,000 Palestinians, and each additional day of sanctions will harm another 1,000 Palestinians.

If the strike continues, he added, it is liable to lead to cancelation of a planning committee meeting set for early April that is slated to approve plans for construction of thousands of homes in the settlements. He said settler leaders have been pushing the union to let the meeting take place despite the sanctions, but the workers have refused.

The workers are seeking improved pension conditions, which they say they were promised and accuse the Finance Ministry of breaking the promise. They also want more hiring, saying they currently don’t have enough employees to do their work properly. Finally, they want raises, saying their current salaries don’t reflect the risks of working in the West Bank.

“It doesn’t pay to work in Beit El,” Elbaz said. “Today, if you work in Israel, you get a higher salary.” Moreover, he said, the Civil Administration doesn’t offer extra pay for overtime or being on call, which many civilian employers do.

Tuesday morning, the Yesha Council of settlements announced that it had urged Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman to end the sanctions by acceding to at least some of the workers’ demands. “The existing burden on Civil Administration employees has caused many issues to get stuck, mainly due to lack of manpower and an unreasonable workload,” it said in a statement.

The Finance Ministry said it is talking with the Civil Servants Union about many issues, including the Civil Administration workers’ complaints, and another meeting is scheduled for early April, after the Pesach holiday.

“It’s a pity the Civil Servants Union has rushed to harm service to the citizenry instead of conducting a fruitful dialogue and refusing to join the comprehensive collective agreement,” the Yesha Council added. “We urge the union to end its sanctions and hold discussions in the accepted manner, not through threats of harming civilians.”

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