Mohammed al-Hajjar & Nadda Osman
Middle East Eye / September 21, 2023
Workers in Gaza fear they will no longer have jobs in Israel and the occupied West Bank once the crossing opens again.
The closure, now in its sixth day and expected to last for an additional six days, has left workers employed in the occupied West Bank and Israel at risk of being laid off over their absences.
Israeli forces closed crossing points with Gaza earlier this week, leaving thousands of Palestinians unable to go to work, as they carry out a “security assessment”.
The decision to close the border came after Palestinian protests demanding the “right of return”, the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, and raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque.
However, workers who spoke to Middle East Eye said that the decision constitutes a form of “collective punishment,” and will have a significant impact on Gaza’s economy, as well as their own livelihoods.
Abu Mohammed, a 33-year-old trader said that if the closure continues, “it could be devastating”, as most workers don’t know if their permits would be renewed again by Israel.
“We are constantly afraid because if we get stuck in Israel, we don’t know when we’ll see our families again,” he told MEE.
“As workers, we have nothing to do with any of the tensions that are taking place. This will have a huge toll on us because there is no employment in Gaza. We would be lucky if we made 20 ($5) shekels a day,” he added.
Around 18,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been unable to make the journey into Israel and the occupied West Bank for work due to the closures.
Abu Khaled, a 38-year-old who has been working in a bakery in Israel for more than a year, said many are afraid about their future employment prospects.
“I don’t know if I will even have a job anymore when the crossing opens because I have probably been replaced by now, particularly as [Palestinian] workers in Israel don’t have any rights, not even health insurance,” he told Middle East Eye.
The father of four explained that managers do not care about the reasons why workers do not turn up and instead just move to replace them quickly.
“These closures affect workers in Gaza more than it benefits Israel.
“In the end, workers suffer the most because they can’t live a normal life here in Gaza, all we care about is work, we don’t pose any dangers to anyone,” he added.
The decision by Israel could also worsen Gaza’s already ailing economy.
Mohammed Yaghi, who travels to the occupied West Bank on a weekly basis as a fruit trader, said that the crossing closures have already started to have an impact
“The money people earn from their jobs inside the West Bank and in Israel is spent within Gaza and it keeps the economy going when the border is closed for 14 days, no money comes in and people have responsibilities and things to pay for,” he told MEE.
Yaghi, who has been travelling to the West Bank for nine years, says that the closures mean that he is unable to import or export certain foods.
“Gaza consumes a lot of fruit daily, there are some things that grow here that aren’t in the West Bank, and if the fruit is held in the markets overnight because of closures, they spoil,” he explained.
“Fruit expires quickly, so we are forced to sell it dirt cheap and lose out financially. Every time there is a closure, Gaza loses out on certain goods which are important,” he said.
Gaza has been under an air, land and see blockade for over 15 years. The blockade began after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, and has left two million Palestinians living in an open-air prison. They are prevented from leaving unless they are granted permission by Israel.
Critics say the ongoing blockade, which includes severe restrictions not only on the movement of people but also on goods, amounts to unlawful collective punishment under international law.
Israeli NGO Gisha denounced the closure of the crossing as a form of “collective punishment”.
“Blocking travel through Erez in response to demonstrations by Gaza’s perimeter fence constitutes illegal collective punishment, harming Gaza workers and their families, as well as other permit holders who need to travel for humanitarian needs,” the organization said in a statement.
The organization also penned a letter to Israel’s Minister of Defense, calling the decision “illegal” and a “blatant violation of the law”.
“The intention and result of the decision is to cause deliberate harm to the civilian population, stemming from prohibited, punitive objectives and constituting abuse of your control over the crossing,” the letter stated.
Earlier this week, Israeli forces shot a Palestinian man in Gaza resulting in his death.
The Israeli military also carried out a drone strike against a Hamas observation post in Gaza after Palestinian protests near the border.
In a statement, the Israeli army said hundreds of Palestinians rioted on the Israeli border and set off explosive devices.
It added that soldiers stationed in the area responded with riot dispersal methods and live fire in some cases.
COGAT, a unit of the Israeli Defence Ministry responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said that “the reopening of the crossing will be subject to ongoing evaluation based on the evolving situation in the region”.
Mohammed al-Hajjar in Gaza
Nadda Osman is a British-Egyptian journalist and editor based in the UK