Labour struggle in West Bank belies claims of harmony

“But alas, this wasn’t reflected on the ground. Conversely, the number of workers whose permit renewals have been rejected is on the rise,” the source added. Though the revocations were...

“But alas, this wasn’t reflected on the ground. Conversely, the number of workers whose permit renewals have been rejected is on the rise,” the source added.

Though the revocations were officially mandated for security reasons, Adiv described the tactic as an effective way for Israeli employers to circumvent laws prohibiting the firing of trade union organisers.

“It means if a worker is too strong in their demands, if they are behaving in a way they are not satisfied with or talking too much to others, they can just secretly go to the military authorities and say this workers is suspicious or threatening or whatever and the permit is taken from the worker and the workers loses his job,” he said.

In a report from 2010, the Israeli NGO Kav LaOved (Workers’ Hot Line) described the withdrawal of permits as a primary tool in undercutting demands by Palestinian workers for better pay and conditions

“The fear of losing the work permit is often greater than the fear of losing one’s job,” wrote Salwa Alenet, head of the NGO’s Palestine desk. “Without the permit, the worker’s chances of employment in the settlements are close to zero.”

“Israeli employers do not hesitate to use this as a bargaining card in order to pressure their workers to rescind suits from labor courts or desist demanding a raise.”

‘Neoliberal vision’

The Mishor Adumim industrial zone was established in the 80’s and since 1998 has been managed by  Ma’aleh Adumim Economic Development Co. LTD

Adam Hanieh, author of Lineages of Revolt: Issues of Contemporary Capitalism in the Middle East, described the industrial zones as a key part of the “neoliberal vision” for the restructure of the West Bank economy.

“Much like experiences elsewhere around the globe, industrial zones in the Palestinian context – whether Israeli or Palestinian owned – seek to exploit cheap labour and maximise employer profits” he told MEE.

“They typically involve offering incentives to investors that include low tax regimes, cheap or subsidised land, and loosely regulated labour, environmental and other laws. In the West Bank, they are closely linked to Israeli settlements and the confiscation of Palestinian land. The upshot is a deepening entrenchment of Israeli occupation, facilitated through neoliberal development models.”

The unwillingness of inspectors to travel to Area C in the West Bank – where Mishor Adumim is located – has meant that there has been little enforcement of labour rights in the settlement and low pay and exploitation have been rife.

In November, the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement claimed a victory after a factory owned by the SodaStream companies closed its operations in the industrial zone. Though the company provided work to 500 Palestinians, the Israeli NGO Kav LaOved (Workers’ Hot Line) reported numerous cases of Palestinians being exploited, with one worker describing his conditions as feeling like he was “enslaved.”

In spite of the controversy, the Mishor Adumim industrial zone has been hailed by commentators as an example of the possibility of co-existence and cooperation between Jews and Arab. In a promotional video, Daniel Birnbaum, Sodastream’s CEO, praised Mishor Adumim as a “fantastic sanctuary of co-existence and an example of peace in a region that is so troubled and so needs hope.”

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