Yes! Increase the number of Palestinian workers, but give them “green cards”

The article was published in Hebrew by the daily Calcalist on June 5th https://bit.ly/3tv1NS9 In response to recent deadly attacks by Palestinians in various Israeli cities, Israel’s security establishment undertook […]

The article was published in Hebrew by the daily Calcalist on June 5th https://bit.ly/3tv1NS9

In response to recent deadly attacks by Palestinians in various Israeli cities, Israel’s security establishment undertook policy discussions concerning the possible threat posed by Palestinian Authority (PA) residents who work in Israel. While retributory sentiments underlie the populist call for prohibiting Palestinians from entering Israel for employment, the security establishment maintains that prohibiting workers from entering Israel through checkpoints in the separation wall will not prevent attackers from finding their way into Israel though illegal entrance.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz explained (Ha’aretz, April 12) that halting the entry of workers would serve only to exacerbate the situation. The solution, according to Gantz and others in the security establishment, is, to close the gaps in the separation wall so no one can enter unchecked, and to increase the number of workers entering with permits.

If implemented, Gantz’s policy recommendation would make it more difficult for potential attackers to get into Israel, but it would also cut-off access for Palestinian workers without permits, achieving the important benefit of preventing or significantly reducing the exploitation that necessarily affects illegal workers.

There is, however, a catch: an increase in the number of work permits within the current system of granting permits will inevitably increase illegal trading in permits that tens of thousands Palestinian workers already suffer from. The illegal trade in permits is indeed a widespread practice involving hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian middlemen who buy and sell entry permits with the cooperation of Israel employers, and to the great detriment of Palestinian workers.

The Israel agency called the Payments Section of the Population and Immigration Authority, who is currently responsible for licensing Israeli employers to employ Palestinian workers, allows Israeli employers to freely declare the number of Palestinian workers “required” by them in their businesses. However, many employers systematically apply for and receive many more licenses to employ workers than they need, and then sell the excess licenses through middlemen so that Palestinian workers can get permits, for an average kickback of approximately NIS 2,500 each month. In this arrangement, the employer falsely reports to the Payments Section employment of dozens or more workers who in fact are not working for him. The workers who buy these surplus permits from middlemen can use them to cross the checkpoint and then independently search for work in the black market with a different employer.

This monthly payment of NIS 2,500 is divided between the middlemen (who receive about NIS 500 per month from each worker, according to estimates) and the Israeli employer who receives approximately NIS 2,000. At the end of each month, the employer transfers various payments to Payment Authority (including income tax, social security, health, and pension benefits) at an estimated cost of NIS 700-1,000.  The result of this operation is that each month, a net profit of NIS 1,000-1300 remains in the hands of the Israeli employer, which is income taken from workers and not reported to the authorities. The temptation to engage in permit trading is enormous, and carries with it oppression of workers, tax evasion, and any easy “money laundered” profit for the fictitious employers for what amounts to human trafficking.

It is not surprising that the increase in issuance of permits last year (during the second half of 2021, the number was increased by 15,000 permits), led to a parallel increase in black marker permit trading.  Responding to criticism in this regard, the Payments Section recently announced that it had summoned 23 employers to a hearing on suspicion of engaging in illicit permit trading. These hearings are too few and lack sufficient deterrent impact because they are administrative proceedings whose sanctions, if applied, entail mainly small fines, and are weak in comparison to criminal sanctions. Until now there was no meaningful action by the police and tax authorities, who have the authority to start a criminal investigation and prosecute employers who are engaged in permit trading .  

The Payments Section’s tacit support of permit-trading is evinced in its allowing employers to obtain hundreds of licenses to employ Palestinian workers, when such a high number of licenses is not required for the employers who request the permits. In its present form there is no justification for continuing to empower the Payments section to regulate 100,000 Palestinian worker- Israeli employer relationships. 

We strongly recommend taking away from the Payments Section the power to control the issuance of licenses to Israeli employers that bind the Palestinians workers to the Israeli employers and create a nefarious market in illegally traded work permits.

In place of the present system, we call for a new one that would issue “green cards” directly to Palestinian workers. Eliminating the licensing practices carried out by the Payment’s Section will lead naturally to the suppression of permit trading.  To this change in the system of issuing permits, there must be added a criminal law enforcement program, including the appointment of investigators empowered to recommend to prosecutors filing of indictments against any remaining permit traders.

This proposal to introduce a “green card” for Palestinian workers was formulated by MAAN Workers Association and LEAP – Legal Aid for Palestinians. The two organizations have for years sought to protect Palestinian workers and together formulated the idea of a “green card” for workers to free them from the shackles of employers, as well as largely neutralizing the status of permit dealers.

Without changing the system, an increase in the number of permits, although welcome, will cause damage by also increasing the trade in permits.

Assaf Adiv is the executive director of MAAN Workers Association

Prof. Kenneth Mann is a cofounder, along with Advocate Mor Soker, of LEAP – Legal Aid for Palestinians

אודות Assaf Adiv