Israel: Construction Workers From Gaza

Global Voices Online
Monday, January 12, 2009


There's a myriad of posts on the war in Gaza in the Russophone blogosphere right now, with the whole spectrum of opinions well-represented by Israeli and non-Israeli bloggers alike.

The text (RUS) translated below, however, is not about the ongoing conflict. On Jan. 8, Tel Aviv-based LJ user leorer (Leonid Rabin) took a step aside and posted his notes on the six construction workers from Gaza he worked with in Ashdod for a year and a half in 1996-97 - "the first few years of [his] life in Israel":

[...]

All of them are [fathers with many children]. Aged 40 or older. To get an Israeli work permit, a Gazan has to have no fewer than five children (it was considered that in this case he'd be working honestly instead of fooling around). Speaking of the issue of [high] birth rates in Gaza - for some reason, we here tend to forget that we've been stimulating these birth rates ourselves, including through measures like this one.

[The head of the Gazan construction team] has been working in Israel for about 15 years. They say he has built nearly half of [Rishon LeZion]. Two of those [seven men] who were shot by the "Jewish hero" [Ami Popper on May 20, 1990] used to work along with him. He was lucky himself: he got sick that day and didn't go to work, or else he would have been there, too.

As a child, he escaped from [Ashkelon] (which was called Majdal then). He said his parents owned a lot of land there and were respected people. Then, of course, there was a refugee camp, but he managed to get ahead there and ended up becoming [head of a construction team].

The second Gazan "old-timer" was the father of 12 children (that's more than the rest of them had), nicknamed [Ya-Hmar]. He got this nickname because he owned the best stud donkey in Gaza. Everyone took their female donkeys to him. But the income from that wasn't enough, so he worked at construction in Israel. While working, he yelled "yalla-yalla" every two minutes, urging everyone on, and his voice could be heard in all the neighboring blocks.

To my question of whether it was difficult to be raising 12 children, he once replied: "The more of them, the easier. They split into two teams and play football, are busy with each other all the time, don't bother us."

[...]

This whole bunch lived somewhere around [Khan Yunis].

Now about a typical working day of these [Ivan Denisovichs].

Its most important feature was the passing of the Erez [machsom] (a checkpoint on the way into Israel). The machsom opened at 4 AM, and closed at 5 or 6 PM. That meant that at 5 AM, one had to be at the machsom, because passing through it took no less than an hour.

So, they wake up at around 3 AM. At 4 AM, they get into the car of the [team's head] à la a "big taxi" and ride to machsom. The ride takes no less than an hour, because inside the [Gaza Strip] there are also Israeli checkpoints where they stop you. Near the Erez machsom, they leave their car - they can't ride into Israel in it. Around 5:30 AM, if they are lucky, they pass through the machsom and get into an Israeli bus. These special route buses were taking Gazans from Erez all the way to Tel Aviv. Their drivers were also Gazans, but only especially trusted. Around 6 AM, the bus passed the "Ad Galom" intersection, the Gazans got out and walked to the construction site.

They had some three kilometers to walk. Along the way they [took some booty] - snatched clothes hanging out to dry, found women's footwear somewhere, a few times they dragged children's bikes to the construction site. To my question about how they managed to get the stolen goods through the machsom into Gaza, they said it was very easy. On the way back, no one was checking them, but it was impossible to bring a screw into Israel, as everyone was searched and undressed almost to the underwear.

Work began at 7:30 AM, and the Gazans had about an hour and a half to spare before that. Enough to gather whatever had been misplaced in the neighboring blocks as well as to make fire and have breakfast.

Entry into Gaza closed at 5 PM (and at 1 PM on Fridays), so they had to leave work no later than 3 PM, otherwise they would miss their bus. Those who didn't get registered on entrance and on exit, in the morning and in the evening, were losing their right to enter Israel. If you missed a bus, take a taxi or whatever, but at 5 PM you have to be in the [Gaza Strip].

From the Erez machsom they could ride home in the same car. At best, they were home at 6 PM. They ate dinner, prayed, and it was time for bed. Tomorrow, they had to wake up at 3 in the morning.

By the way, they say some Gazans didn't go home from Erez but slept right at the machsom on [the Gaza Strip] side, [...] on the mattresses. They were saving time and energy this way. But not our guys - they were decent people, had to hug the wife and say hello to children.

About prayer, by the way. Prayer is sacred. A prayer rug was always with them, if not - any other would do. When the time came, every Gazan prayed regardless of where he was - at the construction site, at the machsom, on the road. The [head of the team] was the most religious.

In eight hours, a Gazan had [to do as much work] as everyone else did in ten hours, because if he failed to, [...] it was more profitable to hire Romanians or any other gastarbeiter, who could work 10 or even 12 hours, could work overtime if necessary, and didn't have to get registered in the morning and in the evening at the machsom. And indeed, in these eight hours, a Gazan did as much as a Romanian did in 12 hours. All that after the way "there" and before the way "back" described above.

I and most other non-Gazans would break down after a week of such a schedule, but our Gazans lived like this for decades. Up until the day the [Gaza Strip] was shut down once and for all, and the life of people there grew even worse. [...] Having seen all this, I understood even then that it was impossible to defeat these people or break them down. They can either be eliminated, or we can learn to live together with them. There are no other options.

1 comment:

ontheface said...

Dear Veronika,

Thank you for translating this insightful blog post. You have an amazing talent for finding nuance in the most complex situations; your intelligence and sensitivity shine through, every time. I still remember the work you did during the 2006 Lebanon war, and how strongly it affected me. I cannot find your email address, unfortunately, so I hope you check your comments regularly.

Warm regards from Tel Aviv,
Lisa