Israel Blocks Money to Gaza’s Disabled

Injured Workers Denied Benefit Payments

Yunis al Masri was luckier than his two brothers from Gaza. Although the truck that ploughed into their car as they travelled to work in Israel 24 years ago killed Jaber and Kamal instantly, Mr al Masri survived with shattered bones, internal bleeding and brain damage.

Today, aged 49 and after many operations, he has difficulty walking and problems remembering to do things. Any hope of working again was crushed in 1985 amid the car wreckage.

Like tens of thousands of other Palestinian manual labourers who worked inside Israel before Gaza was progressively sealed off to the outside world from the early 1990s, Mr Al Masri had paid regularly into Israel’s social security fund from his salary.

Certified as disabled by an Israeli medical committee, he is entitled to a monthly allowance of $800 from Israel’s National Insurance Institute, out of which he has supported his wife and 10 children in their home in Beit Hanoun, in northern Gaza.

In early January, however, the transfers of disability benefits stopped arriving in his bank account in Gaza. About 700 other injured workers are in the same situation.

The reason, they have learnt, is that while the Israeli army was rampaging through the Gaza Strip during its winter assault, the Bank of Israel severed ties with Gaza’s banks.

The ending of financial relations between Israel and Gaza, in a deepening of the three-year blockade of the Hamas-ruled enclave, means Mr al Masri and other disabled workers have been without a source of income for the past nine months.

Mr al Masri said he had been forced heavily into debt to keep putting food on the table, adding that the whole family was now dependent on his daughter, Nura, 26. During Ramadan she started part-time secretarial work that brings in $100 a month, though the job is far from secure. “How far will that money go to feed and support a family of 12?” he said.

Nura added: “When the benefits first stopped arriving, we called the National Insurance Institute and were told it’s a political decision and that when Gilad Shalit was returned we would get our money.” Sgt Shalit, an Israeli soldier, was captured by Hamas in June 2006. It is believed he is being held in Gaza.

Mr al Masri’s sister-in-law, Hasna, who lost her husband, Jaber, in the crash, said none of her four children were earning and the family was without any source of income. She had recently told her eldest son, who is studying in Romania, that there was no money left for his course fees.

“We are happy go to the checkpoint at Erez to pick up the cheque in person if that is what it takes,” Mr al Masri said.

The workers’ cases have been taken up by the Al Mezan centre for human rights, based in Gaza, and by an Israeli legal group, Adalah, which launched a petition against the government’s decision in the Supreme Court last week.

Mahmoud abu Rahma, a spokesman for Al Mezan, said the 700 injured workers had been part of a large workforce of as many as 80,000 Gazans who regularly worked in Israel during the 1970s and 1980s. The numbers only began to dwindle in the early 1990s as Israel introduced a closure policy and built an electronic fence around Gaza. The Oslo accords of the 1990s, which held out the hope of Palestinian self-rule, further reduced the opportunities for work as Israel entrenched its policy of separation.

Much of the manual labour, once done by Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank, is today performed by 300,000 guest workers, mainly from the Philippines, Thailand, China and eastern Europe.

Mr Abu Rahma said the disabled workers, having lost the chance to work, were now suffering the indignity of not being able to provide for their families.

“Israel has absolute control not only over the physical borders of Gaza, but also over our monetary system, too,” he said. “We depend on the Israeli currency of the shekel and Israel’s banks can turn on and off the money supply at will.”

Israel’s blockade of Gaza has been progressively tightened since Hamas won the Palestinian Authority elections in early 2006. Following the Islamic movement’s rout of an attempted coup by the rival Fatah group in summer 2007, Israel declared Gaza an “enemy entity” and started cutting off fuel and power supplies. Now only the most essential items get through.

The only two Israeli banks dealing with Gaza, Hapoalim and Discount, received approval from the Bank of Israel to cut their links during the assault on Gaza. The central bank had previously opposed such a move, fearing that it would bring about the collapse of Gaza’s economy.

This week, a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development noted that 90 per cent of Gaza’s population was living below the poverty line, with employment restricted almost entirely to government and public administration and small service industries.

