Report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab
1. This report is based on the mission sent by the Director-General to gather data and information on the employment conditions of workers of the occupied Arab territories,1 as well as on documentation received by the ILO.
2. The Director-General appointed Mr. Jean-Michel Servais, Research
Coordinator of the International Institute for Labour Studies, to represent him on this mission. He was accompanied by Ms. Alena Nesporova, Senior Economist, Employment Strategy Department, and Ms. Cécile Balima-Vittin, of the International Labour Standards Department (Equality and Employment Branch). The mission visited Israel and the occupied Arab territories from 28 April to 6 May 2001. During their stay the members of the mission were given every facility, and they wish to thank all the authorities concerned.
3. Another mission visited the Syrian Arab Republic from 9 to 11 May 2001. The representative of the Director-General was Mr. Lee Swepston, Chief of the Equality and Employment Branch. The mission held consultations with the government authorities and with the employers’ and workers’ organizations concerned. In particular, they met the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs and the Governor of the Province of Quneitra. They also met representatives of the Damascus Chamber of Industry, of the General Federation of Syrian Trade Unions and of the International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU).
4. The information gathered in this report concerns the real conditions of work and employment of the workers of the occupied Arab territories in such areas as promotion of employment, equality of opportunity and treatment in employment, access to the labour market, working conditions, social security, poverty alleviation and industrial relations. In examining these different issues, the members of the mission were guided by the principles and objectives laid down in the Constitution of the ILO, including its Preamble and the Declaration of Philadelphia, as well as the international standards adopted by the ILO and the principles enunciated by its supervisory bodies. In particular, they bore in mind the provisions of the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100), and the Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122). They took account of the relevant legislation in fields within the ILO’s area of competence. The Palestinians living in Israeli-controlled portions of the territories continue to be covered by a body of law derived from Ottoman, British mandate, Jordanian and Egyptian sources (the legal framework in the Gaza Strip being Egyptian law and that in the West Bank Jordanian law), as well as by Israeli military orders. For the Palestinian- controlled areas, certain laws and regulations have been adopted by the Palestinian Authority; for example, a new Labour Code has been promulgated.
5. The representative of the Director-General and his colleagues held numerous meetings and discussions during the mission. They met the Israeli authorities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They visited East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They went to the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan.2 The members of the mission benefited from the valuable assistance of Mr. Timothy S. Rothermel, UNDP Special Representative, who directs the programme of assistance to the Palestinian people. They also received friendly and efficient assistance from Mr. Khaled M. Doudine, the ILO’s Senior Programme Adviser and General Coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza.
6. The members of the mission met several Palestinian personalities in Ramallah, Gaza, Nablus and East Jerusalem. In particular, they met Mr. Rafiq Shaker Al-Natsheh, Minister of Labour, Dr. Sa’di Al-Krunz, Minister of Industry, Ambassador Dr. Ahmed Soboh, Director-General, Assistant to the Minister, Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, and Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh, Managing Director of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR). They met Dr. Hasan Abu-Libdeh, President of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), and two members of his staff. They also spoke with Mr. Ahmad Hashem Alzughair, President of the Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture and President of the Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Jerusalem, Mr. Ma’az Nabulsi, President of the Nablus Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Nablus, and Mr. Shaher Sa’ed, General Secretary of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) and several of his colleagues in Nablus and in Gaza. In East Jerusalem they met Mr. Mahdi Abdel Hadi, President of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), and in Ramallah, Mr. Hasan Barghouthi, Director-General of the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center.
7. In the Golan they met members of the Arab community in the village of Majdal Shams.
8. The programme organized by the Israeli authorities included a meeting with Mr. Eli Paz, Senior Deputy Director-General, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Mr. Mordechai Yedid, Deputy Director-General, United Nations and International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Vered Dar, Deputy Director-General, Macroeconomics, Economic Research and State Revenue Administration, Ministry of Finance, and numerous other senior officials of these ministries and of the Ministry of Defence. The members of the mission went to Tel Aviv to meet Brigadier-General Ya’akov Ohr, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Ministry of Defence.
9. Meetings were held with Mr. Yosef Gattegno, Head of the Labour and Human Resources Division, Manufacturers’ Association of Israel, Mr. Dan Yarden, Chief Economist and Human Resources, Israel Hotel Association, and Mr. Yousef Kara, official in charge of international relations in the Histadrut trade union federation and several of
10. The events since the end of September 2000 have had a tragic impact on the situation of the workers covered by this report. Closures of the territories and encirclements within them, considerable loss of income and the drastic increase in unemployment and poverty have unleashed a major crisis, from the humanitarian standpoint, for the Palestinian population. This crisis is becoming worse. The personalities who met with the Director-General and his colleagues, principally but not only on the Palestinian side, referred to this extremely serious problem.
11. This report will begin by looking at the negative effects of the current crisis on employment and the labour market in the occupied Arab territories and in Israel. While Israeli citizens have certainly not been the hardest hit economically by the current events, they have also suffered as a result, as will be seen below. The report will go on to deal more specifically with conditions of employment, social security and industrial relations. Lastly, it will examine technical cooperation programmes that have already been put in place by the ILO or were requested by the Palestinian personalities who met with the mission, and which might alleviate the situation of the workers concerned.
12. The Minister of Labour of the Palestinian Authority referred to the deadly violence perpetrated against Palestinians as well as the destruction of enterprises, farms, irrigation systems and trees by the Israeli army or settlers. He added that an increasing amount of land had been confiscated for military purposes, enabling existing settlements between Palestinian villages to be extended. The current situation made it virtually impossible to employ Palestinian workers in Israel, not only because only a limited number of them still held a work permit but also because they were turned away or subjected to various kinds of aggression at checkpoints. In these conditions, the unemployment rate had risen considerably and a substantial part of the population was living under the poverty line. Obviously, it was difficult at the present time to have a real employment strategy. What was more, child labour had spread in families deprived of income. Palestinians who went to work illegally in Israel were arrested, thrown in prison and heavily fined; their employers, especially Israeli Arabs, were also arrested. The Minister emphasized the need for the several thousand Palestinian workers who went to work legally in Israel to obtain guarantees for their personal safety.
