A new policy brief by Gisha, At All Costs, provides background on and analysis of Israel’s policy vis-à-vis access for Palestinian workers from Gaza, pointing to major issues that must be addressed. While Israeli officials frequently tout incremental permit quota expansions and take pride in Israel’s supposed steps to alleviate dire economic conditions in the Strip, the closure Israel enforces continues to drive down living conditions in Gaza and hinder economic activity, let alone development. The policy brief is based in part on a series of in-depth interviews with Palestinians from Gaza working in Israel.
In late 2021, the Israeli authorities added a criterion for exit from Gaza for “financial needs” and began openly acknowledging the fact that these permits were being used to access manual labor jobs in Israel. In March 2022, the Israeli government passed resolution 1328 (Hebrew) to gradually expand the “financial needs” permit quota to 20,050. As of today, this quota has not been filled.
On July 15, 2022, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories announced (Arabic) that starting August 1, 2022, Gaza residents are eligible to receive work permits (rather than “financial needs” permits, which are not official work permits), and benefits. This new policy marks a shift in Israel’s approach to the employment of Gaza residents. The new policy, as well as the mechanism currently in place for “financial needs” permits, give rise to several crucial issues which the state of Israel must address without delay, including the lack of consistent labor law enforcement that exposes Palestinians working in Israel to exploitation, the problem of brokers and subcontractors charging “broker” fees to connect workers to employers in Israel, and the restrictions on bank transfers to Gaza that increase the risk of employers withholding wages.
In July 2022, 35,319 exits from Gaza for work purposes were recorded at Erez Crossing, the highest monthly number of exits recorded since the closure was imposed, which still represents only 7% of the roughly 500,000 monthly exits by Gaza laborers recorded at Erez in 2000, before the Second Intifada. While the permit expansions since late 2021 have enabled greater access than in previous years, they still fall short of meeting actual need in Gaza, where unemployment stands at 44% and average monthly wages are just 710 ILS (207 USD). As of late July, more than 100,000 residents of Gaza had registered at the Gaza Ministry of Labor in the hope of receiving permits allowing them to access jobs in Israel.
For decades, Gaza’s economy and workforce have been subjugated to Israeli interests, restrictions, and control. To this day, Israel continues to limit movement of people and goods to and from the Strip, suffocating Gaza’s economy, impairing living conditions and severely violating Palestinians’ human rights. Work permit quotas cannot compensate for the harm caused by Israel’s ongoing occupation, nor will they suffice as long as it is in place.