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Palestinians wait in line at Meitar checkpoint in the South Hebron hills. Photo by Michal Tsadik, MachsomWatch,15 June 15, 2010
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Just because of their name: Israel punishing hundreds of Palestinians by preventing them from working in Israel

Over the past year, the Civil Administration has revoked permits to work in Israel and in the settlements from hundreds of Palestinians, in response to attacks committed by residents of their communities with the same family name.

Until May 2018, the Civil Administration revoked permits in three instances: in the vicinity of Yatta in the Hebron District, where the largest number of permits was revoked; around Beit Surik to the northwest of Jerusalem; and in Barta’ah a-Sharqiyah in the Jenin District. The workers and their families depend for their livelihood on these permits, which were revoked months ago and have not yet been returned. The longer the revocation, the greater the damage to the workers and their families. Workers report drastic changes they have been forced to make to their lifestyle following the revocation of the permits, and some state that they have fallen into debt. The workers have no way of knowing when, if ever, their permits will be reinstated and whether they should attempt to find alternative work in the West Bank, at much lower salaries. It is difficult for them to commit to a new place of employment due to the possibility that the permits could be reinstated at some point, allowing them to return to their regular positions.

Revoking permits from Palestinians who have no substantive connection to perpetrators of attacks is part of a declared Israeli policy. Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who until recently served as Coordinator of Government Operations in the Territories (COGAT), wrote following an attack committed by Palestinians on 17 June 2017 at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, in which a Border Police officer was stabbed and killed, that Israel had decided on a number of steps. “The first”, he stated, “is revoking 250,000 entry permits [for Palestinians visiting family in Israel] and revoking work permits from the kin of the terrorists.” A few months later, following the attack in Har Adar in which two security guards and a Border Police officer were shot and killed, the Prime Minister announced that measures taken in response would include demolishing the terrorist's house, imposing a closure on the village of Beit Surik and revoking the work permits of his extended family.

The revocation of the permits is not based on any claim that the workers were responsible for the attacks, involved in them in any manner, or even knew the perpetrators. The grave damage to them is due solely to the fact - meaningless in itself – that their family name is identical to that of the perpetrator. In the vast majority of instances, there is no actual relation between the two. Accordingly, the policy is completely unjustified and constitutes collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law.

This policy is based on Israel’s position that issuing work permits to Palestinians is a privilege or act of charity. Accordingly, Israel argues that it is entitled to revoke and reissue these permits at will, without reason. The state completely ignores the ramifications of this decision and acts as though it were not the one restricting the movement of Palestinians, impeding the development of their economy and blocking their access to resources . This is yet another example of the arbitrary manner in which Israel acts in the West Bank. This arbitrariness governs the Palestinians’ lives and forms part of the organized state violence aimed at perpetuating Israeli control over a civil population denied political rights.

Yatta area, Hebron District

The town of Yatta in the Hebron District has a population of some 65,000. About 30,000 people in the town and its vicinity share the family name Abu ‘Aram. On 2 August 2017, Isma’il Abu ‘Aram stabbed an Israeli supermarket worker in Yavne, causing him serious injuries. The next day, the Civil Administration revoked the work permits of more than 1,000 Palestinians named Abu ‘Aram – 915 worked in Israel and the others in settlements. The permits were initially revoked for 10 days. About four months later, on 14 December 2017, the Civil Administration again revoked them, this time “until further notice.”

In testimonies given to B'Tselem field researcher Musa Abu Hashhash, workers from the Abu ‘Aram family described the difficulties they face without the permits.

‘Ali Abu Aram, 51, a construction worker and married father of seven, related on 18 March 2018:

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Ali Abu 'Aram. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 18 March 2018

I live in the village of al-Carmel to the east of Yatta, and I’ve worked in Israel since 2007. At the time my permit was revoked, I was working for an Israeli contractor in Holon. I pay him NIS 2,000 (NIS 1 = USD 0.28) a month to get a work permit. My last permit was valid through 9 June 2018. Every day I’d head out early for work and return after 7:00 P.M. via Meitar Crossing. I worked together with my three married sons: Nidal, 24, Nihad, 22, and Muhammad, 21. We all had permits. Our lives were stable and our pay was very good. I made NIS 500 a day.

At the beginning of August, a young man from the Abu ‘Aram family attacked an Israeli in Yavne. After that, they revoked my work permit, as well as my sons’ and those of other workers from the Abu ‘Aram family, for 10 days. Then we had to go and get new work permits again, and we went back to work. A few months later, on 14 December 2017, we were surprised to hear at Meitar Crossing that our permits had been cancelled. At first we thought it was just a temporary decision for that day. The soldier at the crossing didn’t give us any reason. He only told us that those were his orders and that we should go home. When I got home, I heard that hundreds of people whose family name is Abu ‘Aram had had their permits revoked. They were all sent home that same day, regardless of which crossing they’d used.