13. The Minister also complained that transfers of taxes and other funds due to the Palestinian authorities had been frozen by the Israelis. He pointed out that closures not only of the borders of the Palestinian territories but also within them blocked the transport of raw materials, goods and finished products, both for import and for export; these measures resulted in additional unemployment, since the Palestinian workers employed in the territories were unable to go to work regularly. Total losses were therefore considerable, amounting in his view to at least US$4 billion. However, the Ministry of Labour had put in place emergency plans to cope with this situation. Palestinian officials unable to move away from home were assigned tasks near their places of residence, and staff had been redeployed among the ministries. The Minister considered that technical cooperation programmes in the fields of vocational training and rehabilitation (which was becoming increasingly important in view of the growing number of persons with disabilities) and microcredits would be especially welcome.
14. The Minister went on to state that President Arafat had promulgated the new Labour Code on the occasion of May Day and that he would be willing to work with the ILO on its implementation, in particular in the drafting of implementing decrees and orders. In addition, the draft Social Security Code had been submitted to the Palestinian Legislative Council in first reading.
15. The Managing Director of PECDAR drew attention to Palestine’s structural dependence on Israel. This situation was due to a number of different factors, in particular the military occupation; confiscation of land and establishment of settlements which meant that Palestinians had to leave their land and seek wage employment with Israeli employers; the fact that the vast majority of imports and exports were with Israel, since the Palestinian authorities did not control their external borders and, lastly, the organization of infrastructures in the territories under which electricity, water, sewerage and roads were linked to their equivalents in Israel. He emphasized the importance of technical cooperation with international organizations, including the ILO, for job creation and the development of vocational training. Specifically, he mentioned the possibility of establishing a modern and dynamic vocational training institute with ILO assistance. The need for such assistance was also emphasized by the Assistant to the Minister for International Cooperation. He pointed out that the Palestinian economy had been built on peace, which explained the economic interdependence with Israel and justified calls for the lifting of the closures and internal closures, in particular those within Palestine. The territories should seek to disengage from the Israeli economy.
16. The Minister of Industry, whom the mission met in Gaza, recalled the difficulties faced by Palestinians in exporting their products. In the current situation, production costs had inevitably risen, especially since Palestinian businessmen had to use Israeli trucks to transport their goods. In these circumstances, the decision taken by a number of Arab States to eliminate import duties on Palestinian products in their countries might make it possible to partly offset this increase in costs. Some Palestinian enterprises were continuing to operate despite the events, both in the Gaza industrial zone and in plants located in the territories.
17. The Minister described the measures that had been taken to maintain workers in their jobs and even hire additional workers to compensate for job losses elsewhere. In particular, job rotation systems had been put in place, and the Palestinian Authority paid an employment subsidy covering about half the worker’s wage.
18. The Minister emphasized the importance of ILO assistance, in particular in the field of vocational training. He highlighted four sectors in which such assistance would be especially welcome: textiles and clothing; leather and footwear; the food industry and the chemical industry. Given the competition from countries producing at very low cost even for the Palestinian domestic market, Palestinian enterprises had focused on exports, hence the need to improve product quality while enhancing the skill and productivity of the workers concerned. ILO assistance in this area could lead to the creation of up to 10,000 jobs.
19. These personalities, as well as other interlocutors, in particular those from the employers’ and workers’ organizations, also mentioned the following points in general. First, the recent events had had a devastating effect on the Palestinian economy and labour market. The poverty rate had risen sharply; the informal economy had spread, as had child labour; price increases due to the crisis and closures had further exacerbated the damage. Unemployment had increased considerably, particularly since land confiscation and the establishment of settlements had led to proletarianization of the Arab workforce and its dependence on Israel. In fact, as had been repeatedly pointed out to the mission, the Palestinian economy was entirely dependent on Israel and therefore the measures now being taken by the Israeli Government
inflicted even worse suffering on the Palestinian population. One striking example was the freeze on the transfer of taxes, trade union dues and other funds. Over and above this, the internal dynamics of Palestinian society were affected; a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had been set up to make up for the inability of the authorities to carry out some of their tasks owing to the situation.
20. The representatives of the Palestinian chambers of commerce, as well as other persons interviewed, drew attention to the extent to which the various closures had disrupted the import of raw materials and equipment as well as the export of finished products; transport had become impossible or prohibitively expensive. Palestinian business people received authorization to travel in Israel only for a very limited time, if at all; moreover, this still did not guarantee that they would actually be allowed through the different checkpoints. The current situation had brought investment to an almost complete halt. In addition, there had been many cases of destruction of enterprise premises and farms as well as irrigation systems and crops, either by soldiers or by settlers. Moreover, Arab employers, in Jerusalem in particular, considered that they were the target of discrimination by comparison to the settlers, who benefited from many additional facilities for the transport and sale of their goods.
21. The representatives of the PGFTU in particular referred to the situation of Palestinian workers who continued to work in Israel, the industrial zones and the settlements. Those who were illegally employed – of whom there were more than one would expect – were pursued, arrested and fined. There were few in legal employment; these were the target of violence; the mission’s interlocutors repeatedly requested that they be protected on the way to work. Even if they held a work permit, they could be stopped or turned away at checkpoints. The Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center informed the mission of two serious cases of allegations of violence perpetrated against Palestinian workers. In the first case, Palestinians working in Tel Aviv and staying near Schunat Tikvah were beaten and stabbed in their sleep on 9 October 2000. The second case concerns a Palestinian worker killed on 15 November 2000 at Emek Eilat on the way to work; one of his fellow workers was allegedly wounded in the same incident.
