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Rules on Arab Workers Tightened, Despite Pressing Demand for Labor

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The Israeli authorities are establishing policies that will sharply curtail the number of Palestinian day laborers employed in Israel, even after the Persian Gulf war ends.

Few of the measures are new. But the strict enforcement of regulations largely overlooked in the past has made it clear that security outweighs economic necessity.

The crackdown comes despite labor shortages, especially in the construction industry and among citrus growers, whose orchards are laden with ripe fruit but in need of hands to pick it.

One rule being tightened is the ban on Palestinians from the administered territories staying overnight in Israel proper.

Another trend that has gained momentum since the war began is to insist that Israeli employers obtain their Arab workers through the official labor exchanges.

In the past, many Arab laborers were recruited privately. They were willing to work for lower wages, and the employer avoided paying any social benefits. Now security-conscious employers are going through official channels, even though their labor costs could increase by 40 percent.

There is an additional incentive. Employment Service inspectors raided plants and workshops in the Atarot industrial park in northern Jerusalem on Tuesday to check whether all the Arab workers were documented. Dozens of unregistered workers were found. Their employers will be fined $250 for each one, the authorities said.

Months before the Gulf war began, Palestinians in the territories were required to obtain special magnetized identification cards in order to enter Israel for any reason. The process weeded out several thousand who were classified as security risks or criminals.

BANNED FROM TEL AVIV AND HAIFA

Police Minister Ronni Milo told the Knesset Interior Committee on Tuesday that from now on, only registered workers will be allowed into Israel from the territories.

Although curfews were partially lifted three days ago to facilitate the labor supply from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, no more than 5,000 Arabs reported for work in Israel on Tuesday. Before the Gulf war, the daily work force numbered about 120,000.

Police Inspector-General Ya’acov Terner told the Knesset committee Tuesday that as long as Iraqi missiles continue to be fired at Israel, residents from the territories will not be allowed into the Greater Tel Aviv or Greater Haifa areas, which have been the main targets. He said one reason is to protect Arabs from vengeful Jews.

The Justice Ministry, meanwhile, is reported to be drafting a bill that would close legal gaps that enabled Palestinians to circumvent the rule gainst staying overnight in Israeli. The ban has existed ever since Israel captured the territories in 1967, but was only sporadically enforced.

Now the thousands of Palestinians who spend the night in Israeli urban slums are deemed a security hazard to the Jewish population and will be ousted.

Under the law being drafted, a Palestinian from the territories found in Israel between sunset and dawn would face criminal charges.

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