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Contractors urge Israel to vaccinate 65,000 Palestinian construction workers

Association writes to deputy health minister, arguing that movement between Israel and West Bank creates COVID risk; move can be funded by tax paid by employers, employees

Palestinian workers seen during construction work on new building apartment buildings in the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa, East Jerusalem, on October 28, 2014. (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Palestinian workers seen during construction work on new building apartment buildings in the Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa, East Jerusalem, on October 28, 2014. (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Contractors in the construction industry are demanding that Israel vaccinate some 65,000 Palestinian workers who regularly come from the West Bank, citing a tax they say is meant for covering such health treatments, a report said Tuesday.

Israel has vaccinated more than 3.5 million out of its population of 9.29 million against the coronavirus with at least one dose — the highest rate in the world — while attempting to curb travel between the country and the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank, where it will take more time until widespread inoculations are available.

Israel has provided thousands of doses for Palestinian medical workers.

But representatives of Israeli contractors say that isn’t enough, since the regular movement of construction workers between the West Bank and Israel means cases are being imported from the Palestinian Authority after all, Channel 12 news reported.

The Israel Builders Association sent a letter to Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch asking for the vaccination campaign to include the workers, citing a tax that contractors and employees pay, totaling NIS 10 million ($3.07 million) every year, according to the report.

The money regularly goes to Israeli health providers and is officially listed as going toward health purposes — including vaccines.

“In light of the close and years-long partnership between the Israeli employers and workers and the Palestinian workers at construction sites, we believe it would be just and moral to advance this,” the association wrote.

The letter — which has also been sent to the Civil Administration — noted that the 65,000 Palestinian workers come into close contact with some 205,000 Israelis employed at construction sites, creating a COVID-19 infection risk.

Palestinian workers enter Israel through the Mitar checkpoint in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 3, 2020. Photo by Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90

Israel has closed its main airport as well as its border crossings with Egypt and Jordan, essentially halting all international travel.

The country’s weeks-long lockdown, which partially ended Sunday, has failed to curb the third-wave outbreak, with officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blaming more contagious virus variants that entered Israel from abroad in recent months.

Around 122,000 West Bank Palestinians are employed in Israel and Israeli settlements, according to official Israeli government figures. The vast majority work in construction and agriculture; their incomes constitute nearly a quarter of the Palestinian Authority economy.

As in the first two coronavirus lockdowns, Palestinian workers have been instructed to stay in Israeli territory until the lockdown ends; their employers are obligated to provide them with room and board.

But Palestinian workers have said that some employers were providing scant sleeping quarters, leading to many preferring to cross daily through breaches in the security fence.

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