Palestinian workers demand equal labor conditions to Israelis at court hearing

By YONAH JEREMY BOB, The Jerusalem Post, 07/15/2015 To the article Lawyer for laborers: How can 1967 Jordanian law apply when it does not apply anywhere in the world, even Jordan? In...

In a case with huge implicions for Israeli-Palestinian work relations as well as possible diplomatic consequences, three Palestinians who work in Israeli industry near Tulkarm on Tuesday demanded that the National Labor Court recognize their right to equal work conditions to Israelis.

The core of the debate, which has come up in parallel cases, is whether Israeli law applies to the Palestinians since they have Israeli employers, or 1967 Jordanian law, since the industrial workspaces are in Area C of the West Bank.

Under international law, an “occupying country” (in the legal sense, absent the political debate, occupying just means a country that has conquered territory) is supposed to apply the law that already existed to the local population that comes under its rule.

Since Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, Israel has always taken the position that 1967 Jordanian law applies to Palestinians in a number of areas of life.

But in 2007, the High Court of Justice issued a major ruling that Palestinians who lived in the West Bank but worked for Israelis in the Givat Ze’ev settlement would get the same minimum level work conditions as Israelis in terms of pay, vacation days, work days and termination pay.

The three Palestinians along with Combatants for Peace and the Wac-Maan – Workers Advice Center want to apply that 2007 ruling to this case.

The National Labor Court has already applied the 2007 High Court ruling in other cases, including in December 2013.

But the employers here claim that the 2007 ruling does not apply because the industrial zone near Tulkarm falls into a special category.

They have argued, and a lower labor court already ruled, that because their industrial zone was part of a special joint effort under the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and part of the purpose is specifically to supply jobs to Palestinians, that Jordanian, not Israeli, should apply.

The employers’ lawyer, Shahar Hoffman, also noted that the IDF has only recently been issuing orders to liberalize certain labor laws for Palestinians to “catch up” the laws to Israeli law – meaning that the Palestinian workers in this case, whose claim dates to 2010 did not benefit from the new legal trend.

Despite many supporters in attendance and a powerful human and emotional argument about the Palestinian workers getting equal treatment and escaping demeaning work conditions, the reaction of the five-judge panel on Tuesday seemed to indicate that the workers have an uphill battle ahead of them.

National Labor Court President Yigal Plitman peppered the Palestinians’ lawyers with questions as they made their arguments, and put on a skeptical and impatient face throughout.

Plitman seemed to accept the premise of the lower court ruling and the employers that this case, with essentially all Palestinian workers, was different than the 2007 case, which included both Israeli and Palestinian workers, and could there – fore support a discrimination accusation.

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