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Settlement ban fear of Palestinian labourers

Palerstinian labourers queue up  to cross an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank on their way home from work (picture from January 2010)
Many Palestinians don't see they have any other choice but to work on Israeli settlements

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Har Gilo

It may only be April, but on the exposed hillside settlement of Har Gilo it already feels very hot.

Perhaps for that reason not many people are out and about in this small, middle-class, Jewish enclave in the West Bank between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

And most of those who are walking around have, perhaps surprisingly, Palestinian faces.

They are a group of construction workers, who laugh when you mention the Israeli government's self-declared "freeze" on building in settlements.

Najah Saadi
The PA doesn't care about its people. If they don't want us to work in the settlements, they should invest in us instead
Najah Saadi

Najah Saadi operates a pile-driver.

He has worked in Har Gilo five days a week for the last two years, commuting from his home in Ramallah.

"I'm not happy about working here," he says. "But I don't feel I have a choice."

He says he has a large family to support. "If I work in Ramallah I get a quarter of what I earn here on the settlements."

Mr Saadi has little time for the talk from the Palestinian Authority of a ban on Palestinians working in settlements.

"They can't do that," he states baldly.

"The PA doesn't care about its people. If they don't want us to work in the settlements, they should invest in us instead."

Cheap labour

A little further down the road Ilia Saditsky, an Israeli construction manager, is poring over blueprints with a Palestinian worker for eighteen new cottages which he plans to start building in the next few months.

All of his builders will be Palestinians from the West Bank, he says.

Mr Saditsky describes them as "hungry for work".

"Even if they weren't so cheap, we'd still want to use them because they work so hard."

It is a shame to be part of the lifeline of settlement activity, no Palestinian should
Dr Hasan Abu-Libdeh
Palestinian Finance Minister

Were a ban to come into effect Mr Saditsky says he would have no choice but to bring in workers from Jerusalem.

That, in turn, would mean the price of houses would go up.

It is difficult to know precisely how many Palestinians work in the approximately 120 settlements dotted across the West Bank.

One estimate puts it around 30,000.

And those Palestinians are coming up against an increasingly concerted campaign, led by the PA, against the settlements.

On Monday Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a law banning settlement produce from Palestinian shops in the West Bank.

Traders who break the law face prison and a heavy fine.

And now senior officials in the PA have told the BBC that, come the end of the year, Palestinians will be breaking the law if they work in the settlements - despite the considerable economic pain this might cause.

Palestinian Economy Minister Hasan Abu-Libdeh is helping to lead the drive.

"The process we are embarked on will clean the Palestinian economy and society from any association with settlements," he says from his modest office in Ramallah.

He has little sympathy for those who say that they have no choice but to work in the settlements.

"It is a shame to be part of the lifeline of settlement activity," he says. "No Palestinian should."



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