Palestinian workers face arbitrary dismissal in Israel

Incitement against Arabs amid escalating conflict is linked to recent firings of Arab workers in Israel, NGO says.

    According to an Israeli NGO, weaker sections of the labour market are more heavily impacted by arbitrary dismissals [EPA]
    According to an Israeli NGO, weaker sections of the labour market are more heavily impacted by arbitrary dismissals [EPA]

    Occupied East Jerusalem - On the eighth floor of a limestone tower in Shuafat refugee camp, Barakat Mohammed Ali, 38, reclined on a sofa and exhaled a cloud of apple-flavoured tobacco smoke.

    The Palestinian father of four usually works in the late afternoon, but following the recent wave of unrest in Jerusalem, Ali and his colleagues from the same Arab neighbourhood were told they did not have jobs any more.

    "This is the third week that we don't have work," he told Al Jazeera. "We are 15 people who work with a contractor, who works with the Modiin municipality. And they fired all of us."

    'We were facing some harassment from the settlers,' said Barakat Mohammed Ali [Al Jazeera]

    As Ali's kids brought trays of tea and cookies, their father explained how he had worked collecting rubbish for the Modiin municipality for 11 years.

    He had even worked overtime during the Jewish high holidays, which ran through much of September.

    "We were doing 16-hour days sometimes, and I thought this was great, good benefits," he said. "But we were facing some harassment from the settlers after the attacks began. Young Israelis were standing next to our garbage car. They started cursing at us, shouting 'Death to Arabs' and 'Terrorists'."

    Although there are no exact figures how many Arab workers have faced arbitrary dismissal in Israel in recent days, an Israeli labour NGO said the target has primarily been the weaker sections of the labour market. 

    Approximately 30,000 Palestinian workers from the occupied Palestinian territories are currently employed in Israel, most in construction, and many others in agriculture, industry and service jobs.

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    The wave of stabbings and revenge attacks that has swept through Jerusalem and other cities over the past month - triggered by several incidents in which extremist Jewish groups have stormed al-Aqsa Mosque compound - has fostered a climate of fear.

    There were comments from other Israelis calling me a terrorist, and people were asking the company to fire me.

    Tamara, an Arab worker

    Hard-right nationalist Jewish groups have paraded through Jerusalem, harassing and attacking Arab pedestrians. When three young men from the Shuafat camp were killed in three consecutive days in early October, the checkpoint closed temporarily.

    Ali and his colleagues found that they could not go to work in the Jewish Israeli neighbourhood of Modiin via their usual route.

    "We called the coordinator to come and take us to work. He said, 'I should come to you so that you can stab me?'" Ali recalled.

    A few days later, when the checkpoint opened again, Ali and his colleagues entered Modiin."When we got there, they asked us to go to the office. They told us we don't have a job there and to go back home. I asked, 'What is the reason? What did we do wrong?' He told me, 'There's no reason. The director doesn't want you here.'"

    Contacted by Al Jazeera, Modiin municipality spokesperson insisted that the policy towards employing Arab workers had not changed. 

    "There is no anti-Arab policy," said Eyal Malloul, spokesman for the municipality. "We have workers here from East Jerusalem, Lod, Ramle - we don't care who they are or where they come from. There are no changes."

    Commenting on the case of Barakat and his colleagues, Malloul said when they did not show up for work for several days, they were replaced by "new employees from East Jerusalem".

    In another case, 21-year-old Tamara says she has already started looking for a new job after she was fired by the Israeli mobile phone provider, Pelephone. A part-time law student, she had worked at the company for more than a year.

    She was fired on October 6, after posting a picture of a friend, Fadi Alloun, on her Facebook page as a tribute, she told Al Jazeera. "In the letter, they said they wanted to fire me because I posted a photograph on my Facebook page of a person who carried out a terror attack on an Israeli." 

    Alloun was killed in Jerusalem after allegedly attacking an Israeli with a knife. In a video of his killing, the young man appeared to be unarmed and trying to escape a Jewish Israeli mob, who incited the police to shoot him. He was shot multiple times and died from his wounds.

    "There were comments from other Israelis calling me a terrorist, and people were asking the company to fire me. I replied to some of them, saying that I knew Fadi - that I don't know what happened with this guy, but I know he was killed," Tamara said.

    Following Tamara's firing, the company's deputy director for human resources wrote a letter to employees, stating that the firing took place after Tamara "rejected repeated requests to remove the offensive pictures".

    Tamara said she received threatening phone calls for two weeks after she was fired, and was too afraid to leave her house.

    RELATED: The controversial killing of Fadi Alloun 

    Discrimination against Arab residents in recent weeks has also taken subtler forms.


    Israel-Palestine: The conflict and the coverage - Listening Post

    Four Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, imposed a temporary ban on Arabs working in schools in mid-October, with some excluding Arab staff from institutions during school hours. The municipality of Rehovot made a special announcement that "minorities" would be banned from educational institutions.

    The move across the municipalities drew condemnation from Arab members of the Knesset and workers' rights NGOs.

    "What kind of message is this meant to convey to young pupils, who are used to seeing Arab workers as part of their usual learning environment and then, during times of tension, they are made to disappear just because they're Arabs?" noted a statement issued by directors of the Israeli NGO Sikkuy. 

    Israeli workers' rights NGO Kav Laoved said it had yet to document cases of arbitrary dismissals of Arab workers, and stressed that changing workers' terms of employment based on their race or ethnicity was illegal in Israel.

    "Our estimation at the moment is that the main impact of the incitement against Arabs is on workers from the weakened sections in the labour market, such as contract workers, cleaners in schools and construction workers.These workers do not enjoy accessibility to help and many times are not aware of their rights," Kav Laoved spokesperson Einat Podjarny told Al Jazeera. 

    "With the example of cleaners in schools, it's not falling under the category of being fired, but it's illegal if the reason for changing their working conditions is only due to their nationality.

    "We also assume that after the incitement wave that occurred during the summer of 2014, many Palestinian workers in Israel are afraid to raise their voice or share their thoughts in the workplaces, or even on social networks like Facebook," she added.

    In Beersheba, Tamara has been left without any income and grim prospects for finding another job in the near future.

    "I was using my salary to fund my studies," she told Al Jazeera.

    "It's hard for me to find a job right now because other companies know my story and they don't want to employ me. I'm worried I won't find a job. I spoke with a lawyer yesterday and he thinks I have a good case."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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