PA Calls Palestinian Workers Home, Citing Coronavirus Risk

palestinian coronavirus
Palestinian labourers work at a construction site in Ramat Givat Zeev, last week. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

The Palestinian Authority has ordered home Palestinian laborers in Israel, saying their jobs exposed them to risk of the coronavirus.

The edict, announced late on Tuesday by PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, could effectively shut down Israel’s construction industry, heavily reliant on Palestinian labor.

Israel had made special arrangements for many of the approximately 100,000 Palestinians who typically cross daily into the country to instead stay overnight in Israeli cities before shutting the border on Sunday to curb the spread of the virus.

But while most workers found temporary housing in empty hotels and apartments, several thousand others have had to sleep in buildings still under construction — often the sites where they work, according to industry groups and activists.

Cautioning that improper living conditions could lead to the spread of the coronavirus, Shtayyeh said all Palestinian workers must return home “to protect them and preserve their safety.”

Palestinian workers earn more for equivalent work in Israel than in Palestinian cities. But officials have voiced concerns in recent weeks that they could contract and spread the disease when they return home.

“We didn’t see this coming. But we understand that it’s about health and safety. We’ll respect (the Palestinians’) decision,” said Shay Pauzner, an official with the Israeli Builders’ Association.