Opinion |

Not Even 500 Palestinians in Israeli High-tech Can Hide the Exploitation

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Palestinian high-tech workers in Ramallah.
Palestinian high-tech workers in Ramallah.Credit: Ofer Vaknin
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The press release from the spokesman of the Regional Cooperation Ministry, headed by Esawi Freige, deserves a firm pat on the back. Freige succeeded in obtaining a quota of 200 work permits for Palestinian workers in the high-tech sector in Israel for 2022, 200 more for 2023, and another 100 for the year after that.

What a pleasant shiver down the spine. It turns out there are Palestinians who really work in high-tech, and not just in picking olives, building homes for settlers, smuggling fuel and committing terrorist attacks – they even know how to program computers.

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This is especially happy news for Israel. Because of these permits, “the Israeli high-tech sector, which suffers from a serious shortage of skilled workers in recent years, will receive a significant reinforcement,” says the ministry announcement. But there’s even more: According to the plan, the salary of a Palestinian employee in high-tech will be no less than 150 percent of the average wage in Israel. My knees are about to give – but let’s just wait a minute with the champagne.

High-tech Nation employs some 345,000 people in the industry. The drizzle of 500 Palestinian workers over three years is not a “significant reinforcement,” it is nothing more than a mannequin in a window display. Why not completely open this market to Palestinians, and why not give them the entire quota already, especially when it is a benefit to economy and security?

At the beginning of the month, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he planned on recommending the entry of 3,000 Palestinian workers into Israeli high-tech. How did this recommendation shrink to only 500, and even then only over three years? After all, today some 20,000 Palestinians are employed in high-tech in the Palestinian Authority, and it is possible to estimate that at least half of them will want to and can work in Israel.

According to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the average salary in high-tech is over 26,000 shekels ($8,400) a month, while the average Israeli wage is just 11,700 shekels a month. So based on this plan, a Palestinian high-tech worker will earn at least some 17,000 shekels a month. A marvelous salary, without a doubt – but still far from the average salary of the Jewish high-tech worker. No big deal. After all, what options does the Palestinian have? And isn’t the fact that he can pride himself on a resume that includes work in an Israeli high-tech firm worth money? So why be picky? Instead of praise and glory, once again a sour face.

The reason for it is that these 500 happy Palestinian workers in high-tech will not hide even a small part of the injustice caused to the “regular” Palestinian workers. According to research conducted by the Bank of Israel in 2019, about a third of all Palestinian workers in Israel – around 27,000 – were forced to pay under the table to middlemen and employers to receive a work permit, because they were unable to navigate the suffocating bureaucracy themselves. These are illegal work permits, and the workers paid 1,500 shekels to 2,200 shekels for each one. In total, Palestinian workers paid some 480 million shekels just to receive work permits that don’t even guarantee them a job.

In December 2020, the reform in employing Palestinian workers in Israel took effect after four years of delay. It was intended to put an end to the buying of permits and the use of middlemen. But research done by Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights in April makes it clear how much this reform is only partial, cumbersome and still far from granting Palestinians their full rights.

Those who carry the banner of economic peace and see it as an appropriate detour to a diplomatic solution and those who gussy themselves up with the high-tech breakthrough paved in honor of the Palestinians should first try to play snakes and ladders with the authorities who grant the permits. They should spend a day at a checkpoint. They should prove they are capable – without going crazy – of passing through the wall of restrictions, conditions, examinations, checkpoints and transportation that every Palestinian worker must go through before they receive the piece of paper that only allows them to participate in the competition. Only then will they be able to understand the sham that is called economic peace.

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