For the last two weeks, the coronavirus has continued to spread in Israel. The spike was such that on July 7, Israel’s government reimposed a series of transportation and crowding restrictions. The ultra-Orthodox city of Beitar Illit was declared a restricted zone. The Palestinian Authority has also been experiencing a sharp rise in the number of people infected. On July 4, Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila warned that the situation in the West Bank city of Hebron was out of control and that the five-day lockdown in place was likely to be extended.
On June 28, as COVID-19 kept gaining terrain on both sides, Israeli authorities published new instructions for the entry of Palestinian workers. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development notified all companies employing Palestinians that workers holding a permit would be authorized to enter and work in Israel for a period of three weeks only, starting that day. The employers are required to provide the laborers with health insurance and with adequate lodging. The laborers are instructed to remain within the boundaries of the workplace and the sleep place, without traveling anywhere else during the three-week period.
The new instructions are somewhat similar to previous ones, which also authorized Palestinian workers to enter the country for a specific period. Palestinian workers are to be reconfigured into groups of no more than nine. Instructions also include details on the lodging conditions (clean bed, cupboard, hot and cold water systems, a refrigerator, etc.), and they also specify minimum wages and social insurance fees to be paid to protect the Palestinian laborers’ rights.
In practical terms, the June 28 instructions mean that some 46,000 Palestinian workers are authorized to enter Israel without a 14-day quarantine period under measures the media call "the capsule system.’’ The workers are kept in a capsule, so to speak, as they have little contact with Israelis and travel very little. Their lodgings are at the worksite or close by, and they cannot go anywhere else, not even to buy food or medications or for laundry. The Israeli employer must take care of that.
Sources in the construction industry told Al-Monitor that most of these Palestinian laborers will be employed on construction sites and that the detailed outline should guarantee fair and humane working conditions. "The increase in the spread of the pandemic required quickly finding high-quality solutions for the real-estate sector. The outline that was approved will guarantee a continuity in building while offering adequate and respectable housing conditions for the laborers,’’ Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman told the media.
Not everyone on the Palestinian side was in favor of the new rules. On several occasions, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called on Palestinian workers in Israel to return to the West Bank so as not to be infected by the virus and bring it back home.
Palestinians are also bitter over Israel's resumption of its policy of demolishing homes built without permits. Israeli authorities halted such measures during the first weeks of the pandemic, but this policy went back into place at the beginning of June. On June 3, for instance, Palestinians said the IDF demolished 16 West Bank Palestinian homes.
It is unclear whether the three-week period that started June 28 will be renewed. It may depend on whether the pandemic in Israel and the West Bank gets worse.