22. The selection criteria for these workers were not clear, according to several of the personalities interviewed. Moreover, workers who had lost their jobs were prevented from asserting their rights in Israeli courts as they could not obtain permits to go there; in particular, complaints concerned unpaid wages (partly because the intifada had begun just before the end of September), severance pay, various social benefits (such as paid leave) and non-observance of the minimum wage. Lastly, the number of foreign workers from eastern Europe and Asia had risen drastically.
23. The situation of Palestinian workers employed within the territories has already been described. The mission has been told repeatedly that the closures had prevented workers from going to their workplaces or offices. They were also the target of violence perpetrated by Israeli soldiers or settlers. In these cases, the mission was told, the guilty parties were not prosecuted or were judged leniently. Attention was drawn to the situation of fishermen in Gaza, who either were not allowed to take their boats out or, if they were, were prevented from working by measures taken by the Israeli army.
24. Lastly, many interlocutors drew the mission’s attention to the urgent need to put into practice technical cooperation programmes to alleviate the situation of the populations affected. Mention was also made of the difficulties in implementing these programmes given the present situation. It was suggested that vocational training programmes be implemented, either locally or at the International Training Centre of the ILO in Turin.
25. The Israeli Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories briefly outlined the policy of the Israeli authorities with regard to the Palestinian workers in the last few years. This policy consisted of establishing “islands of certainty” in a context that remained uncertain. Although there were still some sensitive issues such as that of security, dialogue had been established in the past with the Palestinian authorities concerning job opportunities in Israel. The latter had decided to minimize restrictions on Palestinian workers coming to work in Israel, along the lines mentioned in previous reports of the ILO.3 The objective was to regularize this type of employment. The policy was also based on the idea that the Palestinians should share responsibility for maintaining security. This had yielded significant results prior to September 2000, since the number of days of partial or total closure of the territories had been very limited and about 120,000 Palestinian workers had come to work in Israel, taking illegal work into account. Moreover, the employment rate in the territories had been excellent. Industrial zones had been established along the “green line”, infrastructures had been put in place with support from Israel, and investors had already shown some interest and even begun operations. In Gaza, the Karni industrial estate was already operational, and everything was ready in Tulkarm and Jenin. Again, an “island of certainty” had been established to the benefit of all concerned. What was more, Israelis had been encouraged to shop in Palestinian cities bordering on Israel, enabling people to meet and get to know one another.
26. The situation had completely changed in October 2000. Israeli citizens were no longer allowed to enter the territories because of the risks they would incur. Palestinians were no longer allowed in principle to enter Israel because of the numerous terrorist acts that had been committed, including by the Palestinian security forces, and because violence had been used as a means of political pressure. Some 5,000 terrorist acts had been perpetrated since the beginning of the uprising. Relations between the two populations had practically come to a halt because the Palestinian authorities had let people commit or even themselves committed terrorist acts or, in other cases, had not condemned them. However, the objective was still to alleviate as far as possible the situation of the Palestinian population, who were undeniably suffering as a result of this situation.
27. Now it was a matter of seeing whether “islands of certainty”could be maintained or re-established, added the Coordinator. First, industrial estates such as Erez and Atarot, which had been established along the “green line”, continued to operate even though they were the target of daily attacks from the Palestinians, which had resulted in some establishments closing down.
28. Second, the Israeli authorities had sought to maintain regular employment of Palestinian workers from Gaza and the West Bank. The attack by a Palestinian bus driver in Israel had brought these daily migrations to a complete halt. Relations with the Palestinian security services had come to a standstill; the number of persons involved in the violence was so high that it was becoming difficult to ensure the necessary security control, and the Palestinian media had launched a veritable anti-Israeli brainwashing campaign fomenting hatred among the population. Nonetheless, the Israeli Government had endeavoured once again to minimize the consequences of these measures on the population and sought to restore regular levels of employment of Palestinian workers in Israel. An initial series of 4,000 work permits had been issued, followed shortly before the mission’s visit by another package of 16,000 to 17,000 permits, totalling some 21,000 permits. This was being denied by the Palestinian media, which did nothing to ease tensions. If this policy turned out to be too difficult to apply, workers from other countries would have to be used to replace Palestinians in the long term.
29. Third, 1,000 Palestinian businessmen had been authorized to enter Israel. Their permits were delivered through the Palestinian authorities. Their number could reach 5,000. Although security concerns remained paramount, here again the Israeli authorities were making efforts to minimize restrictions on the movement of goods in both directions, limitations on fishing zones in Gaza and constraints on the movement of Palestinians through border crossings with Jordan and Egypt.
30. The Israeli senior officials who met with the mission pointed out the perverse effects of the crisis on the Israeli economy. The sectors that had been the hardest hit were tourism, construction and agriculture, as well as exports to the territories. There were also tangible if not directly measurable indirect effects on private consumption, investment and employment as well as the property tax compensation.
31. They pointed out that Palestinian workers were continuing to enter Israel legally. It was true that their numbers had been limited as a result of attacks or attempted attacks. Moreover, Palestinian workers coming to work in Israel were subjected to intimidation and even violence by other Palestinians attempting to discourage them from doing so. The mission’s interlocutors emphasized that Israelis were not obliged to recruit Palestinian workers and that some Israeli employers were very reluctant to do so because of the risks it entailed. Nonetheless, the Israeli authorities felt that it was good policy to prevent impoverishment in neighbouring areas. They therefore sought to foster the economic development of the Palestinian territories, including by providing every facility to the NGOs assisting them.
