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

Rania Julani, a WAC member of 35, mother of three, married at 20; in accordance with the mores of Arab society, she stopped working at marriage. Then she suffered violence at the hands of her husband, but she was afraid to get divorced and be left with no source of income. Ever since joining WAC she has been going through a process of empowerment: WAC helped her get her income support benefit from the government, and she found the courage to divorce. Previously Julani had gained the Palestinian high school certificate and qualified as a kindergarten teacher. During the divorce, she qualified as an accountant, with the help of the Rian Center and the Employment Bureau. Despite her wish to work in one of these two fields, the only work to which she was directed by the Employment Bureau was as a cleaner. The position is part-time, so she still needs income support from the National Insurance Institute.

Another example is provided by Raida Salhut, a WAC member aged 39, divorced with a son of 16, who lives in the EJ suburb of Jabel Mukaber. In 2006 she had an accident while working as a mushroom picker at “Ayalon Emek Hapitriot.” Shortly after this, the company went bankrupt and all the workers were dismissed. Between 2008 and 2010, Salhut worked at a clothing warehouse, to which she had been referred by the employment program “Orot Leta’asuka” (one of the versions of the Wisconsin Program for the privatization of Employment Bureaus). She was fired when she complained about working conditions. Since then she has had difficulty in re-entering the labor market. In 2013, she was sent by the Employment Bureau (henceforth EB), along with a large group of women, to a two-year training for kindergarten teachers. The course, held at Anwar Al Kuds College, included practical work and studies for five days per week. At the end of it, Salhut passed a national exam with a grade of 85. She dreamed of opening a kindergarten or working in one, but when she returned to the EB, she was told, to her astonishment, that they had no work at all in kindergartens or child care. The efforts she also made on her own also came to nothing. Meanwhile, the medical condition from her previous accident worsened. Today she is afraid that she would not be able to cope with the demands of kindergarten work even if she found one.

As will be detailed below (Section 7 – Abusive Employment), the jobs that are available to EJ women, mostly in cleaning and caretaking, are part-time—mere fractions of jobs.

3)        Absence of Educational Frameworks, especially for Infants

In the academic year 2015-16 the number of children aged 0–3 in EJ stood at 23,780.[17] Yet only two day-care centers were allotted for these ages, run by the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. In addition, as said, among the children subject to compulsory education, 18% (23,500) were not registered in any educational framework—municipal, “official but non-recognised,” or private.

The absence of educational frameworks, especially for the ages 0–3, presents a major obstacle for mothers seeking to enter the labor market, especially for a population that cannot afford to pay for private day-care.

Take, for example S., a single parent with six children aged 2 to 13. She was directed by the Employment Bureau to Hadassah (Ein Karem) Hospital as a cleaner, where she was accepted. She agreed to start work, but without any childcare arrangements for her little daughter, she was forced to bring her along on the second day. She was fired at once. The EB registered the incident as a job refusal, depriving her of her benefit for two months. She appealed. The appeals committee adjudicated: “Indeed this is not a simple situation, especially since the appellant is a single parent. The main thing is to be aware of the difficulties that arise in such situations. If indeed what the appellant says is true, then there is here asystemic problem that is not easy to solve….” Yet the committee dismissed the appeal, stating that the appellant “caused her failure to integrate into the workplace….” It nonetheless added that in order to facilitate the integration of this population into the workforce, there is a need for “deep systemic and national consideration” about, among other things, temporary solutions for childcare.

The Jerusalem Municipality is aware of the problem, but according to Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkowitz, it has never discussed building such facilities.[18]

4)        The Separation Barrier

The Separation Barrier (SB) cuts off over a third of the population of EJ from the rest of the city. In addition to being separated from municipal services, the residents living beyond the SB find it extremely difficult to reach work on time, for this entails going through checkpoints. Residents of Kafr Aqab have to pass through Kalandia Checkpoint along with a large number of West Bank residents who work in Israel, but the checkpoint opens at 6 a.m. The residents of the Shuafat Refugee Camp have to pass through Shuafat Checkpoint; it is open 24 hours a day, but most of the time only has two lanes available, and everyone must undergo a strict security check. All those using public transport also have to disembark and then re-embark, which regularly causes severe traffic jams.

Daily passage through the checkpoints makes it almost a mission impossible to meet the demands of the workplace—so says Fida’a Shweiki, a resident of Kafr Aqab, who was employed at Atarot Industrial Park, a ten minute drive from Kafr Aqab.  “They finished building the SB in 2006. At the beginning of 2010 it was still possible to pass through with relative ease. I got to work in half an hour…. In 2012 everything changed…. They closed the passage and made everyone get off the bus for checks at Kalandia Checkpoint. This is full of people and the passage takes over an hour. They only check two women at a time, and only when we have passed through do they let two others in. Then we have to get on the bus again. The journey lengthened to more than an hour and a half. I had to leave home at 5 or 5:30 in the morning, to get to the checkpoint early enough to catch a place in the queue before they opened. In 2014 there was some improvement when they divided us into two groups, one for those with a Jerusalem ID and the other for workers from the West Bank.”

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