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Israel considers issuing work permits to Gazan women

Israel announced it was considering issuing work permits for women in the Gaza Strip, a move Palestinian official and popular bodies questioned the objectives behind, while many women consider it a step toward financial independence.
Women walk past a vegetable stand, as workers clear the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli bombing in May 2021, Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Sept. 30, 2021.

Israeli Operation Breaking Dawn on the Gaza Strip that took place Aug. 5-7, during which the Israeli army targeted Islamic Jihad positions, killed 49 Palestinians and wounded 360 others. Hamas remained on the sidelines of the fighting.

Islamic Jihad, with the participation of several Palestinian armed factions in Gaza, launched hundreds of rockets toward Israeli settlements and cities.

On Aug. 14, Ghassan Alyan, coordinator of the Israeli government’s operations in the Palestinian territories, announced that the Israeli Defense Ministry decided to expand the scope of incentives and facilities provided to Gazans, including increasing the number of workers allowed in Israel to 20,000.

He said that the ministry is also looking into granting work permits to hundreds of Gazan women, and supporting the construction of new neighborhoods by Egypt.

Israeli Channel 13 reported on the same day that a pilot project would be launched to study the possibility of granting work permits to Israel for Gazan women, as part of the 14,000 workers who have already been cleared and approved to work in the Israeli territories.

This step represents a shift in Israel’s incentives for the coastal enclave, which come as part of the truce understandings reached in the wake of the May 2021 military aggression on Gaza.

In an Aug. 17 press statement, Shaher Saad, secretary-general of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in Ramallah, said that Israel may issue up to 500 work permits to women in Gaza.

Israel has not yet elaborated on the work sectors for which the permits would be granted to women.

However, a source in the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Arabic Post news site Aug. 16 that, according to the Israeli plan, the sectors offered to Gazan women willing to work in Israel are mainly focused on agriculture, sewing, elderly care and services related to hygiene in hospitals, schools and municipalities in Arab villages in the Negev Desert.

In an Aug. 15 press statement, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions head Sami al-Amasi accused Israel of seeking to improve its image before the international community and human rights organizations through talk about the possibility of granting Gazan women work permits to Israel, while it continues to carry out crimes against the Palestinian people, including women, four of whom were killed in the last round of violence on Gaza.

Amasi said that the issue of Gazan women working in the occupied territories of 1948 is a sensitive topic that needs to be studied at all political and security levels in order to come up with a unified stance between the Palestinian factions and people in Gaza as well as the human rights organizations before going ahead and allowing Gazan women into “the occupied territories.”

He noted that there are fears that Palestinian women looking to work in Israel would become victims to blackmail and used as informants on security issues.

“The Israeli occupation’s intentions regarding permits for women are inhumane to galvanize popular pressure on the decision-makers in Gaza, conditioning the continuation of incentives for Gazans in exchange for security stability — as a kind of economic and political blackmail in times of security tension with Gaza,” Amasi said.

The Israeli announcement sparked wide controversy on social media in Gaza, with many internet users warning against the dangers of Palestinian women working inside the “occupied territories,” and the risk they might face, including blackmail and falling into the trap of collaboration with Israel.

There are currently 14,000 Gazans working inside Israel, who take home a monthly salary of up to 7,000 Israeli shekels ($2,136), as opposed to wages not exceeding 1,300 shekels ($397) in the Gaza Strip.

According to 2021 data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in Gaza stands at 46.9%, with 46.9% of men and 65% of women out of work. Young people ages between 15 and 24 are mostly affected by unemployment, with 68.9% of them being jobless; 65% are men and 86.8% are women.

Umm Amjad Maher, a pseudonym for a 40-year-old who lives in al-Nasr neighborhood in Gaza City, holds a degree in radio and television production from the Palestine Polytechnic University in Gaza.

However, she works as a cleaning lady in the restrooms of a mall in Gaza City from 4 p.m. to 11.30 p.m. and makes 1,000 shekels ($305) per month. Her husband is bedridden, making her the sole breadwinner of their family with five children.

“For seven years I worked at the Islamic University of Gaza cleaning the restrooms, and the last three years I have worked in the mall. I have not been able to save anything. My current salary is barely enough to get us by until the end of each month, given the high cost of living in Gaza,” she told Al-Monitor.

“I do not have any problem working inside the occupied territories in any field that does not conflict with the Palestinian society values. Working is not taboo or something to be ashamed of. But at the same time, I feel that people would look down on women who would accept working in the occupied territories,” she noted.

Sabreen Jundia, 42, lives in al-Shajaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, and works in a clothing store in al-Rimal neighborhood. She starts work at 9 a.m. and finishes at 10 p.m., and receives 20 shekels ($6.20) a day.

“I am a widow. I have been working since 2010 for a pittance to support my six children. I really would like to have a work permit to be able to work inside Israel where I am thinking of opening my own clothing store in order to secure my children’s future,” Jundia told Al-Monitor.

She added, “I don't really care what kind of work I do as long as this does not conflict with the value of Palestinian society."

Alaa Abu Safi, 37, lives in the Mughraqa area in the central Gaza Strip and has been working for 17 years in beauty salons, currently for a daily wage of no more than 30 shekels ($9.15), from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“I do not mind working inside the occupied territories if I can get a work permit. I would like to keep working in a beauty salon. I am willing to do this to secure a better future for my children,” she told Al-Monitor.

She said, “My husband is jobless. I am the only breadwinner, supporting our family of three daughters and a son. We live in a tiny apartment with one room, in addition to a kitchen and bathroom.”

Sanaa Salih, 20, is a general nursing and midwifery graduate, living in Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of Gaza. “I have no problem working in the occupied territories as a nurse in a hospital. Job opportunities for new graduates in Gaza are almost nonexistent. The Palestinian Authority stopped hiring Gazans after Hamas took over the coastal strip in 2007,” she told Al-Monitor.

She noted, “If I manage to get a job opportunity in a hospital [in Israel], I would be able to improve my economic situation and help my five unemployed brothers, and provide treatment for my mother who has leukemia. I can also pursue an advanced degree in nursing."

Nariman Abed al-Al, 25, lives in Gaza City. She told Al-Monitor, “I’ve worked as a receptionist in several restaurants in the city for a daily wage not exceeding 10 shekels [$3.05] per day, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.”

She said, “I am currently unemployed. I see an opportunity to improve my financial situation if I land a job in Israel. My family’s situation here is really bad. I had to drop out of university in the second year of my business administration degree."

Kawthar al-Rawagh, 27, is a medical secretary graduate from Al-Azhar University in Gaza. She has been jobless for the past seven years. “My aunts and uncles used to work in Israel during the 1980s and were able to achieve financial independence. That is what I want. My husband is not a temporary employee in the Gaza government. He is not a public servant,” she said.

“I also have family in Beersheba [in the Negev Desert], which will make it easier to work in the occupied territories. The Negev is not Israel; it is occupied Palestine. If I go there, I will have the chance to see my occupied country,” she added.

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