32. The attitude of the Palestinians, the Israeli personalities went on to state, was not conducive to these efforts; in fact they discouraged Palestinian workers from coming to work in Israel and investors from bringing funds into the industrial zones. The Israeli authorities gave the members of the mission a list of enterprises and equipment in Israel and the industrial zones which had been the target of shootings or terrorist attacks by Palestinians, directly affecting many Palestinian workers. Moreover, insults and violence by Palestinians, riots and gunfire had prevented many Palestinian workers from going through checkpoints into Israel or going to work in bordering industrial zones. In addition, the false and malicious statements made by Palestinian personalities, according to the Israeli side, could only foment hatred and violence. While it was possible that Israeli citizens might have overreacted to the threats against them, it was undeniable that Palestinians opened fire on their brothers in the industrial zones and in the settlements or that they incited the population against the latter. The members of the mission handed the Israeli officials copies of documents they had received from the Palestinian side referring to cases of violence perpetrated against Palestinian workers. The senior Israeli officials stated that they were committed to conducting inquiries into these complaints, as they had done in the past, and that they would inform the ILO of the results. Several Israelis pointed out that it would be inconsistent to issue work permits while at the same time creating difficulties at checkpoints; this would mean causing problems for themselves as well. If all the work permits were not being used every day, it was because there might be difficulties on the Palestinian side or a particular security problem had arisen.
33. The Israelis estimated the number of West Bank Palestinians working illegally in Israel at 15,000-20,000 persons. When they were discovered they were immediately arrested, as well as their employers, because these workers could constitute a security threat. They were escorted back over the “green line”. As regards the situation of Palestinian workers in the territories, a distinction should be drawn between closures and the less severe encirclement measures; in the latter case people were allowed to pass through a security check. The aim was to minimize these security measures.
34. As regards the complaints of Palestinian workers concerning non-payment of wages and violations relating to their working conditions, senior officials of the Israeli Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs stated that a total of 52.5 million new shekels (NIS) (equivalent to about a quarter of this amount in US$) had been transferred to the workers concerned in the form of social benefits (workers had to indicate their bank account number when they were hired). If any problems remained to be solved, the Israeli labour administration was prepared to deal with them without the need to go to court.
35. As stated above, entry permits to Israel had been issued to Palestinian businessmen, whereas Israelis could not always enter the territories; this could also be called unfavourable treatment.
36. The Israeli officials also reiterated that they supported any technical cooperation project likely to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian population, including those for infrastructure (water, electricity, etc.) and industrial zones. They were prepared to contribute funds, as they had done in the past, for the organization of seminars on safety at work or vocational training, which had ultimately been cancelled by the Palestinian authorities. Nonetheless, if they were to be joint projects, both sides had to behave like partners on a completely equal footing.
37. The representatives of the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel described the negative consequences of the current crisis on the economic situation and the labour market in Israel. While acknowledging that the repercussions were much more limited in Israel than in the Palestinian territories and that it was sometimes difficult to distinguish the direct effects of the situation from other purely economic factors, they emphasized the negative impact of the current events on tourism, employment, exports of Israeli products into the territories and production capacity in the industrial zones, such as Atarot, which were under fire by the Palestinians. They confirmed that the number of foreign workers employed legally or illegally was on the increase. They pointed out that the fact that intermediaries were being used, including on the Palestinian side, for recruiting workers from the West Bank or Gaza, could pose a problem. Nonetheless, in this as in all the other cases, the persons concerned could take their case to the courts and seek help from Israeli lawyers in particular.
38. The representatives of the Histadrut confirmed that the organization employed four lawyers to defend Palestinian workers. Despite the situation there had been no decrease in the number of requests for assistance, which meant that these requests concerned issues that had arisen before the uprising. Since the persons concerned faced difficulties in coming to Israel, many issues were dealt with by telephone. Out-of-court settlements were also reached. If the case came to court, the persons concerned could be represented by a lawyer; if their presence was required and they were prevented from attending by events, the case was adjourned. The trade union officers pointed out that Histadrut lawyers visited the territories once or twice a week to hear complaints; most of these concerned severance pay, non-payment of the minimum wage and inaccurate social insurance declarations by some Israeli employers. In principle, the Israeli courts required non-citizens to pay a guarantee before lodging an appeal. However, a recent ruling by the national labour court had dispensed foreign workers from paying this guarantee, and this should also apply to Palestinian workers. The representatives of the Histadrut stated that they were prepared to cooperate with the Palestinian trade unions with regard to safety at work or vocational training; they considered that both parties could benefit from one another’s knowledge and experience.
39. As explained in previous reports, the Golan was occupied by Israel in 1967 and annexed in 1981. The annexation was never recognized by the United Nations or by the Arab population, which has always lived in the region and which has always called itself Syrian. The Israeli-Palestinian agreements have not concerned this region. The position of the Government of Israel is that the Golan, to which Israeli law, jurisdiction and administration have been applied, does not constitute an occupied Arab territory within the meaning of the Director-General’s report.
40. For its part, the Syrian Government has always objected strongly to the use of any term that describes the inhabitants of the Golan otherwise than as Syrian Arab citizens under occupation. It has insisted that the region be referred to as occupied Syrian Golan, in accordance with the usage in United Nations resolutions. The Syrian Government also requested the establishment of a permanent committee of the International Labour Conference to discuss the situation in the occupied Arab territories.
41. The Syrian authorities have constantly stressed that the situation in occupied Syrian Golan does not really change from one year to another. They have for a long time mentioned the confiscation of land, the problem of water and the settlement policies. They add that unacceptable labour practices are still going on, including dismissals, discrimination in recruitment and wages, and the ban on taking holidays for national events celebrated by other Syrian citizens. The Syrian authorities requested health insurance and medical facilities for Syrian Arab citizens. They also mentioned the constraints imposed by the Israelis on the transport and sale of apples produced in the region.
42. The Damascus Chamber of Industry and the General Federation of Syrian Trade Unions regularly refer to the same problems. Specifically, they mentioned the destruction of fruit trees belonging to Syrian Arab citizens and the closing down of enterprises. The International Confederation of Arab Trade Unions (ICATU) emphasized the endemic problems faced by this population, referring in particular to discriminatory practices and the confiscation of land. It too requested the establishment of a permanent committee of the International Labour Conference.
