Indians Replacing Palestinians?

The Israeli government has pulled work permits for thousands of Palestinian construction workers in the wake of the Hamas terrorist attacks in October. Indian workers might be asked to fill this gap.

Amid the ongoing fighting in Gaza, Israel is reportedly looking to hire construction workers from India to replace Palestinians.

Palestinians comprise about 60-70 percent of total Israeli workforce. The figures are really staggering. A conservative estimate says 1.3 lakh Palestinians are engaged in Israel’s booming construction industry but the attacks by the Hamas militants in October prompted the Israeli authorities to revoke their work permits.

According to media reports, the Israel Builders Association has since urged the government to take steps toward hiring up to 100,000 workers from India.

"Right now, we are negotiating with India. We are waiting for the decision of the Israeli government to approve that. And we hope to engage 50,000 to 100,000 workers from India to be able to run the whole sector and bring it back to normal," Haim Feiglin, vice president of the Israel Builders Association, was quoted as saying by Voice of America news.

The Israeli construction market was valued at $71 billion (€65.37 billion) in 2022 and projected to grow at an average annual growth rate of more than 2% during the period 2024-2027, according to a Global Data report.

Some 20,000 Indians are believed to already be working in Israel, many as caregivers to the elderly.

Earlier, people from India, Nepal and Sri Lanka have been present as caregivers. Thai workers form a substantial segment in West Bank’s farming sector. Their presence in the construction industry is relatively new and is an outcome of the cycle of violence,.

 Without any domestic employment opportunities, Palestinians are heavily dependent on the Israeli labour market and influx of more foreigners, particularly Indians or reduction in the number of Palestinians in Israel will aggravate the precarious unemployment situation in Palestine.

The war between the Israeli army and Hamas could also threaten the security of guest workers.

Of late some Indian caregivers had been shifted to hotels in view of the ongoing conflict. The danger is nothing new but Indian workers have no plans to leave Israel because of dwindling job opportunities in their own country. In truth the presence of foreign guest workers has increased in recent years.

The reports of inviting workers to Israel have not gone down well with India's trade unions. Workers' representatives say Indians would be in "serious risk" under such an arrangement.

While any details of the worker replacement scheme remain vague, 10 major trade unions have already called on the Indian government to refuse the request made by Israel's construction sector. But Israel found a natural ally in Modi and it is quite  likely that India would export labour because the Modis cannot provide jobs to the unemployed millions.

 British human rights group Fair Square also urged the Indian government not to send its citizens to Israel to replace Palestinian workers who have been deported, saying it would be unjust and inhuman.

Instead of taking advantage of plight of Palestinians India should devote its efforts to ensuring a cease-fire, not profiting from more violence.

India's Foreign Ministry has remained ambiguous in its comments on the reported scheme for Indian guest workers.

 India has, reportedly been discussing a bilateral framework in the construction and caregiver sectors. The framework was signed during the visit of Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen to India in May, months before the Hamas attacks on Israel, and it foresees 42,000 Indians to work in Israel, including 38,000 construction labourers. It means Israel has long been trying to minimise its dependence on Palestinian workforce, hopefully to crush economic backbone of Hamas and other radical Islamists.

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Vol 56, No. 23, Dec 3 - 9, 2023