A New Plan by COGAT to Deal with Employment License Brokering

 

The spotlight has shifted recently to the illegitimate phenomenon of trading employment licenses for money through brokers. These brokers take advantage of Palestinians in need of work and they resell the licenses at prices ranging between 1,500 NIS to 3,000 NIS per month. The issue has been brought to the attention of the head of the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), and following complaints on the official Facebook page and other sources, COGAT decided to address the issue. The main initiative in dealing with this phenomenon is the plan to change the method of employment. The plan would enable Palestinians who wish to work in Israel to approach employers directly through an online platform of the Civil Administration.

The State of Israel is a pivotal economic source for many Palestinians as thousands of them turn to Israel to seek employment and to have a stable source of income in hopes of a better life. Accordingly, over the years COGAT has provided employment licenses for Palestinians – free of charge and with increasing quotas – in order to earn a living, as long as all security aspects are maintained.

Israel has essentially enabled Palestinian workers to earn a salary by offering employment licenses, but this procedure has been exploited by people who trade the livelihood of such workers and serve as unauthorized brokers between the workers and Israeli employers, thus creating a black market where licenses are sold for thousands of shekels. The worker, in turn, is faced with purchasing these licenses from brokers or with fear of unemployment.

 

The phenomenon of license brokering in Israel is not new, but it seems that it has recently expanded. Evidence for this phenomenon can be found on COGAT's Arabic Facebook page "al-Munaseq", which has received many messages talking about the price of employment licenses, some listed up to 3,000₪. Following these messages, we went to the border crossings to receive more information about the issue and to discuss it with workers who have been experiencing license brokering firsthand. One of the workers, whom we met at dawn at the crossing, told us, "We pay 2,500 NIS per month for a license; it's hard." He said, "There are those who take advantage of workers in need of work, they pay the broker 2,500 NIS a month [...] The seller's name is known to the workers – if you want it (the license), you have to pay [...] Every license broker is in contact with dozens of workers." The worker concluded by expressing his hope that "conditions will improve as prices are high, and in a situation like this, it is impossible to get through the month." Another worker at the crossing told us, "In a day's work one can make good money, but I only work a day or two per week, and 2,200 or 2,500 NIS for a license is expensive [...] We ask, if there's anybody who wishes to help or to support, we would be grateful."

 

Messages received by COGAT's al-Munaseq Facebook page

Trading employment licenses has created a black market and a brokerage scene which involve Israelis and Palestinians and generate large profits. Just advertising available licenses has become an actual profession, but the people who are involved do not take into account that they are jeopardizing the interests of the common people. A prominent aspect of this phenomenon is the use of posts on Facebook pages for advertising available licenses and thus exploiting workers and their will to work. These Facebook pages function as billboards and are intended for those who are willing to pay a large portion of their income for the license. Among other Facebook pages, one can find pages such as "Work and Trade Licenses in the 1948 Territories", "Selling and Purchasing in Palestine" and "Louis Tourism & Travel". These pages are being managed by Palestinian brokers who take advantage of people in need of work and sell them employment licenses.

 

Examples of the groups selling licenses on Facebook

It turns out that a broker can receive more than 1,500 NIS per month for each license he sells, and in some cases, brokers can sell dozens of these licenses. There are many brokers on the ground; brokers such as S. and Z. of T. family, A. A., H. from the village of Yatta and A. R. In addition to these brokers, there are others who have taken advantage of the situation, such as a Palestinian organization aimed to assist people with disabilities, in which one of its employees is currently suspected of selling licenses intended for this organization in exchange for money.

The names mentioned above are just a small example of perpetrators, and they are not exclusive to this phenomenon. The brokers' names are known to thousands of Palestinian workers who are forced to allocate a significant portion of their salaries for the license. In addition, some brokers take advantage of their relatives' jobs and influence, either within the Palestinian Authority or within the Palestinian security organizations and thus, repeatedly exploit workers. In this regard, a person with close ties to a senior member in one of the Palestinian security organizations said that "some security personnel trade licenses in exchange for money or services." These Palestinians don't operate in a void, as Israelis are also involved with trading licenses, such as some building contractors or those who directly hire workers.

License brokering is not the only way license procedures are being violated and taking advantage of workers who wish to work in Israel. Issuing fake licenses has also become a method. Until K. A. was arrested, he was one of the major forgers in the Qalqiliya area. He had earned 400 NIS for each forged employment license so that Palestinians could enter into Israel illegally. In addition, the license brokering phenomenon affects not only the workers, but also businessmen. There are those who sell BMC licenses for businesspeople and in some cases, the license price can reach up to $15,000.

 Broker License Pic.jpg

The general debate on this phenomenon, and the specific complaints received on the "al-Munaseq" Facebook page caused the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Yoav (Poly) Mordechai, to address the issue personally by chatting live with Palestinians on his Facebook page. He clarified that licenses to work in Israel are not intended for sale, but are free of charge, and added that the brokering is a revolting practice. The Coordinator has promised to address the issue and take the necessary steps to put an end to the practice and the exploitation of workers. In this regard, a discussion between the Coordinator and the Minister of Civil Affairs in the Palestinian Authority, Hussein al-Sheikh, recently took place. At the end of the discussion, al-Sheikh clarified that he strongly opposes license brokering. He called for the establishment of a joint team to locate the sources of corruption in order to take the necessary steps against Palestinians and Israelis who commit foul play.

On a practical level, Major General Mordechai announced a new plan which is currently being developed to change the method of employment, which addresses the issue of exploitation of Palestinian workers and the amounts they pay to brokers. According to the plan, Palestinian workers will be able to contact the Civil Administration directly through an online platform in order to connect with Israeli employers. Then, they will receive employment licenses based on the same criteria implemented up until now, and without the need for an external mediator who might trade the licenses. This action boosted morale among Palestinians because it aims to improve the economic situation of those who commute to work in Israel. This satisfaction was apparent at the crossings, where workers have expressed their support for the new plan. "We support the concept of these licenses," said the workers. A pilot version of the plan to provide licenses according to the new method is expected to begin in the second half of 2017 and is currently under preparation.

More than 100,000 Palestinians hold employment licenses that enable them to work in Israel or in the settlements of Judea and Samaria. In addition, Israel gives Palestinians employment licenses to young adults, provided that they are married and over the age of 22, according to security requirements.