43. The Governor of Quneitra also refers year after year to the working and living conditions of Syrian Arab citizens of the Golan and to the injustice they suffer in terms of wages, working conditions, unjustified dismissal and unemployment. He drew attention in particular to the situation of farmers and the occupation of land by the Israeli military authorities. He recalled the various measures taken by the Israelis to limit Syrian Arab farmers’ production and reduce prices (buying up large quantities of apples on unfair terms; heavy taxes on the transportation and sale of production; heavy taxes on irrigation equipment).
44. During the mission’s visit to the region, the members of the Arab community whom it met in Majdal Shams mentioned the same problems. They emphasized the extent to which land confiscation for the settlements created problems for agriculture. This meant competition for their products; what is more, it was unfair competition, since they were prohibited from increasing their apple production and hence from renewing their fruit trees, and were not allowed to benefit from water resources on the same terms as the Israeli settlers. They recalled that they could not dig new wells or build new water reservoirs without obtaining authorization, which was only rarely granted and was accompanied by a high tax. This situation compelled Syrian Arab citizens to leave their farms and take up wage employment with Israeli employers in conditions of increasing economic dependence. Moreover, land belonging to village communities was considered by the Israelis as state land which could be neither built on nor cultivated, while the settlements, on the other hand, continued to expand.
45. The mission’s interlocutors once again mentioned discrimination in recruitment and working conditions to which members of the Syrian Arab community were subjected, in particular teachers in public schools. Distinctions were made between those who had accepted Israeli citizenship and collaborated with the Israeli authorities, and those who refused to do so. Teachers in public schools who affirmed their Syrian Arab citizenship were only given precarious contracts to be renewed each year and were dismissed if they had contacts with other Syrian citizens. Moreover, these teachers were not allowed to take Syrian holidays off and were forced to teach certain subjects, such as history, in a biased manner. As for private schools, their directors and staff were subjected to all sorts of harassment.
46. The interlocutors also mentioned high unemployment, in particular for women, who were reluctant to work outside their own village, as well as extremely low pay which some Syrian Arab women were obliged to accept.
47. As for the Golan region, the Israeli authorities repeated that the subject lay outside the mission’s mandate. They stressed nonetheless that these inhabitants were treated on equal terms with those of other regions of Israel, including with regard to water distribution. In the event of disagreement they could take their case to the courts. While certain problems did exist, linked to cultural traditions, in particular with regard to the employment of women, they were comparable to those encountered in other parts of Israel, and the authorities were endeavouring to solve them in the most effective manner.
Labour legislation, industrial relations
and social security
48. The Palestinian Labour Code was officially promulgated by President Yasser Arafat on May Day 2001, during the mission’s visit. It is therefore in force throughout the territories controlled by the Palestinian Authority as of that date, thus in principle putting an end to the application, in respect of labour legislation, of a body of law derived from Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian and Egyptian sources. The Palestinian Minister of Labour informed the mission that his department was in the process of drafting implementing regulations and ordinances under the different provisions of the Code, in consultation with other government departments and the ILO; he had informed the social partners that they would be consulted on these texts as soon as they were ready.
49. The PGFTU welcomed the official promulgation of the Labour Code, despite the delays that had held it up.4 It considered, however, that it did not provide sufficient benefits to workers. In particular, it regretted that it did not deal adequately with the issue of equal opportunity and treatment between men and women in employment, including access to employment and training and equal remuneration, and wondered whether the Code met the requirements of the relevant ILO Conventions.5
50. The chambers of commerce responded more moderately to the promulgation of the Labour Code, stating that they would examine closely the implementing decrees and regulations that were currently being drafted by the Ministry of Labour. The employers expressed their concern to the mission regarding the application of the provisions of the Code on maternity protection, occupational accident and disease compensation and unemployment benefit. They considered that the rights enshrined in the Code entailed considerable costs for them, particularly in the current socio-economic situation; there was thus a risk that they would be counterproductive, making it much more difficult for women to have access to employment and increasing the likelihood of informal employment relationships spreading.
51. With regard to the Palestinians who continue to work in Israel, several Palestinian personalities repeated that the use of intermediaries to obtain work permits, particularly in the construction sector, was a very serious problem. The representatives of the Manufacturers’ Association of Israel confirmed this. The time spent travelling to and from the workplace made the working day considerably longer.
52. Although the question of illegally employed workers is a longstanding issue, the mission’s interlocutors conceded that the drastic reduction in the number of work permits issued since October 2000 had been accompanied by a sharp decrease in the number of Palestinian workers illegally employed in Israel. Israeli sources estimate the number of these workers at 15,000 to 20,000 today, compared to earlier figures of 60,000 to 70,000. However, according to the mission’s Palestinian interlocutors, the Israeli authorities were much less inclined today to turn a blind eye to this phenomenon. They now applied the prescribed sanctions against Israeli employers who infringed the law, which had not been the case previously. Sanctions against Palestinian workers found in breach of the law had now been tightened and particularly severe fines were imposed. This concern to enforce the law strictly was confirmed by the Israeli authorities, who pointed out that this went without saying, especially in view of the current security problems.
53. Another problem linked to the current events is the increase in foreign labour. Given the needs of the Israeli economy, on the one hand, and limitations on the number of work permits issued by the Israeli authorities, on the other, combined with the reluctance of many Israeli employers to hire Palestinian workers (because of the attacks perpetrated by some of them and because security measures hamper the regular attendance of Palestinian workers), the Israeli authorities have raised the number of foreign workers from eastern Europe and Asia in the last seven months. These workers are generally recruited for a minimum period of two years, which blocks employment opportunities for Palestinians in the medium term. The mission’s Israeli interlocutors all emphasized that replacing Palestinian workers in this way was not without serious problems, given the difficulty of integrating these foreign workers into Israeli society, as well as the higher costs entailed (accommodation, social benefits, the fact that these workers remitted their earnings to their countries of origin, etc.) compared to that of Palestinian workers, who went home at the end of the working day and spent their earnings locally.
