‘Working for the enemy:’ why many Palestinians feel work in Israeli settlements is their only choice

Naser Qaswal is a 48-year-old carpenter who had worked in the Eli Zahaf settlement just outside of Kafr al-Dik in the West Bank for 25 years. He is a father of five, and his wife and children depend on him to make a living.

Two years ago, Qaswal was forced to leave his job due to work-related permanent hearing loss, leaving him completely deaf in one ear and only 20 percent hearing in the other. He also suffers chronic lower back pain leaving him unable to stand for more than one hour.

Because of Qaswal’s untreated injuries sustained over the past two and a half decades of work in Eli Zahaf, he can no longer maintain employment. He is also fighting to receive the much needed compensation for his injuries by his Israeli employers.

Naser Qaswal is one of approximately 36,000 Palestinians working in Israeli settlements across the West Bank. Settlement construction thrives off systemic labour rights abuses of Palestinian workers by denying proper wages, refusing adequate insurance and basic personal protection equipment.

The catch-22 of recent booming settlement construction mixed with record low employment and economic opportunities in the occupied West Bank means Palestinians like Qaswal feel they have no option but to suffer under harsh working conditions in order to simply feed their families.

I will not quit my job even if I know I will die, Qaswal said. They stand for everything I am against and yet I work for them because I have no choice. It’s like being a slave – you cannot ask for anything; you have no rights.

More money, more problems

Settlement construction in the West Bank is also at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as they are considered illegal under international law. Palestinians say settlements are built on stolen Palestinian land, which Israel denies.

Although average wages in Israeli settlements can start as low as 70 shekels a day ($20USD) for Palestinians, they still make around three times more than the standard Palestinian wage. And even though settlement jobs offer dangerous work conditions and no insurance, the higher wages offset the shortfall.

Abed Dari, the Palestinian field-worker for labour rights organisation Kav laOved, said the economic situations between Palestine and Israel cannot be compared, leading to Palestinians to work in these conditions.

The economic situation is very bad in Palestine, there is more than 30 percent unemployment, Dari emphatically replied. And what are they [Palestinians] to do? They want to stay in their homes, who will feed their families?

Dari also pointed out the fact many Palestinians are not allowed to enter inside Israeli territory if they do not hold the correct permit. So many prefer to work inside the settlements where no one asks them if they have a permit or not.

Many Palestinians, Qaswar said, feel scared to ask for safety gear like gloves and ear protection in fear they might lose their jobs. If I ask, they [Israelis] will say, ‘oh that Palestinian, he asks too much, and there are so many others waiting for his job.’

Qaswal spoke about his cousin who lost two fingers during an accident working at an Israeli settlement. He didn’t go to the court, because he thought that Israel will blacklist him and not give him a permit to work in Israel.

There is no stability in work, I feel like I’m in a boat, all day all night. I can only plan one month ahead. How can I build a home if one day I wake up and they have fired me?, Qaswal asked.

Qaswal said he feels as though he wasted the prime of his life working in the Israeli settlements and now he is left with nothing to show for 25 years of work. Like the flower, you spend all your time watering it, then it blooms for one day then dies. That is how I feel.

According to UN figures, there are currently 600,000 to 750,000 Israelis living in 143 locations across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel faced international condemnation recently after declaring in August they plan to build another 2,000 illegal settlements.

No compensation, no rights

At the age of 52, A.A.’s* father spent his entire life working in Palestine. His ethics told him to not work for ‘the enemy’ refusing to work for Israelis or in settlements, so he accepted the lower wage given to Palestinian construction workers.

However, as A.A. explained, his father realised he may not have many years left working labour intensive construction, he decided he could make more money working in an Israeli settlement in less time. So, A.A.’s father accepted a construction job in the Halamish settlement near Nabi Salah in the West Bank.

After only one month working in Halamish, A.A.’s father fell three stories off a crane, becoming quadriplegic. After two years, A.A.’s father’s condition had degenerated to the point where he passed away. There was no protection, A.A. said, explaining how his father was given no harness or safety ropes. That is why my father died.

After the initial accident, the Israeli courts ruled A.A. and his family will continue to receive his father’s wage, plus a wage for his wife. However, A.A. said, the minute his father died the money stopped, leaving his family with no income.

My father was against Israel all his life. We feel like, not God or the Devil, but someone has punished us, A.A. said. Because when he quit his ethics, he was punished.

Securing compensation is one of the main problems Palestinians face when they suffer injuries or death at work, Dari explained. Many Israelis will send Palestinians to hospitals in the West Bank, making it nearly impossible to prove it was a work related injury.

This becomes a problem for Palestinians when they don’t have proof they are injured at work it’s hard to prove if the employer doesn’t cooperate and give you the proper documents the Israeli insurance ask for, Dari said.

When asked whether he believes Israeli settlements exploit Palestinians, Dari agreed. Yes, he said. I believe they are treated like slaves.

It’s because there is a need. They need to feed their families and because they are under occupation, they are under their Israeli law, under their power. So they need to stay in their place.

Source: Palestine Monitor