There is nothing happy about this new year for Palestinian workers


The most recent wave of protests and violence to hit the Palestinian territories has impacted all aspects of life. Some 150 Palestinians have been killed, while money, food and fuel are all in short supply.

The effect on workers, who are the first to pay the price in such situations, has been severe. Hundreds of workers, in sectors ranging from agriculture to construction to education, have been dismissed from their jobs in the settlements in the West Bank and in Israel, while tens of thousands fear they will be next. In the current atmosphere of rage and paranoia, Israeli employers are dismissing Palestinian workers, resulting in mass terminations which are an act of collective punishment.

Shaher Saed, the General Secretary of Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), said that while the PGFTU does not have statistics on the exact number of Palestinian workers that have been dismissed, all available indications shows that the number of dismissals is significant.

The layoffs will have a negative impact on Palestinian workers and increase an already high rate of unemployment. According to Saed, unemployment in Palestine stood at 37.1 per cent at the end of 2015. With the current situation, things are only going to get worse.

Palestinian workers are driven to work in the settlements by pure economics. In the first quarter of 2015, the average daily wage for Palestinian workers in the West Bank amounted to 94 shekels (US$24), compared to 61 shekels (US$15.50) in the Gaza Strip and 196 shekels per day ($50.50) in Israel and the settlements.

Within the framework of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) fight against the settlement policy, President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in 2010 banning any trade of goods and products from Israeli settlements.

The law also prohibits Palestinians from working in the settlements. Understanding that Palestinian workers are caught between a rock and a hard place, they do not punish those who break this law, but at the same time, Palestinian workers exposed to violence in the settlements are offered no protection by the PA.

Shaher says that workers are ready to stop working in the settlements but they need an alternative. At the moment, there are very few.

The Labour Minister Mamoun Abu Shahla has told the media that “creating job opportunities for workers in the settlements in light of the current economic situation plaguing the PA is a very difficult process.”

Palestinian workers in the settlements and Israel are not only being dismissed, but a number of Palestinian workers have been killed since October 2015. In addition, Israeli security forces have arrested approximately 580 people.

After nearly 50 years of Israeli military occupation, the situation for Palestinians continues to deteriorate, along with the people’s hopes for peace.

There is no respect for basic human rights or the fundamental principals of international humanitarian law. Meanwhile all spaces for civil society, freedom of expression, and indeed peace and security are slowly being squeezed out. And one and a half million Palestinians in Gaza remain under siege.

Things are only getting worse. The recent unrest of rebellious youth (which some are calling the ‘third intifada’) will not end until the Palestinian people are given justice and self-determination. The international community must put more pressure to stop the Israeli occupation and governments must stop supporting the hazardous Israeli policies which only hurt the Palestinian people and push peace ever further out of reach.