54. As stated in previous reports, Palestinian workers holding a work permit are covered by the collective agreements signed by Israeli trade unions, but are not members of such trade unions. However, the Histadrut has four lawyers in charge of defending these workers’ rights. One of the consequences of the current events is that many Palestinian workers have been unable to collect their wages for September 2000; moreover, many Israeli employers refuse to carry out formal dismissal procedures and hence to grant severance pay, arguing that it is the State which is liable and that if it were up to them they would continue to employ these workers.6 These difficulties were confirmed by the Histadrut lawyers in charge of defending the rights of Palestinian workers employed in Israel.
55. The Histadrut explained to the mission that, given the closures and the restrictions on the movement of Palestinian workers, its lawyers in charge of defending the rights of Palestinian workers employed in Israel make twice-weekly visits to the checkpoints controlled by the Israeli army in order to register workers’ complaints, and have also set up a special telephone service. According to Palestinian officials, the security measures sometimes prevent Palestinian workers from seeking the counsel of their choice or appearing in court7 – which results in adjournments – since their lawyers cannot represent them when they are summoned to testify in court. The number of complaints registered by the Histadrut lawyers does not appear to have dropped significantly since October 2000. From the examples given it seems that the complaints handled concern the following: non-payment of appropriate severance pay (about 55 per cent); non-payment of wages (10 per cent); non-payment of other termination benefits (15 per cent); social security benefits (10 per cent); and benefits due to Palestinian workers from the Israeli Employment Service (10 per cent).
56. The representatives of the Histadrut referred to lawsuits concerning the non-payment of severance pay. They stated that employers could be exonerated from liability if they proved that they were unable to keep their employees as a result of security measures taken by the Government. As regards disputes concerning social benefits, the Histadrut explained that in many cases, in order to lower their social costs, employers did not declare the number of hours and days actually worked (substantially affecting the number of days’ leave and the amount of social benefits, severance pay and termination payments) and that the workers found it very difficult to prove this kind of fraud in court.
57. As regards its internal functioning, the PGFTU informed the mission that it was in the process of internal elections (by branch) and that if all went according to plan the elections would be completed by the end of June throughout the territories. The current closures were not conducive to the movement of persons. The mission’s interlocutors pointed out, for example, that several PGFTU members who were to have participated in discussions with the mission had been prevented from travelling to Nablus and that for the last seven months PGFTU officers in Gaza had been unable to meet their colleagues in the West Bank. The PGFTU stated that the current situation had provided it with the opportunity to show the workers what it was capable of, which had led to an increase in membership. In particular, the federation had proceeded to register unemployed workers in order to be able to provide them with the social assistance they needed. However, this increase in membership was not yet reflected in terms of union dues, the PGFTU having decided to waive the payment of dues for some 119,000 members in view of the crisis. Officials of the federation again referred to the efforts they were making, despite the circumstances, to build a genuinely democratic and independent trade union movement.
58. The PGFTU stated that while certain Palestinian employers had displayed generosity in the current economic circumstances, this was not true of the majority, in particular when it came to dismissals and social security (medical care and sickness benefit, occupational accident and disease compensation, unemployment benefit, etc.). Many Palestinian employers had resorted to summary dismissals, i.e. without paying the prescribed severance pay or by paying less than the prescribed amount. In some cases collective actions had had to be filed to make certain employers back down and convince them that dismissal was not the only weapon they could use to cope with the current difficulties. By way of illustration, they cited the case of the owner of the Silvana enterprise, who had wished to dismiss some 100 employees and who, under pressure from the workers, had agreed to continue operations, while the Governor undertook to contribute part of the workers’ wages. The PGFTU also drew the mission’s attention to the large number of Palestinian workers employed without a contract, both in Israel and in the territories, which meant an equivalent reduction in the number of workers with social security coverage and hence entitlement to certain benefits.8 In reply to a question on employers’ concerns regarding maternity protection rights, occupational accidents and disease benefits and unemployment benefits, they considered that more time was needed, and that there was no question of compromising, recalling that the Labour Code represented the minimum floor of human rights at work.
59. The Palestinian Ministry of Labour informed the mission that in order to cope with a situation in which a number of public servants were prevented from going to work because of the territorial fragmentation imposed by the various closures, as far as possible they were temporarily redeployed. It also stated that following consultations, it had been decided to deduct 5 per cent of public servants’ monthly salary, which would be paid into a mutual assistance fund. Another 5 per cent had been deducted to mitigate the financial difficulties of the Palestinian Authority.
60. Several of the mission’s Palestinian interlocutors referred to what they saw as overstaffing in the public service and the cost this entailed for the budget of the Palestinian Authority. While they conceded that this was partly explained from a historical standpoint by the fight against unemployment, some regretted nonetheless that the criteria of competence and qualification had not always been adhered to in recruitment and that the Palestinian Employment Service had been reduced to a marginal role in many cases.9 Lastly, a number of Palestinians emphasized that since the Palestinian Authority had been established, the population was very demanding and expected a great deal (sometimes too much) from the authorities, hence a certain amount of disappointment and the success of NGOs, which made up for the inadequacies, inevitable in the present context, of the Palestinian authorities.
61. Despite the constraints on the movement of persons, which had become worse after October 2000, the mission’s Palestinian interlocutor reported that tripartite cooperation was continuing between the Ministry of Labour of the Palestinian Authority, the chambers of commerce and the PGFTU on economic and social policy issues of common interest. The mission was informed that numerous consultations had been held on the drafting of the Social Security Code, but that the events of September 2000 had brought these discussions to a halt. The three sides confirmed that consultations were imminent on the implementing ordinances and regulations under the Labour Code which were in the process of being drafted, and recalled that the adoption of the Code had been preceded by intensive consultation. The social partners explained that the current crisis meant that in practice a major share of their bargaining, consultation or exchanges of information focused on the implementation of emergency measures intended to alleviate the difficulties encountered by workers and employers. These included: (a) the decision to pay a lump sum of NIS 600 in many cases of termination of contract, especially for Palestinians employed in Israel; (b) the decision to waive health insurance contributions for a number of unionized workers in the private sector; and (c) the distribution of food parcels to the most needy.
