Palestinian Workers Risk COVID-19 or Losing Income

  • April 23, 2020
  • Abla Masroujeh

Nearly 50,000 workers have left Palestinian territories to work in Israel in recent days, after Palestine and Israel struck an agreement to allow them to work and stay in Israel for up to two months. This measure was taken to control the spread of the novel coronavirus, exacerbated by the mass movement of workers through crowded checkpoints every day. The agreement applies to workers with special work permits in industries such as construction and agriculture.

Many Palestinian workers say they face the difficult choice of remaining safe at home without income or risking exposure to the virus by journeying to Israel. Prior to the pandemic, up to 150,000 workers traveled to Israel for jobs.

The move follows the return last month of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers from Israel, many of whom say they faced poor working and living conditions as COVID-19 spread. Workers in construction, for instance, reported staying overnight at the sites where they worked. The government does not monitor onsite housing conditions or workplace safety for thousands of Palestinian workers deemed essential.

As workers returned to Palestine last month, the Palestinian authority urged them to quarantine and test for COVID-19.

Palestinian health officials have been concerned about possible COVID-19 infections as workers returned to the territories after losing work permits or being forced to quit their jobs by Israeli employers. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says around one-third of COVID-19 infections in Palestine stem from workers who were infected by the virus in Israel and returned home. Many were traced from a chicken factory near Jerusalem.