As Israel eases labor restrictions, demand for Hebrew lessons rises in Gaza

As Israel eases labor restrictions, demand for Hebrew lessons rises in Gaza ...

  • More work permits offered in Israel after May war
  • Unemployment runs at about 50% in Gaza, wages low
  • Israel says more jobs on offer if security remains stable

GAZA, February 23 - A teacher in a brightly lit classroom in Gaza breaks out Hebrew words on a whiteboard, followed attentively by Maher Al-Farra and dozens of other Palestinians hoping to profit from an opening up of employment opportunities.

As a result of Israel's recent offer of work permits, the district has resolved border disputes following an 11-day conflict with Hamas, the Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Gaza residents have now been granted 10,000 permissions to travel to Israel, which is a new income source to a region where 66 percent of the population is estimated to be in poverty and unemployment is at 50%.

Since Israel began offering work permits in the last quarter of 2021, Ahmed Al-Faleet, the facility's owner, said the number of people enrolled to learn Hebrew has increased fourfold to reach 160 students per course.

"These courses allow anyone who receives a permit to read signs and documents in Hebrew and communicate with (soldiers) on Israeli checkpoints. If an employer speaks only Hebrew, it allows the worker to deal with him," he told Reuters.

2.3 million Gaza residents live in the coastal area, largely inunable to leave to seek employment abroad, and have been slammed by 15 years of restrictions imposed by Israel, which has successfully used four attacks against Hamas and other armed groups since 2008. Gaza also has a border with Egypt, which has imposed its own restrictions on crossings.

In 2000, about 130,000 Gazans worked in Israel, according to Palestinians. Israel had in 2005 barred laborers after pulling troops and settlers out of Gaza.

A WEEK'S WAGES IN A DAY

No one anticipates a small increase in labor permits to end the long-running conflict between Israel and Hamas, who had fought four wars since the Islamist group took control in Gaza in 2007.

During a workshop at the Nafha Language Center in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Palestinian worker Maher Al-Farra writes in Hebrew. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

However, for dozens of workers and merchants who participated in the class at Nafha, the change offers the possibility of generating, in Israel, the equivalent of a week's wages.

"I arrived today to learn Hebrew, so I may handle things at my work inside (Israel) with ease," Farra tells Reuters.

Colonel Moshe Tetro, an Israeli liaison officer, said new positions would improve Gaza's economy and "would also benefit stability and calm."

According to reports, Israel would eventually provide 30,000 work permits, which, according to economists, might allow employees to earn an average of 500 shekels ($156) per day, equivalent to what some can earn a week working in Gaza.

"Every week I go back home with 2,000 shekels ($625). I also give to my mother and my father," says Jamil Abdallah, 31, from Jabalya, northern Gaza.

Mohammad Abu Jayyab, a Gaza economist, said the offer of permits was part of a slew of economic steps agreed under a political settlement negotiated by Egyptian, Qatari, and United Nations negotiators following the May conflict.

"These are not unilateral Israeli initiatives," he said.

Considering tensions between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the expulsion of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah's East Jerusalem neighborhood, the situation may progress quickly.

Following May's war, Israel has tied the offer of greater openness to improved security and has accused Hamas of investing in developing its fighting capabilities rather than addressing humanitarian problems.

"If the security situation remains stable and calm, the country of Israel would open up again and again," said Tetro.

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