62. Asked about the state of collective bargaining in the territories, the PGFTU pointed out that a collective agreement had been concluded in the telecommunications sector.10 It admitted however that, given the current economic situation in the territories, collective bargaining in the private as well as in the public sector tended to focus on falling wages, and stated that it had concluded a number of agreements with employers to protect jobs under threat. Under these agreements, the workers accepted drastic pay reductions (up to 50 per cent in some cases) in order to keep their jobs.
63. However, it was true that tripartite activities and consultations were still sporadic and that this lack of an institutional framework for social dialogue was making itself felt. This absence could be attributed to the lack of a legal framework. It was hoped that the recent enactment of the Labour Code and the coming adoption of its implementing regulations and ordinances would be conducive to the establishment of high-quality social dialogue which would enable the social partners not to limit their discussions to solving problems on an ad hoc basis but also to deal with issues that were crucial for the development of the territories, such as the fight against poverty, the reduction of unemployment, the capacity to create opportunities for decent, well-paid and productive work for all the women and men who made up the Palestinian economically active population, strengthening democracy and the promotion of human rights and workers’ well-being.
64. From many points of view, the promotion of a legislative framework and a system of industrial relations is linked to the establishment of an institutional structure for labour administration. The Palestinian Authority now had to set up an administration which would enable the Ministry of Labour to deal efficiently with the many labour and employment issues which had arisen (giving priority to designing an employment and labour market policy focusing on job creation in coordination with industrial policy) and thus identify its broader role in employment and economic development.
65. The question of compulsory social security contributions imposed on Palestinian workers employed in Israel was mentioned again this year. It has been extensively discussed in previous reports.11 Briefly, these workers are not entitled to benefits that are conditional on residence. The Paris agreements provide that Israel will hold the monies deducted from the wages of the Palestinians working in Israel in its Equalization Fund until such time as the Palestinian Authority has created a corresponding fund into which the monies can be paid. The sums involved are now quite considerable. The Palestinian personalities who met with the mission stated that a Social Security Code prepared with ILO assistance had been submitted to the Legislative Council for first reading but that recent events had considerably slowed down the current consultation process.
66. Trade union leaders who met with the mission in Gaza in particular called for the transfer of the funds without waiting for the establishment of a social security structure. It should be pointed out that pending the adoption of this Code, Palestinians working in the West Bank remain covered by Jordanian labour law providing protection in the event of sickness, invalidity or occupational injury. Those in the Gaza Strip, however, come under Egyptian legislation of 1957 and are not covered by any social insurance system. PGFTU officials in Gaza indicated that, for the moment, health care was provided free of charge by decision of President Arafat.
67. The Israeli officials repeated that, before paying the funds, they were waiting for an adequate social security structure to be established on the Palestinian side so that, in accordance with the Paris agreements, the final destination of the funds would be clearly guaranteed.
The economy and the labour market
68. With the protracted crisis, the Palestinian economy is facing a dramatic breakdown. Economic losses due to the extremely severe restrictions on the movement of persons and goods imposed on the Palestinian territories are accumulating daily. Direct losses alone have been estimated by UNSCO at some 50 per cent of the projected GDP for the crisis period, or US$10.9 million on average per day since early October 2000. Destruction of public and private assets and agricultural land has already cost tens of millions of dollars. The longerterm damage in terms of loss of investors’ trust, external market share and the confidence of many young and highly skilled Palestinians in the future of their own economy, prompting them to leave the country, perhaps forever, is enormous. Large numbers of persons have lost their jobs in the domestic and Israeli labour markets and, as a result, one in every four workers residing in the Palestinian territories is now jobless. The share of households living below the poverty line was estimated in March 2001 at 55.7 per cent in the West Bank, and as high as 81.4 per cent in the Gaza Strip; it has most probably further increased since then. The losses on the Israeli side are also high. The direct losses for 2001 have been estimated at 1.5-1.9 percentage points of GDP growth compared to projections before the crisis, while indirect effects on the economy will probably be much higher.
The impact of the crisis on the Palestinian
Economy and the labour market
The economic situation
69. Recent general trends. The economic and social development of the occupied Palestinian territories has been negatively affected by the political situation in the region and the years of conflict and occupation. Nevertheless, economic development from 1997 to September 2000 was more favourable and gave reason to hope for sustainable improvement of the economic situation. After a period of serious recession between 1994 and 1996, the economy finally achieved positive growth in real terms: the annual growth rate of real gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated by the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Finance and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at 7 per cent in 1998 and 6 per cent in 1999. The corresponding gross national product (GNP) growth rates, which include earnings of Palestinians working in Israel,12 were estimated at 8 per cent and 7 per cent, respectively. As a result, despite rapid population growth, GDP per capita also increased by 1.7 per cent to US$1,574 in 1999, while GNP per capita rose by 2.6 per cent to US$1,940. The preliminary estimate of GDP per capita for 2000 (i.e. without anticipating the crisis) was US$1,584 and that of GNP US$1,971.13 This positive economic growth resulted from a combination of several factors. First, the restrictions on the movement of workers and goods, preventing Palestinian workers from reaching their workplaces and impeding any economic activity in the occupied Palestinian territories, were lifted to a certain extent. The number of days lost owing to border closures between Israel and the occupied territories was 121 in 1996, decreasing to 26 in 1998, to 16 in 1999, and from January to September 2000 border crossings were closed for only three days.14 Second, positive economic growth was based on a strong demand for Palestinian workers in Israel and in the domestic economy, as well as an increase in real wages, resulting in higher domestic consumer demand. There was also some positive development in investment activity during the period: a recovery in residential construction as a result of improved economic conditions and incomes of the population; growth of new company registrations by almost 40 per cent between 1998 and 1999; and an increase in bank credits to businesses, indicating higher confidence of entrepreneurs in future economic prospects.