Since then, my three sons and I, along with the other workers from the Abu ‘Aram family, have been unemployed. We’ve tried to contact various officials to help us, but it hasn’t done any good. I called the contractor who employed me, my friends spoke to lawyers and we organized a protest outside the Civil Administration, but nothing changed.

We’ve been unemployed and had no income for three months now. I’m starting to worry that it might stay like this for ever. It’s causing me massive losses. I have some savings, but I rely on my daily income. I’ve managed to cut back on the family’s expenses significantly and I’m using part of our savings. It’s hard for us to find work in Yatta. There aren’t many jobs on offer, the salaries aren’t enough, and there are lots of unemployed people here. This is a policy of collective punishment. My family, my

workmates and I are all totally frustrated.

In a testimony he gave on 19 March 2018, Zaher Abu ‘Aram, 25, a married, stated:

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Zaher Abu 'Aram. Photo by Musa Abu Hashhash, B'Tselem, 27 March 2018

I live with my family in the town of Yatta. I have a work permit and for the past two years I’ve been working in Lod. My father and two brothers also work in Israel, and another brother works in settlements. Together, we provide for 27 people.

On 3 August 2017, the day after someone from the Abu ‘Aram family attacked an Israeli in Yavne, they told me that I wasn’t allowed into Israel. This prohibition lasted for 10 days, after which my father, my brothers and I had to take out a new permit. A few months later, on 14 December 2017, they suddenly told me at the crossing that a new prohibition had been imposed on workers from the Abu ‘Aram family entering Israel. That prohibition is still in force.

I was in the middle of building a house. I’d already bought the building materials and given checks to contractors, but I don’t know whether I’ll be able to repay my debts and cover the checks. My father and brothers are helping me for now, from their savings, but even so I decided to stop work on the house until I can go back to work. What happened to us is severe collective punishment. I hope this suffering will end.

Beit Surik, Al-Quds District

The village of Beit Surik, northwest of Jerusalem, is home to some 4,500 residents. On 26 September 2017, Nimer al-Jamal killed two civilian security guards and a Border Police officer at a military roadblock set up at the entrance to the settlement of Har Adar. The Civil Administration subsequently revoked the permits of some 150 village residents with the same surname, who worked in Israel or in settlements. The workers were informed that their permits would be revoked for six months, but at the end of March they discovered that they were still barred from entering Israel until further notice.

In testimonies given on 9 April 2018 to B'Tselem field researcher Iyad Hadad, members of the al-Jamal family who live in Beit Surik described the difficulties this collective punishment has caused them.

Bashir al-Jamal, 49, a gardener and married father of seven, explained:

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Bashir al-Jamal. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 9 April 2018

I am the sole provider for 10 people – my wife, our seven children, my sister and my father, 75, who has heart problems, diabetes and high blood pressure. My sister and father live in a separate house.

Two of my children are students – Muhammad, 20, and Siwar, 19. The other children are still at school. No one else who care for these people. Our monthly expenses are at least NIS 6,000, including 600 to 1,000 for my father and sister’s needs. I make NIS 6,000 a month working in Israel, so usually our expenses and income are balanced.

I was barred from working in Israel after the shooting attack in Har Adar, and since then have been without an income. Our family is in a very tough spot financially and psychologically.

I’ve been a gardener for 14 years, including 11 years working for a neighborhood house committee in Mevasseret Zion. It’s not easy to find a new job in gardening – there’s hardly any work like that around here. I have a serious problem with my eyesight and it’s difficult for me to work in another profession. At present I’m still unemployed.

It’s hard for me to meet my family’s basic needs. I can’t borrow money from my brothers, because they’re in exactly the same situation. Two of them worked in Israel and also lost their work permits. I had no choice but to sell my wife’s jewelry, but even that money ran out very quickly. It embarrasses me to go to a wedding or on social visits, because it entails expenses that I can’t afford.

When my son Muhammad realized that our financial situation was getting worse, he moved from Bir Zeit University to Al-Quds Open University. The tuition fees at that university are much lower and his timetable leaves him time to study and work at the same time, so that he can cover his own basic needs. My daughter, who is attending a teacher training college in Ramallah, needs money every day for public transportation, as well as NIS 25 for her expenses. Now she’s thinking of giving up her studies. When she comes home and sees how sad and depressed I am, she strokes my head to comfort me. She tells me: “Never mind, Dad, everything will pass with God’s help.” But she, too, says it very sadly.

Poverty and want are the hardest things a human can experience. This is what we’re all experiencing every day, and all because we have the same family name as the person who carried out the attack. Work in Israel allowed us to breathe, and now we don’t even have that.

Mahdi al-Jamal, 34, an electrician, engaged, stated:

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Mahdi al-Jamal. Photo by Iyad Hadad, B'Tselem, 9 April 2018

I am the breadwinner for six people – my father, mother and four sisters. We all live in a house in Beit Surik. My father is sick and can’t work. I’m engaged and was supposed to get married this month (April).

I’ve been working in Israel for 15 years. For the past 10 years I worked in the settlement of Har Adar, nearby, with an Israeli electrical contractor. I have a permit to work in settlements that my employer renews every three months.

