Israel could replace Palestinian workers with 100,000 Indian migrants, says business leader

‘Right now we are negotiating with India. We are waiting for decision of the Israeli government to approve that’

Maroosha Muzaffar
Tuesday 07 November 2023 13:32 GMT

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Israel’s construction industry is seeking to replace up to 100,000 Palestinian workers with Indian labourers.

The work permits of scores of Palestinian workers were cancelled in the wake of the Hamas attacks on 7 October and have led to a slowdown in Israel’s construction sector, which is now grappling with a severe labour shortage.

A Voice Of America (VOA) report from the West Bank said the Israeli construction industry has asked Tel Aviv’s authorities to allow companies to hire up to 100,000 Indian workers to replace the Palestinians.

India shares strong ties with Israel, even though it has historically called for a two-state solution to the conflict.

“Right now we are negotiating with India,” Haim Feiglin, the vice president of the Israel Builders Association was quoted as saying by VOA.

“We are waiting for [the] decision of the Israeli government to approve that. And, we hope to engage 50,000 to 100,000 workers from India to be able to run the whole sector and bring it back to normal.

“We are at war and the Palestinian workers, which are about 25 per cent of our human resources in the sector, are not coming, are not permitted to work in Israel.”

Earlier this year in May, the Indian government entered into a bilateral agreement with Israel to facilitate the immigration of 42,000 Indian workers.

According to a statement by the Israeli foreign ministry at the time, 34,000 Indian workers were to be engaged in construction and another 8,000 for nursing needs.

Whether the Indian government is still happy for thousands of its citizens to move to Israel remains unclear after the 7 October attacks. India had last month launched Operation Ajay to facilitate the return of Indian citizens from Israel, a mass evacuation which has not yet been completed.

So far, five flights have brought back Indians from Israel. “Special charter flights and other arrangements (are) being put in place,” Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar wrote in a post on X/Twitter. “[We are] fully committed to the safety and well-being of our nationals abroad.”

The Independent has reached out to the Indian foreign ministry for comment.

On 26 October, India was the only nation among the South Asian bloc of countries to abstain from a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” in Gaza. The resolution received support from 120 member countries, with 14 countries opposing it. India was among the 45 nations that chose to abstain from the vote.

It comes as Iran’s president Ebrahim Raisi spoke with the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in a phone call, during which he urged New Delhi to utilise “all its capacities to end the Zionist crimes against the oppressed people of Gaza”.

“The continuation of the killing of the Palestinian people has infuriated all of the free nations of the world and this killing will have extra-regional consequences,” said a statement by Mr Raisi’s spokesperson.

In response to the 7 October Hamas attacks in which 1,400 Israelis were killed, prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu launched unprecedented airstrikes on Gaza and a ground invasion.

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed so far, according to the Gaza health ministry. Mr Netanyahu has so far refused to agree to a ceasefire despite repeated calls from global leaders.

On Monday, the Israeli prime minister said he might consider “tactical little pauses” in the operation in Gaza to facilitate access for humanitarian aid to the Strip or for the safe release of Israeli hostages taken by Hamas.

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