In West Bank industrial zone, everything is Israeli – except the harsh labor laws

<p>Published on Haaretz.com on June 5 2015 by  Tali Heruti Sover. Set up at the start of the Oslo process, Nitzanei Shalom employs hundreds of Palestinians and is run according to Israeli standards, with one glaring exception</p>

Published on Haaretz.com on June 5 2015 by  Tali Heruti Sover

Set up at the start of the Oslo process, Nitzanei Shalom employs hundreds of Palestinians and is run according to Israeli standards, with one glaring exception – Palestinian workers are subject to draconian Jordanian labor law.

The entrance to the industrial area called, with no little irony, Nitzanei Shalom – Buds of Peace – reminds the visitor of a prison more than it does a place of work. Atop the gray concrete wall that surrounds it are posts holding up barbed wire, and opposite the green steel gate sit huge concrete barriers.

The Palestinians who work in the area enter a separate gate, for them only, under the watchful eyes of a Jewish security guard who monitors them as they take a narrow, winding path to the entrance. Journalists are, of course, barred.

There’s no sign of peace in this dreary place, but then again the Palestinians employed in Nitzanei Shalom, most of whom come from the West Bank city of Tul Karm, aren’t looking for peace, or joy, but for work – and that, at least, is what they get.

The industrial zone was set up in 1995 adjacent to Route 6, the north-south highway that in this stretch runs just west of the Green Line, and the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank. The idea, launched in the heyday of the Oslo peace process, was to create a win-win situation – a place where Israelis could build factories and Palestinians could find employment.

Today some 13 factories operate in Nitzanei Shalom, employing some 600 Palestinians. But the area has long been documented as a source of air pollution and industrial accidents. During the second intifada it was torched and two terror attacks occurred there.

The zone was subsequently rebuilt and has since been quiet. But today it operates in a labor twilight zone: It is run according to Israeli standards, with one glaring exception – Palestinian workers are subject to the Jordanian labor law that was in force in the areas until 1967.

The legal fiction cuts employers’ labor costs. For instance, under Jordanian law there is no requirement to set aside money for pensions, provide for paid sick days after the third day absent, or medical costs.

Jordanian law requires employers to give 14 days of vacation and up to another seven holiday days off. Unlike Israeli labor law, Jordanian rules don’t award more vacation to workers with more years on the job. Most importantly, severance pay under Jordanian law is minimal.

“Jordanian law is paradise for the Israeli employers,” says Assaf Adiv, director of WAC Maan, which advocates for Palestinian laborers. “How can anyone say this area isn’t Israeli when everything in it is Israeli except for the labor laws?”

That’s not an easy question to answer. Tul Karm is in Area A, meaning under full Palestinian control, but the main entrance to Nitzanei Shalom is inside Israel. The factories are under Israeli security control and pay Israeli taxes.

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