Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, large numbers of Palestinians travelled to work in Israel on a daily or weekly basis. However, due to fears that such travel could further spread the virus, Israel’s emergency regulations required Palestinian workers to remain in the country and prevented them from returning to the West Bank. (Authorities issued stay permits for 30 or 60 days.) Although employers were required to provide workers with accommodation, reports quickly emerged revealing that Palestinians were being housed in inhumane accommodation—including some units without beds, toilets, or running water—which fell far below the standards of other foreign nationals’ accommodation.
In April, a coalition of NGOs launched a petition urging the Israeli government the ensure the health and living conditions of Palestinian workers. The petitioners wrote, “The State of Israel is exploiting the most disadvantaged workers, keeping them under conditions akin to slavery. Their dignity is trampled upon as they are given accommodation in unsupervised construction sites, their health is neglected as no one provides them insurance during a global health crisis, and their liberty is denied when their employers process their papers but, in fact, bind them to their workplaces.”
Authorities responded, issuing new legislation that required employers to pay for their employees’ health insurance—and eventually amending the emergency regulations to specify the living conditions that employers are required to provide. This was an important step: As countries such as Germany and Singapore have witnessed, poor worker accommodation units have frequently become virus hotspots.
More recently, on 28 June, as cases began to rise again, Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development informed all organisations employing Palestinians that employees would be required to remain in Israel for three weeks, and that they were to be provided with health insurance and adequate accommodation. Reports indicate that Palestinian workers have faced movement restrictions. They have been required to remain within the boundaries of their workplace and nearby accommodation, and may not leave the premises to purchase food or medication—their Israeli employer must instead provide such supplies.
- M. Niezna, “Under Control: Palestinian Workers in Israel During Covid-19,” Border Criminologies, 7 July 2020, https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2020/07/under-control
- The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, “Success: Petition to Provide Palestinian Workers Health Insurance,” 5 May 2020, https://www.english.acri.org.il/post/__166
- R. Bassist, “Palestinian Workers Stay in Israel for Three Weeks in a Row,” Al Monitor, 7 July 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/israel-palestinian-authority-mohammad-shtayyeh–coronavirus.html
- Palestinian Labourers Line Up to Enter Israel through the Mitar Checkpoint in the Occupied West Bank City of Hebron, (H. Bader, AFP, “Palestinian Workers Stay in Israel for Three Weeks in a Row,” 9 July 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/07/israel-palestinian-authority-mohammad-shtayyeh–coronavirus.html).