Israelis demand Palestinian workers be fired

The Israeli mayor of Ashkelon announced yesterday that Palestinian citizens of Israel are banned from working on construction projects in bomb shelters at local kindergartens during school hours. This comes amid a new wave of Israeli popular racism calling for Arabs to be fired.

In a video posted on Facebook on 18 November, a group of Israeli customers in a supermarket arrive to the checkout lane with full grocery carts. They ask the cashiers whether or not the establishment employs Palestinians — and storm out in synchronized protest when the cashiers answered yes (the video has been translated by The Electronic Intifada in the copy above — press the “CC” button to activate subtitles).

Mani Krois, the Facebook user who posted the video, encourages Israelis to join them in boycotting businesses that “employ the enemy.” At the time of writing, the video has received more than 4,400 “likes” and hundreds of supportive comments.

The Ashkelon mayor’s move came two days after an attack on a synagogue in the western part of occupied Jerusalem killed four Israelis and a police officer from the Druze religious minority in present-day Israel.

Israelis in Jerusalem hold signs reading “Death to terrorists” and “Do not hire enemies” — terms that have become interchangeable with “Arabs” — in Jerusalem following an attack on a synagogue on 18 November.

Yotam Ronen ActiveStills

Writing on his Facebook account, Mayor Itamar Shimoni stated: “I have nothing against Arab Israelis, they work with us throughout the year and do construction for us.”

“Arab Israelis” is a politicized term employed by Israel and its supporters to refer to Palestinian citizens of Israel, who constitute an estimated 1.7 million Muslims, Christians and Druze in cities, towns and villages across present-day Israel.

According to Adalah, a Haifa-based legal center, they face more than fifty discriminatory laws that limit their access to state resources and, to varying degrees, stifle their political expression.

“I think that when the flames are high, it is wrong to let Jews go to the Temple Mount,” Shimoni said, referring to the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem. “To the same extent, I think it is wrong to bring Arab laborers into the preschool in this time.”

Shimoni also boasted that he placed armed security guards at elementary schools in the vicinity of construction sites that employ Palestinian laborers.

Yehiel Lasri, mayor of the nearby city of Ashdod, also imposed increased restrictions on Palestinian employees and “assign[ed] security details to kindergartens near construction sites,” the right-wing Times of Israel reported.

Support among Israelis

Israel’s Channel 10 reported on Thursday night that 58 percent of Israelis supported Shimoni’s ban. A screenshot of that survey was posted on the social media website Twitter by Israeli journalist Ami Kaufman.

As the mayor faced mounting criticism, Israel’s housing and construction minister Uri Ariel declared his support for Shimoni’s decision to bar Palestinian construction workers in Israeli schools.

“It’s not racist in my view, I think that in such times, special means are taken, and this is one of the means,” Ariel said, as reported by the Israeli website Galaz. “I suggest that everyone carefully review who is working with him.”

Effi Mor, security manager for Ashkelon’s municipality, also backed Shimoni. “In recent days our hotlines have been getting many calls about suspicious movements, fearful mothers, from a broad spectrum of citizens about them not checking if [they are Israeli citizens],” the Galaz article also notes.

Other Israeli politicians, many of them known for their stridently anti-Palestinian views, condemned Shimoni.  

Israel’s economy minister Naftali Bennett — famous for bragging that he “killed lots of Arabs” — denounced Shimoni. “Ninety-nine percent of Israeli Arabs are loyal and want to integrate,” Bennett said.

“There is no place for discrimination against Arab Israelis,” said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as reported by the Israeli daily Haaretz. “We cannot make generalizations about an entire population based on a small unruly minority. Most Arab citizens of Israel are law-abiding.”

The move was also denounced by several other Israeli politicians, such as Tzipi Livni, the justice minister, and Yair Lapid, the finance minister.

Hollow condemnation

Yet, any condemnation of racism from politicians such as Netanyahu and Bennett — known for their intense participation in anti-Palestinian incitement campaigns — is hollow.

In addition to his own incitement and racist threats, Bennett is leader of the Jewish Home (Habeyit Hayehudi) party. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s foreign minister, regularly calls for Palestinian citizens of Israel to be forcibly transferred.

