Over the course of 2018 and 2019, and in March and April of 2022, Gisha conducted a series of interviews with Palestinians from Gaza who have permits from Israel to work in Israel, primarily in construction and agriculture. They described their work day and the difficulties they face, requesting to remain anonymous for fear Israel would take away their permits. We note that the information below reflects the specific experiences of the people we interviewed and cannot necessarily be taken as representative.
3:00—5:00 A.M.︱Crossing from Gaza to Israel
The work day begins in the early morning hours. Workers from Gaza arrive at Erez Crossing before dawn. After their papers are checked on the Palestinian side of the crossing, they cross over to the Israeli side on shuttles, where they face Israel’s restrictions on travel with personal belongings via Erez Crossing. Many laborers set off on the long trip ahead without anything on them, to avoid delays, and have to buy what they need for their stay in Israel.
A: “Every time I exit from Gaza to Israel, I start looking for places to buy clothes to avoid having to take a bag with me the next time I go out to work. I have nowhere to keep the clothes when I go back to the Strip.”
M: “When leaving Gaza, the Israelis let laborers through with the clothes they’re wearing, a pack of cigarettes, headphones, and a cellphone. Everything else – bags, luggage, food, personal belongings – is prohibited. Many of us wear multiple items of clothing as we cross through, so that we’ll have a change of clothes for later.”
7:00 A.M.︱Finding an employer
Many workers expressed that the process of finding a job is long and difficult. Some find a job through personal connections, with the help of relatives or businesspeople in Gaza who have business connections in Israel. Others rely on work connections other permit-holding laborers have made. Many workers arrive at known “collection points” and wait there, hoping to be picked up by employers looking for day laborers or brokers who can connect them to employers, in return for a fee.
I: “A lot of people pay broker fees but are afraid to talk about it for fear the employer could harm them and have their permits revoked. I work in sanitation for a municipality [in Israel], and I pay the broker 50 ILS (15 USD) for every work day. Laborers who specialize in a specific field can pay up to 100 ILS (30 USD) per day.”
12:00 P.M.︱Working without protection
An average workday is meant to be 8.4 hours but can stretch as long as 10 to 12 hours or more. Some laborers have a permanent employer, but the majority switch employers and workplaces frequently. Many employers in Israel do not provide meals for their workers. Many of the interviewees told us about instances in which they received their pay late or only partially, and have been refused compensation for work accidents or sick pay, though Israeli law requires employers to uphold labor rights even for workers who are employed “illegally.”
In the absence of consistent enforcement against violations by Israeli employers, Palestinians who are desperate to find a source of income are inherently at risk of abuse and exploitation.
M: “The work is not easy, we work under the sun, for long hours. I work 15 hours a day cleaning beaches. That is, in two consecutive shifts. Each shift has two short breaks, and that’s it. I earn 350 shekels for a day’s work, even if it’s Friday, Saturday or a holiday.”
H: “I once fell from the third floor onto the scaffolding. I rested for three hours, but the pain only got worse. I went back to Gaza, and at the hospital, I was told my leg was broken. I had a cast on for a month. My employer never called me during this time. He did not give me sick pay and didn’t even ask how I was doing.”
5:00 P.M.︱Requesting payment
In practice, wages are determined by the employers based on the worker’s experience, skill level, and relationship with the employer. Average daily wages range between 200 and 350 ILS (60-100 USD) but can also reach 600 ILS (180 USD) and above.
The time of payment depends on a verbal agreement between the employer and the worker at the beginning of his employment. Some get paid daily, others weekly or monthly. Every one of the workers we spoke with had heard of laborers who received no pay at all but feared losing their permit if they complained. None of the workers who spoke with Gisha had received a paycheck or any other official documentation that they had been remunerated for their work.
A: “I’ve had some slight delays in payment, but many have had far worse, like getting only half the pay they’d agreed on in advance with their employer. It happens mostly in the south [of Israel], which attracts laborers because of the relative proximity to Gaza, leading to lower travel costs. There’s no one to protect laborers when employers fail to uphold the agreement between them.”
S: “I know my Israeli employer exploited me. The work day sometimes goes until 7:00 P.M. with no overtime pay. He also used to dock 300 ILS from my pay, promising to make it up the next time he paid, which never happened.”
7:00 P.M.︱Returning to Gaza or looking for a place to sleep
Whether or not Gaza workers return to their homes and families in the Strip at the end of the work day or not depends on the work they find, the duration of employment at a specific site, and how far it is from Erez Crossing. Many prefer to save time and money on the long and costly journey from their workplaces back to Gaza (and on the return journey) and look for accommodation near their job site. Some of the laborers we spoke to return to Gaza daily or weekly. Others return once a month. Most employers do not arrange for laborers’ accommodations, and many laborers look to rent apartments, in groups, near job sites or even far away from the sites, if cheaper.
A: “There are certain places known to rent just to laborers. Ten people share a room, with each paying 200-300 ILS [60-90 USD] a month for a bed. These aren’t normal, basic conditions. It’s very crowded. Those who work farther north prefer this solution because traveling back to Gaza at the end of each work day isn’t worthwhile.”
M: “I work in tiling. I get paid 500 ILS per day [150 USD], and my daily expenses are up to 100 ILS [30 USD]. I took a loan from my brother and sold some of my wife’s jewelry to pay for the invoices I needed to get a ‘trader’ permit. Although I miss my family, I only go home to Gaza once a month. I had a hard time finding a job, so I try to work and save as much as possible for fear I won’t be able to renew the permit in the future.”
>> For Gisha’s policy brief on access for Gaza workers, click here.
*Photos by Majdi Fathi