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Israel harms Palestinian workers, says B’Tselem report

Human rights organization presents comprehensive report on how Israel harms Palestinians’ economy, livelihood. Gives testimonies of abuse at checkpoints, claims complaints are ignored

by Ali Waked, March 6th

prefers to ignore the abuse and humiliation Palestinian workers undergo in their encounters with Israeli security forces on a daily basis, stated a B’Tselem report released Tuesday.

The report, titled: “Beyond Legal Boundaries,” composed by the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories claimed that Israel harms the dignities, bodies, and property of illegal workers.

Offering detailed testimonies of Palestinians who claim to have been mistreated by soldiers and police officers, the report stated that only about 1.5 percent of the complaints filed led to the soldiers being tried in criminal court.

According to B’Tselem, each year Israel places a closure on the Palestinian territories for long periods of times, preventing workers to enter its territory, and in 2005, entrance was denied for a total of 132 days of the year.

In 2000, 150,000 Palestinians were issued permits to work in Israel; however, the report presented data showing that there has been a continuous drop in this number, to about half in 2006.

It was also stated that only a few hundred workers from the Gaza Strip were allowed entrance to Israel.

On the economic aspect, B’Tselem reported that Israel was deliberately implementing an under-development policy in the territories in the years preceding the Oslo agreement, causing the Palestinian market to become dependant on Israel.

Furthermore, Israel has been preventing investments in the Palestinian market, said the report.

The scope of conditions and agonies a Palestinian must go through in order to file an application for a permit was also presented in the report: “The applicant must be married and in his 30s or older, must be a father, and the Israeli employer must also file an application to the IDF authorities in order for the application to be considered.”

“As a result of severe economic distress, the lack of economic development, the closure policies and permits granted from a tightly closed hand, unemployment in the Territories has risen from 10 percent before the intifada to about 25 percent today. In certain age groups, for example 20-24, the number reaches 39 percent,” said the report.

In the 2006 summary, B’Tselem expects unemployment in the Palestinian Authority to reach over 40 percent, accompanied by a 67 percent poverty level.

“In such a situation the dependence of Palestinians on sources of income in Israel will only grow. Israel is greatly responsible for the Palestinian poverty and economic distress.”

‘Let Hamas find you a job’

Another subject widely covered in the report is the abuse of Palestinians by soldiers. According to the report, “The Israeli authorities contribute to the ongoing acts of abuse of Palestinians by not treating them suitably.”

The report said that 64.5 percent of the complaints filed by Palestinians were not even investigated.

Thirty-one percent of the complaints were investigated and closed for various reasons and a mere 3 percent of the soldiers or officers complained against by Palestinians stood disciplinary trial.

According to the report, there has been a general disregard to the execution of verdicts against abusive soldiers and officers, and many crimes go unpunished.

The report presented the testimonies of dozens on Palestinian victims of different types of abuse, including being delayed at checkpoints for many hours and incidents of difficult violence on the part of Israeli soldiers and police officers.

“The officers mock us, beat us, do what they please with us,” said Abdullah Jafer, a resident of Bethlehem in his testimony.

Samer Auni of Hebron told the story of two officers who arrested him: “One of them held me while the other one started to scratch me in the face and neck. One of them took my ID, burned it and said that I voted for Hamas. I told him: ‘I didn’t vote for Hamas,’ and then he asked: ‘So why did Hamas win? Go let Hamas find you a job.'”

B’Tselem’s report also gave testimonies of Palestinians who were forced to collaborate with the defense establishment in exchange for work permits.

“Illegal forceful means are utilized in order to obtain information and recruit collaborators,” claimed the report.

The report stated that since Israel is in control of the West Bank, it is responsible for the welfare of the residents, and for encouraging the creation of workplaces in the West Bank.

However, as long as Palestinians are dependant on Israel for their livelihood, and the West Bank holds no alternative sources of income, Israel should ease the closure policy and allow many more Palestinians to enter its territory, following suitable security checks.

Response: IDF must defend Israelis

The IDF spokesman responded to B’Tselem’s report saying, “The terror organizations’ wish to infiltrate Israel’s home front and harm its citizens constitutes a constant, ongoing risk to the State’s residents. The IDF is obligated to do all it can to defend the residents of the State of Israel.

In the past five years thousands of terror acts were committed against Israel, during which over one thousand Israeli citizens were killed and thousands of others were injured. In any situation where there is a threat of terrorist infiltration into the countries boundaries, the defense forces act according to the conditions in the field, when conditions allow, they thwart the incident, be it an attack or an infiltration attempt, by arresting the suspect, without opening fire.”

Regarding B’Tselem’s claims that Palestinian complaints go untreated, the IDF spokesman said, “Complaints of the harm of Palestinians and the behavior of soldiers are looked into and examined seriously. In compliance with the Military Prosecutor’s office’s policies on complaints of violence, abuse, looting or any other offences regarding wrong and premeditated conduct of soldiers, the Criminal Investigation Division is given an order to open investigation. The IDF further reported that a special effort was being made to execute the verdicts of anyone who committed offences harming illegal residents and when enough evidence is collected, serious indictments are filed.”

Shlomo Dror, the spokesman for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories responded to claims regarding the issuing of entry permits to Israel saying, “The defense establishment has allocated a quota for 45,700 workers. So far, of this quota, some 40,100 permits have been issued. The gap comes from a lacking demand on the part of Israeli employers for Palestinian workers. In May 2006 the number of permitted workers was 27,000, and since then, it has been growing steadily.

The Activities Coordinators in the Territories are working to encourage the employment of Palestinians by contractors’ organizations and agricultural organizations and with the help of the National Employment Service. The process of obtaining a permit to work in Israel is simple and effective and the workers’ entrance to Israel is done quickly and efficiently through orderly crossings.

“Nonetheless, the demand is still lower than the quota, for example: The agricultural branch has been approved 7,500 workers, when in reality only some 4,000 applications for workers in this field have been received. Employing workers without a permit in Israel is a security risk, still there are employers who prefer to hire workers for lower wages without having to pay national insurance and income tax, and without having to worry about the workers’ welfare, we view these very severely.”