Jobless in Gaza

Submitted by AWL on 22 July, 2005 - 5:32

This article by Gideon Levy is taken from the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz. It gives a vivid picture of life in Gaza.

If you would like to know what the Israeli occupation and life under it looks like, go to its “employment office,” several hundred meters past the Erez checkpoint, on the outskirts of the large prison of Gaza, from which Israel is supposed to disengage in a few weeks. Maybe you will also see here where the next wave of terror is growing.

On the burning sand, around the iron gates, among the piles of garbage, dozens of the unemployed are strewed. A broad field of human beings sprawled in the sun. Sweating, after hours of lying on the sand, they are not allowed to bring cellular phones, they are not even allowed to hold anything in their hands, there are no bags of food, there are no bottles of water from home, only an ID card and the cigarettes in their pockets.

Because of security. The Palestinian policemen, who follow the instructions of the soldiers, keep order based on the commands they receive from their concealed colleagues on the other side of the fence.

Sit, get up, roll up, pull up, don’t crowd, do crowd, stand in line.

They rose at 2am or 3am and left their homes all along the Gaza Strip, Some of them spent their last change on the fare. They arrived at the offices of the Civil Administration south of here and registered on the list. Only the first 200 were allowed to get on the bus that brought them at about 8 am to this waiting station. The rest, sometimes several hundred, have returned home. Tomorrow they will come even earlier. The lucky ones wait here for hours, until toward noon the order comes to get up, to get in line, 200 submissive men, the representatives of over 1,000 hungry mouths. Roll up your shirt, pull up your pants, hold your ID card, be examined by the Palestinian policeman, and enter through the revolving iron door, to be examined by the Israeli soldier, on the way to the depths of the cruel bureaucracy of the occupation. From there they will be driven a few hundred metres in a bus, to the counters where the Israeli soldiers are seated and their fate will be sealed. There is no other employment office as humiliating as this.

Even if they receive the magnetic card, the actual work permit will have to be applied for at a later stage in the Palestinian Authority. Yet more bureaucracy. Most of them will undergo all this in vain; they will continue to be refused work in Israel. Every day, some 6,000 laborers who have already received the card in the past (it is usually valid for two to four years), enter through the lost time tunnel of the Erez checkpoint into Israel.

There is no checkpoint like this in the world: In the light of fearsome spotlights, screeching microphones spew out orders from the unseen soldiers, usually with great rudeness, after a long and shameful wait.

Only this week the voice of the anonymous soldier was suddenly heard speaking pleasantly, and the waiting period was shortened as well. Two children with cancer, who sat in their wheelchairs frightened and alone, waited less time. But at the end of the tunnel, a day of work awaits the labourers, and medical treatment awaits the patients.

The unemployed can also expect another surprising relief soon: This week, Palestinian labourers worked on the construction of a lean-to on the waiting site of their employment office. Meanwhile, they have only stretched wires between iron pegs. The Palestinian policemen explained that they had received a permit from the IDF to build the lean-to, and even a structure for bathrooms. Oh, the enlightened occupation!

Desperate conversations on the sand: Salah Darawshe, with a piece of cardboard and dressed in rags, left his home in Khan Yunis at 4am. Five children, he hasn’t worked for two years. Farid Abu Rida, six children, 41 years old, hasn’t worked for four years. He is a former industrialist: He has a metalwork shop in the Erez industrial zone, but it was closed along with the other plants there. “Every week I come here, and every week they send me back,” he says, the sweat pouring from his face. His brother was killed four and a half years ago. Two years ago a representative of the Shin Bet told him this is the reason for the refusal. “Maybe in another two years you’ll get it,” the Shin Bet man promised him, and now that the two years are up, he tries his luck every week, in vain.

Sami Miat from the El Bureij refugee camp, six children, left at 3am.

When he arrived at 4am, there were already 150 people before him. He was lucky. He’s been unemployed for five years. First he worked in a metal shop on Salameh Street in Tel Aviv, for Eli Babani of the Display company. Babani, who is truly generous and humane, still sends him NIS 800 to NIS 1,000 a month, so he’ll have something to live on. He is dying to return to work for his employer-benefactor, and each time they send him home for another two months. “I’ve never been arrested, I haven’t even thrown a sack of water at them and Babani prays I’ll return to him.”

Once a week he’s here on the sand.

Ahmed al-Najar of Khan Yunis, four children, 30 years old. Maybe he hasn’t heard one can receive a permit only from the age of 34. Unemployed for two years. For years he worked in the packing house of the settlement of Netzer Hazani, until the disaster struck: On 12 January 2003, his brother, Abdel Rahman, was killed in an Israeli aerial assassination operation. A 16-year-old boy, who was playing near his house and was killed. “Since then they say to me: Negative. All my life I’ve been working in the settlements, and my father worked in Israel all his life, too. We have an absolutely clean file. We are only looking for a way to support our children. Even someone whose brother was killed. Even [Israel’s President] Moshe Katsav said all of the State of Israel is sorry about children who die. Every time they give us a negative answer. Why negative?”

A document is pulled out. A medical report from the Palestinian Health Ministry, three doctors have signed it. A metal plate in the left leg, as a result of an injury in a traffic accident. Ibrahim Abu Abed, who was born in 1962, cannot pass through the metal detectors, because of the plate. They have sent him home six times. “The machine is beeping.”

Iyad al Ottomani, 33, first time on the sands. His father has a sewing workshop in Gaza with 40 workers, which sews for the Tel Aviv plant. For two months the company has not paid for the merchandise they received, he says, and they have disappeared, the telephone is disconnected and he has no way of paying his 40 workers. He wants to get a permit to enter Israel to try to collect the debt. “The workers want their money.”

Amar Lahras from the El Bureij camp: 49 years old, five years of unemployment. For 20
years he distributed agricultural produce in Israel in his truck. He went everywhere. He claims he is owed NIS 300,000-NIS 400,000 in Israel, he received a magnetic card but he cannot get the additional permit he needs from the Israeli Agriculture Ministry. Three trucks are standing idle next to his house, and his debt looks like a lost cause. “If the Shin Bet forgives me, why doesn’t the Agricultural Ministry give it to me? At least let them explain why. Let me sit on a chair and we'll get things done. Nobody from my family has been in jail, or injured, or killed. Where will I go? Who will I talk to?” He bursts into tears.

An order to get up and stand in line. Two hundred men roll up their clothes and stand in exemplary order, as in an honor guard. One exposes a belly, his friend exposes white underpants under the wet, white galabiyeh. Clothes rolled up, exhausted, thirsty, they stand in silence, one behind the other, waiting to hear their names finally called. Soon they will enter, and in a few more hours they’ll get to the counter.

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