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February 1997, Volume 4, Number 2

Israel To Accept Palestinian Workers

Israeli and Palestinian labor officials in mid-January agreed to reduce the number of foreign workers from Asia and Eastern Europe so that Palestinian workers can take their jobs. The plan would reduce from 75,000 to 30,000 the number of Asians and Eastern Europeans granted work permits as part of efforts to improve Israeli-Palestinian ties in the wake of the agreement that extended Palestinian rule to Hebron.

In February-March 1997, 20,000 more Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip are to be given permission to work in Israel, followed by another 20,000 over the following two months and an additional 5,000 by the end of August.

About 65,000 Palestinians living on the West Bank and in Gaza have permits to work in Israel, but only 46,000 of them enter Israel for jobs every day.

In March 1993, when terrorist attacks against Israel began, there were 115,600 Palestinians with work permits that enabled them to enter Israel each day. Israel's labor ministry would like to reduce the number of legal Asian and Eastern European workers from 120,000 in early 1997 to about 25,000 and to increase the number of Palestinians from 65,000 to 80,000.

There are estimated to be another 60,000 to 100,000 illegal foreign workers in Israel and a governmental advisory committee recommended that illegal foreign workers be detained and deported within 48 hours of their apprehension. The committee also recommended that Israel raise the fine on employers who hire foreign workers with expired permits from NIS 200 (US$60) to NIS 20,000 (US$6,000) and restrict the ability of employers found to have hired illegal workers to hire more foreign workers.

The committee also recommended that the government impose a levy on employers who hire foreign workers.

The number of work permits granted to non-Palestinian foreigners rose from 14,760 in 1991 to 71,606 in 1994. Israeli employers must deposit $1,520 for a bond for each foreign worker and forfeit the money if the foreign worker assigned to him disappears--another foreign worker cannot be imported unless the original foreign worker leaves Israel. Many employers keep foreign workers' passports, which limits their mobility within Israel.

Israel began to import guest workers to replace Palestinians in 1993 and in the fall of 1996 there were 300,000 foreign workers from Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and South America living in Israel. An estimated 200,000 are illegal aliens who have overstayed their visas.

Labor Minister Eli Yishai called for rounding up unauthorized workers into camps to await deportation, drawing protests from Israelis for whom such references conjured up images of the Holocaust.

The Lebanese army in January found 125 Syrian Kurd migrants from the Qamishli region in the extreme northeast of Syria near the Iraqi border abandoned by smugglers on two deserted islands near the northern port of Tripoli. The migrants paid a reported $200 each to be smuggled to Greece.

Israel's plan to replace foreign workers with Palestinians," Agence France Presse, January 21, 1997. Judy Dempsey, "Foreign workers find streets of Israel paved with hardship," Financial Times, January 23, 1997. Dan Perry, "New Immigrants Alarm Israel," Associated Press, December 2, 1996.