It Pays to Employ a Palestinian

Until the first intifada broke out in 1987, no less than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, mainly in construction and agriculture. Actually, they were in all sectors, from hotels to garages to industry. For employers, it was a great way to save on labor costs: Israelis demanded roughly twice the wage than the Palestinians did.

In September 1970, the Israeli government set out to finally regulate Palestinian labor in Israel. It ruled that a worker from the territories was entitled to the same social benefits as his Israeli peers. That still applies.

Nor does Israeli labor law distinguish between workers by their origin or citizenship. A worker is a worker, whether Israeli, Palestinian or Chinese.

But data from the nonprofit organizations Kav LaOved (Worker's Hotline) and B'Tselem show that Palestinians tend to receive grossly inferior terms. Nor are their social benefits paid.

A classic gambit is to falsify reports to the Employment Service, through which workers from the territories are paid, about the number of working days. The employers give the workers cash under the table for the difference between the actual days worked and days reported. Say a person worked 30 days but the employer reports 15: Then he only pays social benefits for 15.

Scanty record-keeping and supervision by the Employment Service doesn't help Palestinians who decide to sue employers through the Labor Tribunal. Human rights activists say the curfews also impair worker rights, to the point of employers firing workers who couldn't come to work, without paying severance compensation.

Also, Palestinians who sue at the Labor Tribunal have to deposit money to guarantee they can cover court costs if they lose. No such deposit is required of Israeli workers (or employers) who sue. The stated grounds are that the Palestinians are essentially foreign residents and if they lose the case, they may evade paying their debts.