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May Day: Palestinian workers in Israel 'denied basic rights'

May 1, 2014 5:31 P.M. (Updated: May 3, 2014 3:25 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- As countries across the world celebrate International Workers' Day, an Israeli human rights group says that Palestinian laborers face harsh and humiliating conditions and are still being denied their basic rights.

"For Palestinian workers, there is not much cause for celebration: the day is a painful reminder that another year has gone by and nothing has changed," B'Tselem said Wednesday.

In light of Israel's continuing military occupation of the West Bank, which exploits Palestinian natural resources and stifles the growth of an independent Palestinian economy, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are forced to seek a living by working in Israel, the group said.

According to the group, the current quota for work permits as of March 2014 is 47,350, most of which have been utilized.

Workers enter Israel by one of 11 military checkpoints in the West Bank, which are overcrowded and subject workers to humiliating inspections.

In May 2013, Ma'an staff traveled to the Tarqumiya checkpoint in the southern West Bank to talk to Palestinian workers about the conditions they face.

Hussein Amir Abu Zuneid told Ma'an that he leaves his home in Dura, south of Hebron, at 2 a.m. to arrive at Tarqumiya crossing to "prepare for the torturous and humiliating journey inside the terminal, which opens its gates at 4 a.m."

Security procedures often take hours, with workers sometimes it to Israel at 8 a.m., he added.

"This is an Israeli policy aimed at creating chaos and confusion amongst the workers, who sometimes end up going to hospital to treat bruises and fractures or asphyxia resulting from the incredibly heavy jam and pell-mell at the crossing every morning," one worker told Ma'an at the time.

B'Tselem said its field staff had presented their findings of overcrowded checkpoints to the head of the Land Crossings Authority at the Ministry of Defense, who replied that that are no long lines and no overcrowding at checkpoints.

According to the rights group, Israel denies permits to tens of thousands of Palestinians, with around 15,000-30,000 Palestinians working in Israel without permits.

"For Palestinian workers who regularly enter Israel illegally to earn a living, life is a constant struggle for survival and returning home safe and sound from work cannot be taken for granted. They live in constant anxiety, fearing arrest or injury. In such a reality, labor rights such as a minimum wage, reasonable work hours, and a pension scheme seem like a distant dream."

Palestinian workers without permits are often exploited by contractors who know that they have no other choice but to accept lower pay.

In March, a Palestinian worker died after he fell while being chased by Israeli police officers because he did not have a permit to work in Israel.

"Israel must enable the development of a Palestinian economy in the West Bank to provide decent work opportunities for the local population. Until that development is realized, Israel must issue permits to Palestinians wishing to work in Israel – based on appropriate security checks - and must ensure workers’ rights are upheld," B'Tselem said.

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