As tensions run high, Arab workers pay the price

As a result of the latest round of violence, Arab workers are becoming subject to harassment, boycotts, and arbitrary dismissals.

By Maha Shehade Switat

Palestinian workers enter an unlicensed service taxi in the West Bank. (
Illustrative photo of Palestinian workers enter an unlicensed service taxi in the West Bank. (

These are days when calling for the boycott Arab workers and “expelling” them from their workplace is received with open arms. These are days when cities refuse Arab workers entry into schools during school hours. Days when Arab workers go through security checks on their way to work for the sake of public safety. These are days when we understand that morality, not to mention the rule of law, doesn’t exist in the workplace. This is how Arab workers have been abandoned.

This racist public discourse erupted and has continued since last summer, in light of the tensions between Jews and Arabs. Since then employers, managers, and employees have enlisted in the fight for a common goal: maintaining the Zionist consensus.

The rights of Arab workers are violated on a regular basis: they are fired from their jobs arbitrarily, are sent to their homes until “things calm down,” suffer from harassment at work and changes in the conditions of their employment solely because they are Arabs — because of their national identity, their worldview, and their ideas — not to mention pressure from a public that calls for boycotts and exclusion.

During the last war on Gaza, Israeli employers kept their eyes on Arab workers. The wave of dismissals solely affected Arabs, despite the fact that both the public sphere and social networks were awash with incitement and racism against Arabs by Jewish coworkers. Employers turned into the thought police, summonses looked more like interrogations, and dozens of Arab workers were fired.

However, if during the war on Gaza Arab workers were fired primarily for remarks made on social media, today they are being fired simply because they are Arab.

Today, in order to hold on to their job and livelihood, Arab workers are resigned to suppress their feelings, while self-regulating and censoring their thoughts. After all, the walls have ears, especially those on Facebook.

This behavior by employers goes against the Law for Equal Opportunity in the Workplace, which forbids employers from discriminating against his employees based on their nationality, worldview, origin, or religion. It also goes against their constitutional right to free speech — one of the cornerstones of any democratic society — anchored in international conventions.

Despite what is written in the law books, the reality is different and turning darker every day. Arab workers are wary of taking legal action against their employers, as it may affect their already low chances of finding a new job. Moreover, past experience has led many workers to grow skeptical of the legal system, which they believe could even work against them in a time of emergency.

As the situation has escalated, employers have become more sophisticated, learning how to hide the motivations behind the dismissals. During times of tension, this can be enough to slam the doors of the courts shut in the face of the workers.

The enflamed public discourse and the harassment and dismissal of Arab workers are part and parcel of the hostile attitude toward the Arab public, which is fueled by the government and the public atmosphere. This blow to the worker’s livelihood only adds insult to injury when considering the difficult economic conditions facing Arab society, along with the high unemployment rates, poverty, and the lack of work opportunities.

These days, when freedom of speech has paradoxically become a tool to silence the Arab public, we need to take a clear stance against the political dismissals and the calls to harm the livelihood of Arab workers.

Maha Shehade Switat is an attorney with Kav LaOved — Worker’s Hotline.

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