Since the shooting attack at the settlement seven months ago, all the members of the al-Jamal family have been barred from working in Israel or in settlements. Some 20 to 30 people from the al-Jamal family worked in Har Adar, and they all lost their work permits. We’re not allowed to go there any more. More than 100 other workers from the al-Jamal family worked inside Israel, and they’ve all lost their work permits.

We’ve all been punished for something we didn’t do and had nothing to do with. The revocation of the work permits has caused financial damage and also harmed us psychologically and socially. I’ve been left without any income. Beforehand, my average income was NIS 250 a day. Now I don’t make anything. A month after they took away my permit, I went to work at a quarry in the West Bank for a very low salary of NIS 100 a day. It’s exhausting work and it isn’t my profession. After 12 days I had to quit, and now I’m unemployed again.

I hardly ever leave the house anymore. I only go out for a walk, just to move a bit. I don’t dare go into a café or restaurant because I have to save money.

Before they took away my permit, I used to visit my fiancée at her family’s home at least once a week, but now I only go once a month. I don’t know how we’ll get by. We planned to get married this month, but I had to postpone the wedding to September in the hope that the problem will be solved by then.

I had some savings, but I spent them all on preparations for the wedding and the engagement ceremony last year. By the time they took away my permit, I didn’t have any savings left. I have to borrow money from friends, and sometimes from my married brothers.

While I was working, I could care for our parents, but since they took my permit away my brothers have had to support them. Without my brothers, they wouldn’t have anything. The situation is also really hard psychologically. I was an adult man, responsible for my family, and now when I put my hand in my pocket I don’t even have money for cigarettes.

I’m trapped between heaven and earth, waiting for them to let me work. I’m really scared that this could go on forever and that my whole future will be ruined. I want to get married and start a family like everyone else. I’m scared that all my dreams will turn out to be one big illusion.

Barta’ah a-Sharqiyah, Jenin District

Barta’ah a-Sharqiyah is a Palestinian village in the Jenin District that Israel has trapped in an enclave between the Green Line and the Separation Barrier. It has about 5,000 residents, almost all of whom bear the family name Kabha. On 16 March 2018, village resident ‘Alaa Kabha ran over and killed two soldiers near the settlement of Mevo Dotan. The same day, the Civil Administration revoked the permits of almost 100 residents of the village – 67 permits for work in Israel, 27 for commercial purposes, and four for work in settlements.

In testimonies given on 16 April 2018 to B'Tselem field researcher Abdulkarim Sadi, members of the Kabha family from Beit Surik described the difficulties they have faced due to the revocation.

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Zakaria Kabha. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi, B'Tselem, 16 April 2018

Zakaria Kabha, 37, an electrician and married father of three, stated:

I live in Barta’ah a-Sharqiyah with my wife and our three young children. I’ve been working in Hadera for several months, at a company that specializes in electric and infrastructure works. I had a permit to work in Israel.

On Sunday, 18 March 2018, I was at work in Hadera. At the end of the day, my employers told me that Israel had revoked the work permits of all Kabha family members. Four other people from the same family were working with me. The owners told us not to come back to work until the authorities cancelled the ban.

This decision means that I can’t support my family anymore. My wife, my three little children, my mother and my three brothers – one of whom has Down’s Syndrome – have all been dependent on me since my father died. As I see it, this is collective punishment of the innocent. My family didn’t do a thing to a soul.

Every second day, I call the company that employs me to ask whether the prohibition has been cancelled yet. A whole month has passed and we’re all still sitting at home without work or regular income. There’s no other way for us to earn a living for our families.

Muhammad Kabha, 41, a construction worker and married father of six, explained:

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Muhammad Kabha. Photo by Abdulkarim Sadi, B'Tselem, 16 April 2018

I’ve been working as a construction laborer in an Israeli company for five years. I have a work permit that the company issues and renews every six months.

After ‘Alaa Kabha ran over soldiers on 16 March 2018, the authorities decided to punish residents who share his family name. Kabha is a very big family and we don’t have anything in common except for the name. The authorities imposed collective punishment on all the residents of the village who have the same family name and who hold entry permits to Israel.

Since they took away the permit, I’ve been unemployed. They told me not to come to my place of work in Netanya. The authorities told the employers that they mustn’t take on anyone with our family name until further notice.

This punishment has changed our lives. In addition to my wife and children, I also provide for my mother and for my brother, who is disabled and deaf. Two of my children are in post-secondary studies and I asked them to take a break, because I don’t have enough money.

My family has been directly affected by the imposition of this prohibition. Seven other people who are also called Kabha worked with me in the same company, and they’re unemployed now, too. Our relations with our employers were very good. We never had any problems with them. I asked the Palestinian DCO to help us, and the Barta’ah Municipality also contacted the authorities. I’m hoping to hear good news, and every day I call the company to see whether anything’s changed. As long as this prohibition continues, our families’ suffering will also continue.