Mr Abu Rahma said the disabled workers included the poorest and most vulnerable among Gaza’s population of 1.5 million, and many were in danger of starvation if payments were not resumed soon. “They have no other sources of income and are really struggling without their benefits.”

In 1998, Fadil Qomsan fell seven storeys from a building site in Ashdod, 25km north of Gaza, breaking his back.

During the two weeks he spent in a hospital in Tel Aviv, he said, the site’s manager came to his bedside to tell him that the construction company was denying responsibility. “He told me that I had fallen because I was using drugs. The police organised many blood tests during my stay, but they all came back negative. Eventually I won my right to disability allowance.”

Mr Qomsan, 46, from Jabaliya camp, who needs a back brace to walk, has been assessed as 81 per cent disabled. He was receiving $450 to support his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is seven. “Our financial situation was desperate even when we were getting the cheques, but now it’s beyond miserable.”

He said the family had been forced to survive on the charity of family and friends.

Taysir al Basoos has been blind since 16 when a nail fired from a nail gun on a building site in Ashkelon, 10km north of Gaza, penetrated his chest, severed the blood flow to his brain and left him blind.

Mr Al Basoos, 47, said his wife and six children, including the youngest who is five, were entirely dependent on his monthly disability benefits.

“Workers like me helped to build the state of Israel; we did not put Hamas in charge of Gaza,” he said. “I am not politically active at all, so why am I being punished? Our case is a humanitarian one.”

Sawsan Zaher, a lawyer with Adalah, said six representative cases of disabled workers from Gaza who were denied benefits have been presented to the Israeli Supreme Court. They included construction workers who fell; a gardener for a local council who was crushed by a falling crane, and a car wash operator who lost two fingers.

Ms Zaher said Adalah had first approached the National Insurance Institute, the Bank of Israel and various government ministries in April, when the change in policy became clear, but they had all shirked responsibility.

“We were told by the NII that it was trying to negotiate a solution with the Palestinian Authority, possibly by transferring the money through the [Fatah-run] West Bank, but it led nowhere.”

Adalah argues that the decision to block the payments to Gaza violates Israeli law. “The money is the property of the disabled workers and this decision unjustly deprives them of their property,” Ms Zaher said.

Adalah is also claiming that the decision, because it affects the welfare entitlements of Palestinian workers only and not of Israelis, constitutes racism.

Mr Abu Rahma said there was an additional concern that some of the workers could not afford essential medicines needed in their treatment.

Sharif Qarmout, 58, of Jabaliya camp, has been paralysed from the waist since 1979 when he fell six storeys from a building site in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv. The loss of his monthly allowance of $1,150 has plunged the family into great hardship as they struggle not only to buy food but also to pay the $350 bill each month for the 15 different drugs he needs to control his incontinence, improve blood circulation in his legs and prevent depression.

“A year and a half ago Israel stopped giving my wife permission to go to the hospital in Ashkelon to collect the medicines,” said Mr Qarmout, who uses a wheelchair. “I was forced to buy them privately in Gaza, but now I don’t have the money. I’ve been using different pharmacies, paying on credit, but it can’t go on much longer. I’ve started reducing the doses to make the drugs last longer.”

Mr Qarmout said his three grown children were living in the house to care for him, as his wife was mostly confined to bed with severe back problems from 30 years of lifting him.

“No one is taking responsibility for people like me – not Hamas, not Israel.”

Marie Badarne, of the Labourers’ Voice, a workers’ rights group based in Nazareth, said the Israeli government’s abuse of the disabled workers echoed a much wider problem faced by Gazans who had been employed in Israel until recently.

She said thousands of workers from Gaza had their contracts in Israel terminated without notice by employers in spring 2004, shortly after the government of Ariel Sharon announced it would be “disengaging” from the enclave in summer 2005.

Most had been working in construction, garages, textile factories, carpentry workshops or as agricultural labourers inside Israel or in a handful of Jewish settlements inside Gaza that were dismantled in August 2005.

“Overnight more than 20,000 workers had their work permits withdrawn and lost their livelihoods,” she said. “They had been paying into the social security system, some of them for decades, but have been denied their legal entitlements, such as severance pay, overtime and holiday allowance.”

The Labourers’ Voice said its investigations had also shown that most Israeli employers had been paying Gaza’s workers below the minimum wage.

According to its calculations, the laid-off workers from Gaza are each typically owed between $12,000 and $50,000, meaning that Israeli employers have “defrauded the workforce of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars”, Ms Badarne said.

In July, the Nazareth group submitted claims on behalf of more than 40 workers to the labour court in Beersheva, which has agreed to hear the cases. All the workers were employed by a furniture company, mostly as carpenters, at the Erez industrial estate close to the Gaza Strip.

Ms Badarne said the company did not deny that the workers were owed money but had defended its actions on the grounds that Gaza had been declared an “enemy entity”.

“Their lawyers have said that, because Gaza is an enemy entity, the residents should be treated as a hostile population,” she said. “They told the judge that Israel must not open its doors to terrorists and that ending the economic siege would work against the interests of the Israeli state.

“In an attempt to bolster their argument that the case in support of the workers should be dismissed, the lawyers even sent the court a copy of the Hamas charter and an analysis of what it means.”

She added that, despite the fact that Israeli employers made social security deductions from Gazans’ salaries, the workers could no longer make use of the benefits they should be entitled to.

“If they get sick, for example, these workers should have the right to use Israeli hospitals because they paid health insurance, but of course that obligation is no longer being honoured. In some cases, given the deteriorating provision of health care in Gaza under the blockade, that right could mean the difference between life and death.”

Ronit Gedultir, a spokeswoman for Israel’s National Insurance Institute, said officials were seeking a solution for the disabled workers’ families affected by the bank’s decision.

“This is a very delicate issue and we are not neglecting it,” she said. “The money is waiting here for the families, but so far we have found no way to deliver it to them.”

Israel has also been seeking to end the right of Palestinian civilians to seek compensation for injuries they have suffered at the hands of the Israeli army.

A bill that exempted the state from legal claims by Palestinians for personal injury or damage to property inflicted by the army during the second intifada was passed in summer 2005 but overturned a year later by the Supreme Court.

Hassan Jabareen, the director of Adalah, said the law had recently been amended in an attempt to bypass the court and was expected to be resubmitted to the parliament this month.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

26 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. maik pronounced mike said on September 12th, 2009 at 6:46pm #

    Presumably the Bank of Apartheid is making a fortune in interest accrued from these workers funds! >: (

  2. John Henry said on September 13th, 2009 at 9:41pm #

    Seems to me that the family should organize with the others who are supposed to receive benefits from Israel and petition the Hamas to return Gilad Shalit. After all, none of this would be happening if the Gazans didn’t attack Israel across an international border,

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain said on September 14th, 2009 at 1:50am #

    John Henry, you racist bigot, what about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners? Why are you, like all other Zionist racists, only interested in the Jewish prisoner-of-war? The sheer vicious hypocrisy of your statement ‘..the Gazans..attack Isreal across an international border’, beggars belief for cynical hypocrisy. Israel attacks across international borders relentlessly and repeatedly. Just ask the Lebanese, over one thousand of whom Israel slaughtered in the usual brutal and cowardly manner in 2006. Or ask the Gazans, who have been attacked, over and over again, by Israel, for decades. These attacks have killed thousands with high explosive, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, DIME munitions and through death-squad targeted assassinations. The Gazans are utterly entitled to fight back as best they can against such sadistic, violent and brutish racist oppressors. Just what is about your type that you get your jollies from supporting the barbaric bullyboy as it sadistically violates its imprisoned victims, not sparing, indeed deliberately targeting, the children, and you reserve you bile and scorn for the relentless tormented victims? I bet you would have had a great time at a lynching.

  4. deceschi said on September 14th, 2009 at 6:12am #

    @Mulga Mumblebrain: “Or ask the Gazans, who have been attacked, over and over again, by Israel, for decades. ”

    Some figures about your statements? Here you have some other if you can’t deliver them by your own (as I suppose by reading the trite, empty and aggressive rhetoric we know well from the bigot Israel-haters):

    2001: 245 mortar and 4 rocket attacks by pal. terror groups on Israeli soil
    2002 : 257 mortar and 35 rockets attacks.
    2003 : 265 mortar and 155 rockets attacks.
    2004 : 876 mortar and 281 rockets attacks.
    2005 (Israel withdrew from Gaza) : 238 mortar and 179 rockets attacks.
    2006: 22 mortar and 968 rockets attacks.
    2007 : 749 mortar and 890 rockets attacks.
    2008: 1531 mortar and 1573 rockets attacks.

    Hamas & Co.: allover innocent lambs and peace lovers in your eyes, yes?

  5. bozh said on September 14th, 2009 at 9:36am #

    I welcome ‘jewish’; oops, their god’s curses! The more ‘jews’, a melange of ethnicities [probably mumbering in hundreds];oops, here i go again, ‘god’ curses me the more righteous i feel.
    since self am a melange of slavs, italians, and illyrians it is probable that another slavo-italo-illyrian with mosheic cult is cursing me as well.

    But then, muslims, christians also curse me. But my small head loves me and does not criticise me since i pointed out to her that the small head cannot argue with a big head.
    And most importantly, there is only one religion [not cult] and one political party in our house!

  6. bozh said on September 14th, 2009 at 9:55am #

    non of this wld have happened had not christo-talmudic cultists set out to destroy palestine. Non eof this wld have happened had not a nonshemitic peoples [note, not a people] expelled natives by warfare and terror.

    Interrupting flow of history or setting its beginings at convinient time even hitler had been correct.
    Hey, any intelligence out there?

  7. b99 said on September 14th, 2009 at 10:44am #

    deceschi – Your laundry list of hypothetical rocket attacks by the Palestinians only means they had been making a valiant attempt to defend themselves – something all occupied peoples are entitled to do. The Jews have killed upwards of 60,000 Palestinians over the decades, all so Israel can be larger. So what’s a few rockets among neighbors?

  8. b99 said on September 14th, 2009 at 10:46am #

    John Henry – Saying the Palestinians attacked Israel is like saying the Jews attacked Nazi Germany.

  9. kalidas said on September 14th, 2009 at 10:51am #

  10. MEBOSA RITCHIE said on September 14th, 2009 at 11:18am #

    So what’s a few rockets among neighbors?

    i agree with you b99. if that’s your attitude why are you bothered about a few rockets killing hamas in gaza?
    it’s a shame that some children got killed but that’s what happens when you hide behind them

  11. Ekosmo said on September 14th, 2009 at 11:38am #

    Go to it Mulga,
    givvem both barrels,
    or, sil vous plait, hit ignore

    is having kittens again…

  12. MEBOSA RITCHIE said on September 14th, 2009 at 11:53am #

    i think mugla lying down trying to relax

  13. b99 said on September 14th, 2009 at 11:56am #

    No Mebosa – the Palestinians are not the offending party – Israel is the offending party. Israel is beyond the borders bestowed upon them by the world. It’s the world’s only occupation and the world’s only Apartheid regime – and it’s now almost 43 years old. 60,000 Palestinian dead because Jews kill children. And let’s not forget, it is only ISRAEL that has been found guilty of using civilians as shields.

  14. John Henry said on September 14th, 2009 at 12:35pm #

    “… – Saying the Palestinians attacked Israel is like saying the Jews attacked Nazi Germany….”

    Uh I don’t think so. The Israelis pulled OUT of Gaza. After Gaza was Judenrein, they were attacked with thousands of mortar and rocket rounds ACROSS A BORDER.

    and B99 “60,000 Palestinian dead because Jews kill children.”

    Not even close. More Palestinian Arabs killed each other than the Jews did in all of the wars defending themselves.

  15. deceschi said on September 14th, 2009 at 1:34pm #

    B99 “60,000 Palestinian dead because Jews kill children.”

    Is it a bad joke, one of the many lies spread by Arabs and Jew-haters – or maybe do you have some serious sources and precise figures, b99?

