TEL AVIV (Oct. 28)
Defense Minister Moshe Arens on Sunday lifted the ban against Palestinians entering Israel and immediately ran into sharp criticism from most of his Cabinet colleagues, who were angry he had not consulted them first.
The defense minister had sealed off the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Wednesday. He said he acted to prevent bloody encounters between Israelis and Palestinians from the territories after several days of escalating violence left dead and wounded on both sides.
The blockade kept more than 100,000 Arab day laborers away from their jobs in Israel, causing serious economic dislocations in some sectors.
They streamed back to work Sunday morning, many of them to find that in their enforced absence their jobs had been given to unemployed Israelis and new Soviet immigrants, who were as willing as the Palestinians had been to do menial work for minimum pay.
The closure of the territories, which Israel captured in 1967, was originally intended to be of indefinite duration. But defense officials apparently concluded the move could be misconstrued.
Palestinian nationalist leaders were already touting it as a demonstration that the administered territories were indeed detached from Israel and ripe to become the independent state demanded by the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Arens ran into deep trouble when he reported at the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday that the ban was lifted. He was told by fellow ministers that had he held off until the Cabinet session, he would have been instructed to continue the blockade for the time being.
The ministers said they wanted to teach the Palestinians a lesson and to allow more time to weigh the benefits of replacing Arab labor with unemployed Jews and new immigrants.
According to some observers, Arens’ only support came from Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and David Magen, the minister responsible for Israeli Arab affairs.
SOME PALESTINIANS STILL EXCLUDED
Not all restrictions were lifted on entry into Israel from the territories.
Arens issued new guidelines Saturday night excluding Palestinians with records of offenses or criminal records related to the intifada.
In addition, he ordered strict enforcement of regulations requiring Arab workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip to be hired only through the official labor exchanges.
It is estimated that about 60 percent of the Arab labor force circumvents the exchanges and makes private arrangements with their employers.
Now, another rule facing more stringent enforcement forbids Arab workers from the territories to stay overnight in Israel without a special pass.
Last week, hundreds of Palestinians were reported to have stayed behind in Israel, at the urging of their employers. While both employers and workers were clearly violating the Defense Ministry’s edict, the police were not sure how to treat them.
“The matter is being reviewed by our legal advisers, and once they make their recommendations, we shall act accordingly,” a senior police official said.
Palestinian workers have been employed mainly in the construction trades, in small factories, in restaurants, as street sweepers and garbage collectors.
Many Jewish employers have hired the same people for many years and consider them hard-working and loyal friends. Those employers have often gone out of their way to protect their Arab workers from police harassment and spot searches.
But there are other employers who now say they would rather hire Jews than Arabs and pay higher wages if necessary.
They give as their reasons fear of the Arabs and the fact that most absent themselves from work every time the intifada underground declares a political strike in the territories.