Last week, Netanyahu lashed out at Palestinian citizens of Israel protesting against the police slaying of 22-year-old Palestinian youth Kheir Hamdan in the Galilee village of Kufr Kana.

“Whoever doesn’t respect Israeli law will be punished to the fullest extent,” Netanyahu declared. “I will direct the interior minister to consider stripping the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the state of Israel.”

He also encouraged Palestinians in Israel to go to the occupied West Bank or the besieged Gaza Strip. “To all those who demonstrate against Israel and in favor of a Palestinian state, I say something simple: I invite you to move there; we won’t give you any problem,” he added, according to Haaretz.

The anti-Palestinian incitement that starts at the top of levels of the Israeli government has also contributed to the country’s downward spiral of racist frenzy. 

Drivers out of work

On Thursday, just four days after bus driver Yousuf al-Ramouni was found hanged in his bus, it was reported across Israeli media outlets that 27 Palestinian bus drivers in Jerusalem are no longer working with the Israeli bus company Egged.

Israel claims that al-Ramouni, 32, committed suicide. His family, however, believes he was killed by Israeli settlers.

“We reject the suicide theory. We all know it was settlers who killed him,” Osama al-Ramouni, the victim’s brother, told AFP. “He had no problems that would make him [commit suicide].”

“My brother had children and was a happy man,” Osama also told AFP. “It is impossible that he killed himself.”

Muatasem Fakeh, one of al-Ramouni’s colleagues, said the bus driver’s body “was hanged over the steps at the back of the bus in a place where it would be impossible to hang yourself alone.”

“We saw signs of violence on his body,” he added.

The late al-Ramouni’s Palestinian colleagues went on strike in response to his death. It is still unclear whether the 27 bus drivers were fired, or whether they just refrained from going to work due the unsafe conditions in the current environment of intense anti-Palestinian incitement, particularly in Jerusalem.

Nothing new

Yossi Deitch, the deputy mayor of the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem municipality, demanded that “the Egged bus company management … fire the Arab bus drivers from East Jerusalem who did not show up to work after their colleague was found hanged in a bus,” the right-wing Israeli daily Jerusalem Post reported.

Kikar Hashabat, an Ultra-orthodox Israeli news site, reported that the drivers were fired by Egged. But the bus company’s spokesman, Ron Ratner, avoided commenting specifically and said only that “Egged has not fired any of its drivers who are Arab citizens of Israel.”

Speaking to Haaretz, Ratner pointed out that “very few” of the company’s 600 Palestinian drivers “from the east of [Jerusalem] have chosen to stop working for Egged for personal reasons,” insinuating that the drivers quit by their own volition. 

“The drivers’ feelings following [al-Ramouni’s alleged] suicide are understandable,” Ratner went on, “but in practice, even during these tense days, they face no danger in coming back to work.” 

But Israeli businesses have a long history of firing Palestinian employees — including those who carry Israeli citizenship — due to social pressure or because of their political views.

During Israel’s 51-day assault on the besieged Gaza Strip this past summer, dozens of Palestinians across Israel were fired from their jobs for posting content critical of the war on Gaza on social media outlets.

In most cases, dozens of employers fired Palestinian employees who posted political content after local Jewish Israeli communities threatened them with a boycott, according to a lawyer working with Kav LaOved, a Nazareth-based labor rights group.

Yet there have also been suggestions that Palestinians are being fired simply for making comments on social media websites. “Israeli Jews have read [Facebook] statuses of colleagues and then demanded their termination,” said the lawyer, Gadeer Nicola, speaking to the liberal Zionist grantmaking group the New Israel Fund. 

With thanks to Dena Shunra for translation.

Editor’s note: A photo caption was corrected to say that anti-Arab signs carried by demonstrators display the words “Death to terrorists” and “Do not hire enemies,” and not “Death to Arabs.” The mistranslation originated in the caption supplied by the photo agency. 


Patrick Strickland

Patrick Strickland's picture

Patrick O. Strickland is an independent journalist and frequent contributor at The Electronic Intifada. He is presently working on his first book for the London-based publishing house Zed Books. See his in-depth coverage for EI.