Editorial

Neglect Rooted in Racism

There's a direct line connecting between Netanyahu's government's racist polices and its reluctance to address construction site accidents whose main victims are Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, foreign workers and asylum seekers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, August 13, 2017.
POOL/REUTERS

There’s a link between the racist policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Arabs, refugees and people who have entered Israel illegally and the delay in establishing a joint unit of the police and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to investigate accidents at construction sites. A year has passed since State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit requested the urgent establishment of such a unit, citing, in Nitzan’s words, the “inherent difficulty” of investigating workplace accidents But Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Labor and Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz have not yet allocated funding for it.

The figures on accidents and failures in the construction industry are glossed over. The Labor Ministry refused Haaretz’s request to publish the list of fatal accidents in the sector. Moreover, there are discrepancies between the statistics it has published and those collected by Hakvutza lema’avak b’teunot binyan — a (Hebrew-language) Facebook group that monitors accidents reported by the police and the Magen David Adom rescue service and collects information from workers and contractors — and by Nirtamim – Betihut le’ovedei binyan, which conducts its own monitoring. According to the former, in the first half of the year, 15 construction workers died (not 12, as the Labor Ministry says). According to Nirtamim, since the beginning of the year there have been 23 deaths and 170 serious or moderate injuries on building sites.

From the names of the deceased one can understand that we’re talking about people at the bottom of the national list of priorities; most are Palestinians, foreign workers and asylum seekers. Sources in the Public Security Ministry explained the delay in budgeting the unit by saying, “There are many important projects and every shekel is spoken for. More than a billion [shekels] is going to the project in the Arab sector, to the Maor project [to protect children from online violence], the strengthening of Jerusalem, foot patrols and the traffic branch.”

But if a mere 10 million shekels ($2.8 million), which is small change in terms of government budgets, is not available to set up the new unit, it’s clear that Erdan doesn’t consider this an important project. This would help explain the criminal neglect that his ministry is partner to when it comes to enforcing construction laws, investigating crimes that lead to accidents and protecting the lives of construction workers in Israel.

Is acting to prevent work accidents suffered by Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, foreign workers and asylum seekers, “disconnected from our national mission, our identity, our history and our Zionist challenges,” as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, following the Supreme Court ruling on deporting asylum seekers? Should Zionism “not bow down” even to save the lives of construction workers?

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel