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Israel-Palestine war: Gaza workers in Israel stranded after permits revoked

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip have found themselves stuck in Israel or deported to the West Bank as authorities strip them of work permits
Palestinian workers stranded in Tarkumya in the West Bank after having their work permits revoked (MEE/Misab Shawir)
Palestinian workers stranded in Tarkumya in the West Bank after their work permits were revoked (MEE/Mosab Shawir)
By Lubna Masarwa in Jerusalem and Alex MacDonald in London

Palestinian workers from Gaza have found themselves stranded in Israel after the sudden cancellation of their work permits.

The permits, which are distributed in very limited numbers to allow residents of the besieged Gaza Strip to work in Israel, were cancelled by the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (Cogat) on Wednesday morning.

According to Israeli media, around 150,000 Palestinians from the occupied West Bank and Gaza work in Israel, mainly in construction.

But with the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel closed as a result of the ongoing assault on the coastal enclave, and with no legal status in Israel, many are now at a loss.

"I had legal permit to work in Israel, but tonight they cancelled it," said Mohammed, a Gaza resident currently working in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth.

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"They let me in legally, but then after the war began they took away our permit. We don't know what to do; we are lost, we don't know where we should go and what action to take."

He said there had been no clear instructions about where to go next and, with the death toll in Gaza already in excess of 1,000, he was wracked with anxiety.

"I have family in Gaza and five children. At the moment, they have become refugees and had to flee the area," Mohammed explained.

Ahmed Zoabi, a building contractor, said a number of his workers found their permits cancelled at 3am on Wednesday without explanation.

Gaza workers in the West Bank after their permits are revoked for Israel (MEE/Misab Shawir)
Workers from Gaza relocated to the West Bank speak to the Tarkumya social and health committee after their permits were revoked (MEE/Mosab Shawir)

He contacted Cogat, who told him that, with Erez closed, they had "no answer" for him.

"They gave me a list of names of checkpoints in the West Bank where [his workers] can go," he told MEE, but said Cogat offered "nothing formal" to resolve the situation.

"They have families in Gaza and they are very worried," he added.

Driven to the West Bank

The distribution of work permits by Israel has been criticised by some as a method of further entrenching its control over the occupied territories.

Amos Harel, a columnist at Israeli newspaper Haaretz, suggested previous governments had used the issuance of permits as a means of maintaining a - now decisively broken - period of quiet in the Gaza Strip.

Some Palestinians working in Israel have said they were forcibly taken to the West Bank after the fighting began.

'We're without our personal belongings and feel quite lost'

- Waseem Shekh, Palestinian worker

Waseem Shekh was sleeping in the quarters of a factory in the city of Rishon LeZion, along with a number of other Palestinian workers.

He told MEE that at 3am on Tuesday they were suddenly awoken by armed men who entered the place where they were sleeping and handcuffed them.

"They denied us from taking any personal items or even change our clothes, and they confiscated our IDs, phones, and even seemed to want to break them. We weren't allowed to take our money, either," he said.

He said they were then escorted to a checkpoint situated on the outskirts of the West Bank city of Ramallah, near a village named Btisila.

"Fortunately, some locals escorted us to a mosque, where we spent the night," he said. The next morning, Palestinian Authority officials facilitated hotel accommodation for them.

He said they later received notice that their work permits had been revoked.

Shekh remains stuck in the West Bank, a place he had never been to before, and is growing increasingly worried about his family in Gaza.

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"Due to communication disruptions, I find it extremely challenging to get in touch with them. My three children are there, and the inability to speak or see them further exacerbates the distress of our current circumstances," he said.

"Presently, we're lodged in hotels in Ramallah, courtesy of the Palestinian Authority. It's our first experience in the West Bank, and the unfamiliar surroundings add to our unease. We're without our personal belongings and feel quite lost."

Volunteers from Tarkumya, near the city of Hebron in the West Bank, told MEE that 200 workers had arrived in their town and the wider Hebron area after the Israelis dropped them off at a nearby checkpoint, and that they were preparing places for 400 people.

The volunteers said they were reaching close to maximum capacity in the town but were providing clothes, medicine and mattresses where they could.

Salem Alarjani, from Rafah in Gaza, was one of those dropped off at Tarkumya.

"The Palestinians there welcomed us in the best way and treated us with so much respect," he told MEE. "Many other workers from Gaza are still stuck inside Israel and they don’t know what to do.

"The last thing I heard from my family in Gaza is that our house was bombed. I don’t know what my fate is. Gaza is no more a safe place."

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