Ban on Palestinian workers grinds Israel’s construction sites to a halt

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The Age/Gait Altstein/22.3.2024

Talk about an own goal – Mark

Tel Aviv: For Fadi Sajdia, a construction labourer from the West Bank city of Ramallah, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan should be a time of daily fasting and nightly feasting. But like 150,000 other Palestinians who worked in Israel until the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7, he’s out of a job.

“I’m the sole breadwinner in my family,” Sajdia, 37, said. “Now we only buy essentials.”

Across Israel, building sites are idle as a ban on Palestinian workers continues with no end in sight. It’s turned the bellwether construction industry into an economic-crisis epicentre, offering a glimpse of what awaits both sides if the war in Gaza permanently ruptures their precarious ties.

A painful decoupling between the two economies has threatened a lifeline for Palestinian territories and left Israeli builders scrambling for labour abroad – a shift in the workforce that industry forecasts show will take a year, at best, to complete. More than two-thirds of Palestinians employed in Israel before the war worked in construction.

After the Hamas attack that provoked the war in Gaza, Israeli authorities instituted a complete shutdown of borders with the West Bank over security concerns. The government has since then tripled to 65,000 the quota of foreign workers allowed to enter Israel, mainly from India and Sri Lanka, but so far only 850 have arrived.

The plight is tangible on both sides of the divide.

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