Palestinians in Gaza lose jobs in Israel as well as aid from gulf states WAR IN THE GULF


ISRAELI-OCCUPIED GAZA STRIP -- When the Persian Gulf war ended, Ahmed al-Hawi was eager to get back to the tannery outside Tel Aviv where he had worked for 10 years. He had gone without work for 43 days during the Israeli military's continuous curfew, and he had observed uncounted strike days demanded by the leaders of the Palestinian uprising over the last 3 1/2 years.

But when he and 16 other Palestinians went back to the tannery, they found Russian and Polish immigrants doing their jobs.

His brother, Mohammed al-Hawi, found that Russian immigrants had also replaced him and the four other Gazans at the meatpacking plant in Ashdod where they had worked before the war.

"My boss said he didn't need any laborers from the areas," Mohammed al-Hawi said. He had worked at the plant three years.

None of them was able to get his job back. Though they were all legally registered and paid for full social benefits, they did not receive

severance pay from their employers, they said.

From Israel as well as from Israel's enemies in the Persian Gulf, Palestinians are reaping the bitter fruit of their earlier support for Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.

While once there was no shortage of jobs for Palestinians at Israeli construction sites, factories and hotels, these jobs have become scarcer, and the criteria for being permitted to go outside the territories have become more stringent since the gulf war ended.

The unrest in the territories happened to coincide with the influx on the Israeli job market of new immigrants, which offered employers a painless way to cut off the Palestinian workers they once depended on.

Now, the jobless rate here in Gaza runs 40 percent to 50 percent, up from an estimated prewar level of 20 percent, according to a recent report by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Ahmad Abdullah, a teacher at an UNRWA school at the Jabaliya refugee camp, said he gauged the hardship wrought by the gulf war by student purchases at the school's non-profit canteen.

Before the war, students bought 300 sandwiches a day. Now, he said, only 50 or so whose fathers are still working in Israel can afford the sandwiches.

"The others just watch them eat," said Mr. Abdullah. "We're thinking of stopping the service."

Children who bring lunch from home these days are carrying what he calls "bread sandwiches": pita bread dusted inside with spices or condiments.

According to figures released this week by the Israeli Civil Administration, the number of Palestinians registered to work has reached the prewar level of about 110,000. On any given day, the Civil Administration announced, 80,000 Palestinians from the occupied territories work in Israel.

But interviews with Palestinian workers and others here tell another story. Most men board the predawn buses to work in construction. Work in factories, hotels and transportation has simply vanished.

According to an UNRWA report, the number of jobholders has shrunk to half, depriving the Gaza Strip alone of $62 million a year -- roughly 12 percent of its $500 million gross product.

About $40 million in remittances from family members working in the Persian Gulf states, roughly 7.5 percent of the Gaza Strip's annual prewar revenues, has virtually disappeared. Most of the Palestinians working in the gulf, about 300,000, were in Kuwait, where the Iraqi invasion devastated the infrastructure and brought the economy to a standstill.

These days, the Palestinians in Kuwait are mostly trying to stay out of Kuwaiti police stations, courts and cemeteries, and many are being triedfor collaboration with Iraqi forces. They are hardly top candidates for jobs. Many of those living in other gulf states have also lost work.

In addition, contributions to the Palestinians from the Kuwaiti government and other institutions have also stopped, along with aid from other gulf states. An UNRWA report estimates the loss at $140 million, with half of that from Kuwait.

Officially, Israel has taken no measures to punish Palestinians collectively for celebrating Mr. Hussein's attacks on Israeli targets during the war or for the intifada, the 3 1/2 -year-old uprising that has included random stabbings of Jews by Palestinians in the last year.

But these developments have fanned the fears that began with the open hostility of the intifada. Palestinians are being more closely watched and more routinely denied entry into Israel.

The Israeli Labor Exchange here is now strictly enforcing laws requiring all Palestinians to register for work and obliging employers to provide health and social benefits, unlike before when both employers and employees benefited from cheaper, "black market" labor.

"We don't want the Palestinians from the territories to be exploited. We know they are vulnerable," said an official with the Israeli military advocate general's office, who insisted on anonymity.

But in fact the law is working against Palestinians from the occupied territories. Two-thirds of them were working off the books, but they are no longer needed as a pool of cheap, untaxed labor since the government subsidizes the salaries of immigrants for the first year.

The refugees at the Jabaliya refugee camp have particularly bleak prospects. Ahmed al-Hawi cannot go to Israel to look for work since he can only leave the Gaza Strip with a work permit sponsored by his employer.

"Of course, I'm looking for work," he said. "Every day I ask the workers coming back if they know of any jobs."

He has used up all his savings, borrowed from friends, and recently sold some of his wife's wedding jewelry. With the money, he bought chicken wire and 20 pigeons -- 10 pairs -- which he breeds in a coop he built above his tin roof.

"Young pigeon is a delicacy here. Some of us are trying to raise pigeons or rabbits now," he said over the throaty song of the birds. Whether he can earn enough to feed his wife and six children -- a seventh is on the way -- he will not venture to say.

Nor can he find work inside Gaza, a run-down, economically depressed stretch of refugee camps, open-air garbage dumps and graffiti that has been under Egyptian and then Israeli authority since 1948.

"I have knocked on every door," Ahmed al-Hawi said.

"And there are no openings. Not even one."

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