Book Author(s):Matthew Vickery
View the book page:Employing the enemy: The Story of Palestinian labourers on Israeli settlements
Review by:Mustafa Fatih Yavuz
For those who research and discuss the Palestine-Israel conflict they will find that even the most detailed topics have been researched well. Nevertheless, such topics as the two-state solution, security issues, Jerusalem’s status and even Palestinian refugees reflect elite discussions that do not mention those who are at the periphery of discussions – the victims of the occupation. Those are the Palestinian workers who have no choice but to work inside Israeli settlements in the West Bank due to high unemployment rates and Israeli restrictions.
When I stayed in Tel Aviv, I asked one of my friends who calls herself a Zionist about Palestinians. She answered me fleeringly: “I am OK with them, and they construct my road they do jobs for me.” Even though the answer frustrated me due to her condescending manner, there was a reality hidden behind her answer. Israeli settlement expansion and the Jewish population has reached more than 600,000 since 1967 and subsequent Palestinian economic turnaround also rose during this time. There are 37,000 Palestinians living in the West Bank obliged to bring food to the table so they have to work in these settlements due to the settlements’ agricultural and industrial development. But those Palestinian’s stories have been mostly ignored and what’s more, the workers have been cast as “traitors or part of the problem” by their nationals.
However, Matthew Vickery’s book gives an insight into their daily life, the main struggles they face, how settlers treat them and the conditions under which they live. Vickery as a journalist chose a non-academic narrative to introduce the reader to the stories of Palestinian workers. He conducted a number of interviews with Palestinian workers in the West Bank and used these interviews as the basis of his book. Because they believe what they do is wrong, working for those people who are stealing their land has become shameful for them and they do not talk easily about it.
Vickery’s book is divided into two main parts in which he aims to show how settlers are employing Palestinians and how their employment turns into exploitation. In the first part the reader is introduced to several discussions about the legal status and the feelings Palestinians working in the settlements have – shame, despair, humiliation and alienation. Vickery mostly pointed out the bad working conditions such as being paid under the minimum wage and the legal status of Palestinians. According to Israeli law, all workers in the settlements are entitled to a minimum of 214.62 shekels ($59) per day. But Palestinians who can’t get a working permit from the Israeli police are paid 140 shekels ($38) and less.
The legal status of Palestinians working in settlements is actually an uncertainty. According to Vickery, the status of Palestinians working in the settlements should be balanced with the workers inside Israel in 2007. However, this has never been applied. He gave an interesting anecdote from inside a Knesset committee in 2013: “The Ministry of Economy said when it comes to workplace health and safety oversight, it carries out no activities in settlements because it does not know which law to apply.”
Vickery reserves a subtitle for the middlemen of these work affairs. Palestinians are being employed via middlemen who are mediating between settlers and the Palestinian workforce. The writer does not avoid describing these Palestinian middlemen as instruments to exploit Palestinian workforces via referencing from another source: “Middlemen are aggressive, motivated by money and have no problem in exploiting their own countrymen.”
How Israel exploits the Palestinian workforce by controlling the population, implementing Jewish settlements and restricting Palestinian investment in the West Bank is well depicted with the numbers from credible sources used in the second section. The writer puts the reader into the economic perspective of the occupation. Segregation of the labour market and choking the Palestinian economy becomes the main tool for Palestinian control and giving Palestinians no choice but to work in settlements as second-class workers. Since the topic mainly touches “workers,’’ the writer highlights the Marxist approach and tests Marxist ideology. He uses Marx’s reserve army of labour to compare the notion with the situation of Palestinian workers and finds out that the Marxist definition is not enough to define the relationship between Palestinian workers and Jewish capitalist settlers.
“It is clear that Israeli and Palestinian working classes are not one of the same, simply divided by capitalist exploitation. The importance of acknowledging this is that it is possible to redefine and utilise Marxist concepts in regards to Israel and the occupation of the Palestinian territories”. Vickery also claims that Palestinians living in West Bank Area C that has been under Israeli occupation are actually forced labourers. The writer brings about a number of sources defining forced labour and claims that Palestinians are actually indirectly forced labourers due to being without an alternative.
“West Bank Palestinian settlement workers in the vast majority of cases do not have a free choice in their employment. They have been effectively streamlined into the sector through Israeli government policy regarding Palestinian workers, the permit regime, the control of the Palestinian market and economy, and internal freedom of movement restrictions within the West Bank,” writes Vickery.
The stories of Palestinian settlement workers are actually very sad and not rare for Palestinian society in general. People are actually forsaken by their administration, their people, international attention and left to the butcher’s hand. They are actually, as one of the section titles of the book says, the “Wretched of the Holy Land”. This book will be good reading for those who are curious about the worker’s situation in the West Bank and how settlers as employers treat their Palestinian employees. Perhaps readers can find similar stories to these Palestinians from workers around the world. Maybe this occupation is not being orchestrated via powerful army and diplomatic connections but capital. Who knows?