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29 Nov 2023

Nur Arafeh, The New Arab

Israel: Recent reports of abuse and mistreatment of Palestinian workers part of historic "disposable and dependent" treatment

On 3 November, Israel announced it had released thousands of Gazan workers who were in Israel on the day of the 7 October attacks by Hamas.

They had been secretly detained by the Israeli authorities following the beginning of the Gaza war, although they held Israeli-issued work permits.

While the plight of these Gazan workers received limited media attention in the first few weeks of the war, Israel’s policy toward them is a continuation of its broader policy toward Palestinian workers since 1967.

Israel has sought to use them as pacification tools, a part of its efforts to manage and contain Palestinians and stabilise its rule in the occupied territories. At the same time, it has frequently treated them as disposable and targets of Israel’s policy of collective punishment.

Since the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, one of the key pillars of Israel’s policy toward the occupied Palestinian territories has been to integrate their economy into Israel’s, but in such a way that they became dependent on the Israeli economy...

Palestinian workers were thus seen by Israel as a source of cheap labour, especially as they were concentrated in low-skilled jobs for which there was a dearth of Israeli labourers.

More importantly, Israel considered Palestinian unemployment as a potential driver of opposition and instability...

They were subjected to exploitation by Israeli employers as they lacked legal recourse and medical insurance, although they were employed in high-risk industries in which accidents are common - for example, construction and manufacturing.

This two-pronged Israeli policy toward Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip continued after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993. Following Israel’s imposition of a closure regime on the occupied territories in the early 1990s, Palestinian workers required work permits to access the Israeli labour market, which were granted subject to security clearances from Israel...

This system allowed Israel to expand its control over Palestinians by using the permits as a disciplinary mechanism, punishing Palestinians when they engaged in resistance actions against Israel, and rewarding them when they were “quiet”...

At the same time, these workers were among the first targets of Israel’s collective punishment policy against Palestinians after 7 October. On 10 October, Israel revoked all labour permits held by Gazan workers, effectively rendering their presence in Israel illegal.

Thousands of these workers were then arrested “secretly and illegally” by Israel and were moved to detention centres without any legal basis, while Israel refused to disclose their names and whereabouts.

All these workers who were detained were legally present in Israel on 7 October and had undergone comprehensive security checks - meaning they were detained and targeted by Israel solely because they were from Gaza. According to Gisha, an Israeli legal centre, the conditions within Israeli detention centres were inhumane.

Detainees were subjected to severe physical violence and psychological mistreatment, as they were tortured and humiliated. Two workers died while in Israeli custody, and all had their cash and phones taken away by Israeli soldiers...