Israel gave work permits, while Palestinians planned Oct. 7 massacre

The Palestinians would benefit greatly if they would realize that there are actually dire repercussions when they ‘bite the hand that feeds them.’

By Bassam Tawil, Gatestone Institute

On the eve of Hamas’s October 7, 2023, attack on Israel, Israeli authorities had issued work permits to some 18,500 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, according to the Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs.

Israel was forced to revoke the work permits for security reasons after the October 7 atrocities carried out by Hamas and thousands of “ordinary” Palestinians.

This was particularly true in light of evidence that some of the workers had used their time in Israel to gather intelligence on the Israeli communities that were targeted on October 7.

The work permits of another 80,000 Palestinians from the West Bank have also been suspended in the aftermath of the Hamas attack.

Prior to the October 7 massacre, more than 170,000 Palestinians were working in Israel, constituting an important source of income for the Palestinian economy.

On September 28, 2023, an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent said he saw “crowds of Palestinians waiting at the [Erez border] terminal from the early hours, including many who had spent the night at the complex.”

Awni Obu Oma, a Palestinian construction worker from the Gaza Strip, was quoted as saying: “We learnt at midnight that the Erez crossing would open today, and I have been waiting here since 1:00 in the morning.”

Many Palestinians, desperate to work in Israel, were prepared to wait for hours at the border crossing before it opened in order to get to jobs in Israel.

The Palestinians from the Gaza Strip who were permitted to work in Israel received many of the same rights as Israeli workers, including health insurance and pension plans.

Palestinian trade unions had said the reopening of the border between Israel and Gaza was a “positive step:” the workers had far higher earnings in Israel than in the Gaza Strip, where salaries are low and unemployment is rife. By 10:00 am, nearly 6,000 workers had crossed through the gateway, a Palestinian border officer at the crossing told AFP.

The Israeli goodwill gesture of expanding the number of Palestinian work permits came only days after Palestinians had rioted near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip and had attacked Israeli soldiers with stones, Molotov cocktails, and explosive devices. Palestinian workers were joyful over the Israel’s decision to overlook the riot.

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Ayman al-Rifi, who worked at a restaurant in the Israeli coastal city of Jaffa, said:

“I’m very happy that the crossing is open. We have nothing to do with this problem [the riots]. I hope workers stay out of these problems because if Erez border crossing is closed, we suffer.”

On the same day, Reuters quoted Palestinian construction worker Khaled Zurub, 57, as saying: “We want to go to work and earn a living for our children because the situation was too bad for us the past two weeks.”

Two months before the Hamas-led attack, during which 1,200 Israelis were murdered and thousands of others wounded, the Israeli authorities were reportedly discussing increasing the number of work permits for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip even further, to ease tensions and improve the living conditions of the residents of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Israel’s state-owned broadcaster Kan 11 pointed out at the time that the number of permits had been at a “record level,” and that Israel had wanted “to improve the economic situation in the Gaza Strip.”

In October 2021, Israel allowed Gazans to apply for work permits in Israel for the first time since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Most of the workers from the Gaza were employed in the agriculture, construction and tourism industries and received wages that range between USD $70 to $250 dollars per day, depending on their skills — five times the income a worker is able to receive in the Gaza Strip.

In March 2022, The New Arab website quoted Mohammed Kamal, a 38-year-old father of four from the Gaza Strip, as saying that he planned to stop studying for a master’s degree in order to start working in Israel:

“I graduated from university in 2008, but I was unable to work in my field, and I was forced to work as an accountant in a local factory. After years of trying, I managed to get a master’s scholarship to complete my education, but now I have to stop that because I would rather work and earn money for my children and family.”

Kamal added that he planned to work in Israel as an assistant to one of his relatives in the construction industry.

“I will be able to earn about $120 dollars a day, while I cannot even earn $250 dollars a month in Gaza. Due to the difficult political and economic conditions, the people of the Gaza Strip suffer greatly from poverty and are unable to build a future for their children like their parents.”

In 2022, then Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed that Israel was planning to increase the number of work permits for Palestinians from the Gaza Strip from 5,000 to 20,000. The pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported:

“[Israeli] Political authorities believe the gradual increase in the number of Palestinian workers will prompt Hamas to consider any escalation since it will take into account that the thriving labor movement is a major factor in supporting the economy.

“Workers bring to the [Gaza] enclave up to 90 million shekels [roughly USD $24 million] per month, in light of the difficult and deteriorating economic situation there.”

Israel’s attempts to support the Palestinian economy nevertheless failed to stop thousands of Israelis from being murdered, raped, beheaded, mutilated and burned alive on October 7 by Hamas terrorists and “ordinary” Palestinians.

It appears that the murderers and rapists from the Gaza Strip saw Israel’s goodwill gestures as an indication of Israel’s weakness.

In addition, they apparently saw the controversy in Israel surrounding the Israeli government’s judicial reform plan as a sign that Israel had become extremely weak, especially when anti-government protesters threatened to boycott military reserve service.

The October 7 atrocities serve as a reminder that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about improving the living conditions of the Palestinians or strengthening their economy. Instead, the conflict is about the desire of the majority of Palestinians to slaughter Jews and destroy Israel.

Pre-and post-October 7 public opinion polls have consistently demonstrated that the majority of Palestinians back Hamas and believe that the atrocities committed on that day were “correct.”

More than 80% of the Palestinians believe that the massacres “put the Palestinian issue at the center of attention and eliminated years of neglect at the regional and international levels,” the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research noted in its latest poll on June 12.

Now, Palestinians can blame Hamas not only for dragging them into a disastrous war with Israel, but also for having left tens of thousands of families jobless in the wake of their loss of permits to work in Israel.

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Instead of brainwashing and indoctrinating their people against Israel and Jews, Palestinian leaders need to be required to focus on creating job opportunities and boosting the Palestinian economy, which the flow of international handouts have relieved them from doing.

The Palestinians would also greatly benefit if they would realize that there are actually dire repercussions when they “bite the hand that feeds them.”

After the October 7 atrocities, it would be absurd to assume that Israel will once more welcome tens of thousands of laborers from the Gaza Strip.

Many of those workers to whom Israel opened its doors were apparently working in Israel by day, and by night returning to Gaza and providing Hamas with highly detailed maps and drawings of every house in Israel’s border communities, and reports about everyone in them, including the pet dogs.

A massacre was not the outcome many had expected after the Israelis’ willingness to help to improve the lives of their Palestinian neighbors.

Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, a social media influencer and former resident of the Gaza Strip, remarked:

“Before the October 7 massacre, 20,000 Gazans received permits to work in Israel and would have pleasant daily interactions with Israelis, including with soldiers at the Erez Crossing.

This fact doesn’t erase all the other problems and issues that existed before 10/7; instead, it illustrates the complexities of life in the coastal enclave and how so many aspired to have contact with Israelis to earn a decent living and focus on providing for their families and communities. B

lack-and-white depictions of Gaza before the war are not only inaccurate but fail to capture the color-rich realities that existed, in which the potential for coexistence and peace was present in daily occurrences; human-to-human connections between Palestinian workers and Israelis were a window of what the future could look like.

A friend of mine in Gaza left the NGO sector and worked in Israel up until last August; within 10 months, he paid off his massive debts, built himself an apartment, and got married.

He spoke highly of the Israeli contractors he worked with and had such respect for all with whom he came in contact.”