Interior Minister Asks PM to Bring Back Palestinian Workers, Warns of Construction Industry Collapse

By Aryeh Stern

Interior Minister Moshe Arbel. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

​The Special Committee on Foreign Workers, chaired by MK Eliyahu Revivo (Likud), convened on Monday for a special debate with the participation of Interior Minister Moshe Arbel (Shas), who reviewed his ministry’s policy on foreign workers.

Minister Arbel said, “Many foreign workers were harmed during the October 7 massacre; 58 were murdered and 32 were kidnapped, and that undermined their motivation to remain in Israel. Great efforts were made to keep workers in Israel and bring new workers, and we are in contact with countries for new bilateral agreements. A number of Government resolutions were passed on bringing foreign workers, and we were promised job slots that still haven’t arrived.”

Commenting on the issue of bringing back the Palestinian workers, Arbel said, “I have asked the Prime Minister to examine the issue of employing Palestinian workers from Yehudah and Shomron in the construction industry. There are workers who come in without permits and the law enforcement agencies aren’t able to enforce it, and that leads to disasters like [Sunday’s] terrorist attack in Gan Yavne. We can’t allow ourselves to cause the collapse of an entire industry in the State of Israel. We are taking action to bring workers from foreign countries, but there’s still a need for additional workers and this should be considered, otherwise we will pay in compound interest later on for a shortage in housing units. This has to be done in a controlled manner, with an age restriction and checking all the workers, and without harming the security of Israel’s citizens.”

Population and Immigration Authority Director-General Eyal Siso said, “There are currently 139,425 foreign workers in Israel, about 2,200 more than prior to the war, but the Palestinian workers have left a vacuum. With the exception of nursing care, new workers have entered in most economic sectors, both by bilateral agreements and by private agreements. A total of 6,818 workers have come to the construction industry since the start of the war, including 5,500 from contracting companies. In addition, 13,268 foreign workers have come to the agriculture industry, and 12,857 to the nursing industry. There are 11,000 foreign workers in Sri Lanka who have received authorization to come to work in agriculture, but they haven’t received invitations from Israel. In the past week we have seen a positive change on this issue. We received an encouraging signal from the Thai government today, which has not given authorization so far for people to come and work here.”

MK Moshe Passal (Likud) said, “There are illegal workers here. They should be given, as a temporary provision, authorization to work in order to save the construction industry. We must not bring back the Palestinian workers, most of whom support the massacre.”

Committee Chair MK Revivo asked how many workers had successfully passed the screening process within bilateral agreements in India, and how many were ready to come to Israel. Siso replied that as of now there were 23,000 such workers in India and Sri Lanka, including 10,000 in bilateral agreements.

At the conclusion of the debate, Revivo joined the minister of interior’s request from the Government to examine its policy on the employment of Palestinian workers with agreed-upon restrictions and criteria. The committee chair also called upon the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Transport to ensure that there were direct flights to Israel, in order to reduce costs and shorten the workers’ arrival time to Israel.

Revivo welcomed the Population and Immigration Authority’s decision to prioritize new corporations in the construction industry within bilateral agreements, and called to expand this decision to the infrastructure industry. The committee chair also congratulated the Ministry of Construction and Housing for setting new criteria for bringing workers for the construction industry without a screening process. “This is a welcome step that will expedite the process. I am requesting to receive details of the criteria as soon as possible,” said Revivo.

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