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West Bank Labor Pains

Palestinian workers governed by Jordanian laws, weaker than Israel’s

Jesse Oxfeld
October 28, 2009

The Israeli settlement Ma’aleh Adumim, which operates as an independent municipality in the West Bank, is expected to be incorporated into Israel in any two-state solution. Home to about 30,000 residents, 99.8 percent of whom are Jews, Ma’aleh Adumin is the settlement that Israelis pointed to the most when arguing against the Obama administration’s now-scuttled “settlement freeze” policy. How can any government stop a city that big from growing? And although the city is all but a de facto Israeli possession, a little discussed problem is how its vanishingly small Palestinian population is governed by a different set of labor laws. Jordan has been responsible for administering labor legislation in the occupied territories since 1965. So the 80 members of the Jahleen Bedouin tribe, who are technically Ma’aleh Adumin citizens, still answer to those policies with respect to their employment. As a result, Palestinians in Ma’aleh Adumin don’t receive the same benefits as Israelis do when it comes to rehabilitation pay, pensions, travel expenses, education funding, and religious dispensations. (It didn’t help that they all signed a separate agreement in 2005 with the municipal authorities reaffirming their alien work status.) In recent weeks, a number of Bedouin workers went on strike after their request for time off to attend Muslim Friday prayers was denied—a right that Arab Israelis enjoy under the more liberal Israeli labor law. “We are not trying to avoid the image of a settlement—this is an image that does not exist,” Eli Har-Nir, the director of the municipality who fired three of the workers, told Haaretz. Roughly translated: 80 Palestinians aren’t worth re-writing the municipal code.

Jesse Oxfeld, a former executive editor and publisher of Tablet Magazine, is a freelance theater critic. He was The New York Observer’s theater critic from 2009 to 2014.

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