Posted: 28 May 2009 07:04 AM PDT
By Luisa Morgantini*
They worked for years for Israeli companies. For years, they paid their taxes and social insurance contributions in Israel in compliance with Israeli labour and fiscal law. But they also had accidents at work suffering serious and invalidating injuries in Israel's factories, building sites or fields.
Until the period following the Oslo agreements, more than 80,000 Palestinian workers left Gaza every morning, arriving at the Eretz border crossing at 4 a.m. in order to be on time for work in Israel; they returned to Gaza after 6 p.m. dead tired but ready to start again the next morning.
Progressively during these years, Israel closed its border crossings for people and goods, including Gaza workers, who were in part replaced by new poor Jewish immigrants but above all by Asian and Romanian workers.
Today, because of the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip, more than 5,000 of those Palestinian disabled workers no longer receive their disability allowances: the transfer of insurance payments for invalidating injuries as well as retirement entitlements were stopped in January 2009 because Israeli Banks suspended all their transactions with banks in the Gaza Strip.
This is another aspect of the siege of Gaza that, for over two years, has continued to stifle the civil population, oppressing them through a collective punishment in which children, women, elderly people and men are deprived of food, fuel, medicines ~ which are allowed to enter the Strip, through the closed border crossings, only in few days per week and for few hours per day.
Many hundreds of Palestinian patients have died and continue to die because of the lack of medical cares as well as a lack of those permits issued by the Israeli Authorities allowing them to go to hospitals abroad for treatments.
After the recent 'Cast Lead' aggression, that caused the death of more than 1,400 people ~ mostly civilians and children, and with more than 5,000 Palestinians from the Strip injured by white phosphorus bombs and unconventional arms ~ this decision represents an umpteenth insult that worsens the ongoing desperate situation of human rights and legality in Gaza.
But as the saying goes: there are no limits to the worst.
And so, the worst has arrived with the news released by the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights (http://www.mezan.org/en/), reporting that a private Israeli law firm is seeking power-of-attorney for Gaza residents entitled to Israeli national insurance allowances but who cannot receive them because of the siege.
These Israeli lawyers would personally manage the transfer of the money but they would demand an undetermined percentage of the insurance allowances.
A practice of clear profiteering, and a fraud.
A further violation of legality, denounced the Al-Mezan Center that, in cooperation with Adalah ~ the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel ~ delivered letters to the Director of the Bank of Israel, the Director of the National Insurance Institute of Israel and the Israeli Minister of Finance, demanding the payment of the indemnities owed to disabled Palestinians, and launched a legal campaign through a petition ~ still to be defined ~ to be submitted to the Israeli High Court in order to demand the unconditional transfer of the accrued allowances entitled to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
This practice also represents an explicit form of racial discrimination, as affirmed by Al Mezan lawyers, since Israeli counterparts continue to receive their insurance allowances and Palestinians in Gaza have the same right.
These people are entitled to receive their allowances without any cuts: those workers, in fact, were obliged to pay insurance and taxes from when they took up their work right up to the date of their injury, in the same way as all Israeli workers.
After they were injured, they submitted requests to the insurance institute to receive their disability allowances in accordance with the Israeli National Insurance Law. Each request was assessed by a medical committee, which approved the nature and the size of the disability allowance and confirmed that it was as a result of a work injury.
In some cases, the disability amounted to 100%. Some of these disabled people have been receiving their insurance allowances since 1978. Then, the Bank of Israel decided to suspend all transactions with all banks in the Gaza Strip, including the Bank of Palestine.
The siege and the closure of Gaza continue and the International Community once again demonstrates its powerlessness and complicity with the illegal policies of the Israeli Government.
The International Community is not able to operate for the respect of minimal humanitarian rules, while the United Nations continue to denounce the lack of freedom of movement for humanitarian goods: John Ging, UNRWA Director, affirmed that it is not right to define Gaza as an open-air prison since even in prisons there is food.
For now, Palestinian disabled people have not received their retirement and insurance allowances and the military occupation and expansion of settlements continues in the West Bank.
ARTICLE PUBLISHED BY ITALIAN NEWSPAPER "LIBERAZIONE" ON 15TH MAY 2009
* Vice-President of the European Parliament