Since 1891, 1 May has been celebrated as International Workers’ Day, a public holiday throughout the world commemorating and reaffirming workers’ struggle for labor rights and decent working conditions.
The primary responsibility to protect and implement workers’ rights lies with nation states, since they are responsible for the implementation of international labor standards within the territories under their jurisdiction. As the occupying power Israel has the responsibility to ensure the right to work in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), comprised of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), inter alia, have confirmed the binding legal responsibilities of Israel vis a vis the entire spectrum of human rights of the Palestinian population under occupation.
However, the human right to work, which includes each individual’s right to the opportunity to gain their living by work which they freely choose or accept, as well as the right to safe and healthy working conditions, remains out of reach for many Palestinians as result of Israeli policies enforced during its long standing belligerent occupation of the oPt.
In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the approximately 585 checkpoints and other restrictions inhibit the free movement of people to get to and from work and make trade difficult and costly. Confiscation of land and settlement activity have also taken economic opportunity away from Palestinians who make their living from agriculture or animal husbandry. As consequence, the unemployment rate has reached 17.2% and this has had an impact on the food-security level of the population (22% of households are food-insecure and an additional 12% are vulnerable to food insecurity).
In the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-imposed total closure, tightened in June 2007 as means of “economic warfare” and collective punishment of the civilian population – and thus illegal under the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 – has affected negatively all sectors of the economy
which were already damaged by the Israeli military operations of December 2008-January 2009. This has resulted in a corresponding rise in unemployment (now at 37.4% compared to pre-closure figures of 26.4%) and in a sharp increase in poverty (65%) and food insecurity (52% of the population is food insecure and an additional 13% is vulnerable to food insecurity). Should the illegal closure be kept in force, the plight of unemployed workers will inevitably further deteriorate with evident implications on the workers and their families’ human dignity.
Unavoidably, since working opportunities in the formal economy are limited, thousands of people have found no alternatives but to risk their own lives working in the tunnels along the border with Egypt. According to PCHR documentation, since 2006 165 workers, including 8 children, have been killed in these circumstances. Furthermore, farmers and rubble collectors are affected by Israeli unilaterally declared "no-go areas" on land located up to 1,500 meters from the fence dividing Israel and the Gaza Strip. Anyone entering or present in these areas – which comprise approximately 17% of Gaza’s territory and 35% of Gaza's agricultural land – is under high risk of being shot by Israeli border patrols. Likewise, Gaza fishermen, today only 3,700 compared to 10,000 in 2000, are often attacked by Israeli war vessels when fishing 3 nautical miles from the shore, although they are entitled to fish up to 20 nautical miles according to the Oslo Agreements.
In 2010, at least 15 Palestinian workers, including four children, were killed by Israeli forces while working in the “no-go areas” on the land and at sea. Another 169 workers, including 45 children, were injured.
PCHR reiterates its condemnation of these crimes which are part of a long-standing pattern of violations perpetrated by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory and denounces the infringement of the inalienable human rights of the Palestinian population.