Report – Condemned to Unemployment: East Jerusalem Women Struggle for Integration into the Labor Market

At the East Jerusalem Employment Bureau, May 2017


Little has been written about the workforce participation of the Palestinian women in East Jerusalem (EJ). The present report has had its origin in a long-term struggle by the Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN, henceforth WAC) against the chronic poverty in this part of the city. In the course of our effort, we have come to see a direct relation between that low participation and the poverty. Most EJ women want to work, but they face huge obstacles. The present report discusses the obstacles. Removing these would be a lifeline to the women and their families. The report includes conversations with WAC’s female activists, known as Rights Propagators, who speak about their harsh living conditions, the obstacles, and their search for solutions.

The 315,900 Palestinians of East Jerusalem (henceforth EJ) are living at the heart of a violent conflict, which started for them with the capture of EJ in 1967 and its annexation by Israel. Ever since, this Palestinian population has lived in a disastrous social and economic situation that continues to deteriorate. One of the most downplayed issues concerns the everyday lives of the women, who are condemned to unemployment, poverty and lack of control over their lives.

We at WAC encounter increasing numbers of EJ women who refuse to accept their situation. They are fighting to enter the labor market in order to improve the lives of their families and to save them from being forced to leave the city.

(Unless otherwise stated, all the statistics refer to residents of EJ.)

Chapter 1: The Urgent Need for EJ Women to Enter the Labor Market

In 2014 (the year of the most recent figures as of this writing), 82% of EJ residents had an income that was far below Israel’s poverty line.[1] The nationwide poverty line for a family of five stood at NIS 9,230 monthly, but an EJ family of five averaged only NIS 5,159.[2] (NIS 3.7 = 1 USD.)

The EJ poverty rate has greatly increased since Israel built the Separation Barrier (beginning in 2002); certain Arab areas, though still officially part of Jerusalem, were cut off from the rest of the city. Scarcity of land on the side of EJ that was not cut off, plus the impossibility of getting permits to expand existing houses, plus rises in the cost of living, have all resulted in a massive migration to the cut-off areas, where building regulations are not strictly enforced. In these areas the cost of housing is lower, but the living standards are much worse and job opportunities almost non-existent.[3]

Among EJ families with at least one working member, 89% live on a single minimum wage Between 2008 and 2014, the EJ poverty rate shot up from 65% to 82%. If we just take families of five (these were 57% of EJ families in 2014), the rise was from 66% to 89%.[4]

The income of most EJ families is confined to that of a single member (usually male), who works in a labor market where the legal minimum wage is not enforced. If we consider only those EJ families whose total income is below the poverty line, in 2011 the average family income was NIS 3,826. In that year, Israel’s minimum monthly wage rose from NIS 3,850 to NIS 4,100. In other words, the total income of these families amounts to less than a single minimum wage. This relationship has held through the years since 2005, except for a slight one-time improvement in 2013–2014.[5] In sum, although 89% of poor families do include a wage earner, the wage is so low that the family cannot escape poverty.

Absence of EJ women from the labor market

EJ men are highly represented in Israel’s labor market, while EJ women are hardly present at all.

In 2014, among EJ residents aged 25-64, 47,800 of the men—83% of them—were in the labor force, and 79% of these had jobs. In contrast, only 10,900 women (18% of 61,000 women) were in it, and 17% had jobs.[6] If we begin from the legal working age of 15, then 68% of the men were in the labor force, with 63% actively employed, while only 13% of women were in it, 11% employed.[7]

Mass entry of women into the employment market would significantly improve the socioeconomic condition of EJ Palestinians. However, under current abusive working conditions, it

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