  16. MEBOSA RITCHIE said on September 14th, 2009 at 4:22pm #

    b99 lying as usual
    only 60,000 killed
    make up another figure–maybe 100,000 or 150,000
    jews kill children,used as human shields by hamas
    hamas walk in to pizza parlours in jerusalem and blow up 15 jewish children buying a pizza—

  17. kalidas said on September 14th, 2009 at 5:26pm #

    For a second there I thought he said 6 million.

  18. Ekosmo said on September 14th, 2009 at 5:26pm #

    … no one cares what Tosspot or his pack of attack-dogs think

    the entire planet’s simple slogan:


    Why? Its the last of the Euro-crackpot monocultural ideologies

    it predates every other Euro-crackpot ideology —
    Russian Bolshevism, Italian Fascism, German Nazism, Dutch Sth Afrikaanism

    and a big Congratulations guys:
    it — Zionism — finally finished what the Third Reich started — emptying Europe of its Jews…!

    I mean, perish the thought that any Jew — thus a potential Israeli Zionist land-heister — should actually even appear to be integrating and mixing with the rest of Humanity, when Israel
    — the world’s biggest self-erected “Jewish” Ghetto
    — a.k.a. “Club Death in the East Med”
    is beckoning them to come on “home” [sic]
    and there to be “safe” [sic] from all them rabid AnnySemites
    and there to, wait for it……. “save the race” [sic]

  19. kalidas said on September 14th, 2009 at 5:32pm #

    “Russian” Bolshevism?
    Is that anything like the “Russian” mafia?
    Or “Russian” oligarchs?

  20. B99 said on September 14th, 2009 at 5:45pm #

    No no no mebosa – I say 60,000 because that’s the figure that has some grounding. Maybe it is 100 to 150,000 but I have not seen that figure. Of course you KNOW Jews kill children. We’ve had this discussion on DV before and it usually winds up with me posting their names here. In fact, almost as many children have been killed by the Jews as the total number of Israelis killed of all ages. Two major human rights organizations looked into the use of human shields by the Palestinians and they came up clean. On the other hand, Israel was found dead guilty of using the neighbor procedure, something I’ve outlined here as well – and I can do it again for your edification.

    Obviously Jews don’t care enough about Jewish children dying to end the occupation. It used to be that Israel killed Palestinians in a 10:1 ratio. That was the price to pay for a bigger Israel. It only became a problem when the ratio went down to 4:1. Then Israel had to send in the tanks and missiles – and finally The Apartheid Wall, so Israel could expand unmolested. Still occasionally, Jewish kids die. The israelis mourn and then get back to the business of oppression and occupation – the two things Israel does best.

  21. B99 said on September 14th, 2009 at 6:19pm #

    John Henry – Nope, Israel did not pull out of Gaza. Israel merely pulled its squatters out of Gaza. The occupation continues. In fact, the UNITED NATIONS still considers Gaza to be Israeli-occupied. That’s your bottom line. Besides, the West Bank is occupied – you KNOW THAT of course. And so the Gazans should be complacent while the West Bank is occupied? That’s like Jews freed from Dachau should not protest the fact that Auschwitz is still a death camp. Gazans have every right to fight the siege against them and the occupation of their brothers, sisters and cousins in the rest of Occupied Palestine.

    Can’t say Jews were defending themselves because they started all the wars but one – and that was the 1973 attack on Israeli-occupied positions in Arab countries. They have wantonly killed Palestinians for more than six decades now, 60,000 is a conservative estimate.

  22. B99 said on September 14th, 2009 at 6:37pm #

    Kalidas – Six million? No, that’s the estimated number of Congolese killed in that Holocaust by King Leopold and his band of Belgians at the turn of the last century. Other big Holocausts? Well, upwards of 50 million were killed in WWII, and Yad Vashem has the names of at least 3 million who were Jewish.

  23. Mulga Mumblebrain said on September 15th, 2009 at 2:10am #

    What a collection of nasty golems. Looks like the Zionazis are going to swamp this site with their lies and racist arrogance as they have so many others. But that is what happens when you regard the rest of humanity as cosmic ‘also-rans’ next to your own ineffable Holiness. I actually recollect some Zionazi ultra chieftain expressing the opinion (or perhaps it was dogma) that the Nazis, in killing the Jews (no mention of Roma, gays, Slavs, Serbs, Jehovh’s Witnesses of course, as ever)committed deicide, because the Jews were of the same substance as God.
    The combination of religious delusions of grandeur, exceptionalism and absolute supremacy over all others, the usual visceral hatred of the European settler for the indigenous who refuse to die out or disappear (I remember the supporters of Afrikaaner South Africa, Israel’s identical twin and lost love, being just as vicious and hysterical in denouncing the supporters of majority rule. We were all, of course, Communists and ‘enemies of Western Civilization)and rage and the desire for vengeance over the Nazi Judeocide (for which the Palestinians and others are the scape-goat, the Europeans being too powerful), has made the Israeli, Zionist, ultra-Right despicable and dangerous. The sheer arrogance, the contempt for the lives of their victims, even, if not in particular, the children, the screeching, incessant lying and cynical hypocrisy, are ghastly enough, but these braying racists have hundreds of nuclear weapons and are more and more under the sway of religious fanatics who openly state that, under their interpretation of Judaic law, killing innocent civilians is a good deed, and the more the merrier. But wretched as the experience is of being abused by these creatures and living in countries that they control through ruthless application of money power, just consider the living hell that the Palestinians inhabit, day after day, year after year.

  24. MEBOSA RITCHIE said on September 15th, 2009 at 2:21am #

    but these braying racists have hundreds of nuclear weapons and are more and more under the sway of religious fanatics

    thank you for reminding us

  25. Annie Ladysmith said on September 15th, 2009 at 4:01am #

    Spare us the bickering over numbers, we are all aware of the story.
    Askenazi jews, who look like English people and therefore do not look Semitic, A.K.A. Synogogue of Satan terrorizes Palastine by torturing and killing British soldiers and the native people who had made their home there, finally get a place to store their weapons and gold in 1948. It has been a nightmare for the people around them ever since.
    They got kicked out of everywhere they ever went, why you may ask, because they would ALWAYS try to take over the nations with usuary, and subterfuge. Take, take. but never give. Stay aloof and segregated and put people in poverty wherever they went. ALWAYS with the Moslems when it came to enslaving their Christain enemies and selling them to make great profits.
    But, since 1948 the synagogue has outdone itself: plenty of massacres of women, children, and old men on the way. Bringing the US (and it’s true the US is Israel’s puppet) into their schemes until they are financially and militarily supported by the US tax payer. Stealing and spying on US technology without the slightest remorse. Even using weapons given to them by the US ON THE US (Liberty), it goes on and on. Sorry you have made no friends in the world and i guess that’s why you want to wipe the rest of us of the earth. You stole your nuclear weapons from the US, of course Oppenhiemer was one of you so i guess you felt entitled. Now the Morons and Cows in the US government are doing your dirty work in Iraq. Killing off the Arabs, it is genecide.
    In the O.T. Yahweh had mercy on Hagar and Ismael, Hagar saw God and he told her, her decendents would be to numerous to count, these are the Arab peoples and i would not kill people who God has blessed. If you are really Jews why don’t you read your Torah, it’s all in Genesis.
    Stop killing, stop the genecide against Arabs, and the rest of us, stop holding the US hostage . i cannot tell you how much i pray that you will never get Iran. I pray Elohim-Yahweh places these ancient peoples under the protection of his wings that you cannot tear them to peices and bury them alive as you did in Iraq, i pray for these people all day long that you will not have them to slaughter.

  26. kalidas said on September 15th, 2009 at 8:02am #

    Yes, Yad Vasham is right up there at the top of the list with, well, dare I mention the brothers Grimm and Jules Verne.

    Funny how when the dirty deeds are done, the practicing of ponerology 101 is in full swing, it’s always “Russians” or “Poles” or anything other than “the usual suspects.”
    Then, when their lock stock and barrel owned media starts up with the stories of generosity, compassion, wisdom and charity they don their usual disguises and cash in one way or the other.

    (People are starting to sleep with one eye open, if you know what I mean)
    (wink wink)