70. Despite the economic progress achieved, however, the Palestinian economy has remained very fragile owing to its structural shortcomings and its extreme dependence on the Israeli economy. This is manifested in the fact that about 95 per cent of electricity and almost all water are supplied by Israel and also in its high trade deficit with Israel. Some three-quarters of Palestinian imports originate in Israel, while more than 95 per cent of all Palestinian exports go to Israel. In 1999, registered non-agricultural imports of goods from Israel amounted to US$1,759 million, while Palestinian exports to Israel totalled around US$454 million, generating a trade deficit of some US$1,305 million. For the first nine months of 2000, the figures were, respectively, US$1,416 million, 378 million and 1,038 million. 15 This territorial imbalance is the consequence of the customs union with Israel created by the 1994 Paris Protocol on Economic Relations, which ensures free access for Palestinian goods to Israel and vice versa, while Israel keeps control over trade policies. Imports of goods from countries other than Israel are subject to import tax and therefore more expensive. Moreover, Israel controls external market access as well as the movement of Palestinian workers and goods inside and between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods result in high transaction costs for Palestinians compared to their external competitors, reflected in higher prices for producers and consumers in the Palestinian territories but also in more expensive Palestinian exports to third countries. The extent of economic losses due to restrictions and security measures far exceeded the international aid in support of Palestinian economic development, estimated at some US$2.8 billion in the last five years.
71. Severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods imposed on the Palestinian economy after the outbreak of the second intifada have caused considerable economic losses. During the last quarter of 2000, the number of days of border closures reached 72, according to UNSCO, and the situation has not improved since then. This has directly affected earnings of Palestinian workers commuting for work to Israel as they cannot reach their jobs (this issue will be discussed in detail below). The international crossing points between the occupied Palestinian territories and neighbouring countries have also been closed to passengers and trade for much of the time.16 In addition, border closures have been combined with severe internal closures and encirclements, during which the use of primary roads is prohibited and physical barriers are placed on many secondary roads in the Palestinian territories, in order to divert traffic of persons and goods. The need to use longer and less accessible routes and to wait in long queues of vehicles at numerous checkpoints has sharply increased average travel time and costs for Palestinians. These severe restrictions on movement have had a dramatic negative impact on incomes of Palestinian entrepreneurs and farmers, who have not been able to reach their traditional markets inside and outside the territories or obtain production inputs and have experienced considerable losses due to much higher transaction costs and the frequent need to resort to local markets with lower prices. The Chamber of Commerce in East Jerusalem estimated that the exploitation of production capacity in the manufacturing sector declined from 51 per cent before the crisis to only 5.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2001. In the tourism sector, in East Jerusalem, economic losses were estimated at between US$3.8 and 14.2 million per month in the period from October 2000 to March 2001. In addition, the frequent inability of workers to reach their jobs has created considerable problems. On the demand side, severe security problems caused a drop in the number of tourists, while domestic consumption declined considerably as a result of drastically reduced incomes of the population and of the Palestinian Authority.
72. The economic activities most affected by the crisis included hotels and restaurants; construction; agriculture; and municipal, social and personal services, where the proportional economic losses, measured in terms of the decline of their contribution to GDP, compared with the anticipated contribution, were estimated by UNSCO at 88, 79, 74 and 68 per cent, respectively, in October-November 2000. Based on these figures extrapolated for the following two months, UNSCO estimates direct economic losses at some 50 per cent of GDP produced in the period October 2000-January 2001.17 If lost earnings of displaced Palestinian workers formerly employed in Israel are also taken into account, the direct economic impact of the crisis is estimated to reach more than one-fifth of the projected GDP for 2000. Average daily losses are thus estimated at US$10.9 million.18 The PGFTU quotes an estimate of the Palestinian Ministry of Industry which puts daily losses at US$23.7 million.19 The World Bank estimates the total decline in real GNP at almost 9 per cent in 2000 compared to 1999, which means a drop in GNP per capita to around US$1,630, i.e. about the level in 1994. Private consumption in real terms is estimated to have declined by 10 per cent in 2000 compared to 1999.20 As the situation has not improved, the extent of economic losses has increased further. The Palestinian Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation has estimated total economic losses in the tourism industry alone at US$122 million between October 2000 and March 2001.
73. Besides short-term losses, there are considerable longer-term negative effects of the present crisis on the Palestinian economy. The crisis has already affected private investment, estimated to have dropped by 15-20 per cent in 2000 compared to 1999.21 However, and even more importantly, it is severely undermining the confidence of domestic and foreign investors in the safety and profitability of investing in the Palestinian territories, with negative repercussions for future job creation. Public investment in infrastructure, crucial for stimulating private business development and so far largely funded by the international community, has also significantly declined during the crisis, exacerbating the already bleak economic prospects. Moreover, Palestinian exporters are losing their market shares both in Israel and in third countries, which are taken over by competitors and will be difficult to regain after the crisis is over. In addition, Palestinian interlocutors stated that the Israeli army has destroyed thousands of dunams of agricultural land, irrigation systems, greenhouses and other agricultural equipment, numerous citrus orchards and olive and date groves, as well as buildings on Palestinian-owned agricultural land.22 UNSCO reports serious damage by the Israeli army, but also by Israeli settlers, to private and public assets – buildings, infrastructure and vehicles – estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.23 The Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Industry informed the ILO mission that 57 factories in the occupied Palestinian territories had been partly or totally destroyed, including 39 in the Gaza Strip. Their recovery will involve considerable time and expense.
Situation on the labour market
74. General trends. Labour market trends have reflected general economic developments. The labour market situation considerably improved in the period from 1998 to September 2000, when both the domestic economy and the Israeli labour market were able to absorb high labour inflows. This resulted in increasing employment and declining unemployment and underemployment. However, this positive trend has been completely reversed since October 2000.
Population and labour force
75. Demographic projections of PCBS put the total resident population in the Palestinian territories at 3,298,951 in mid-2001. Almost two-thirds – 2,102,360 persons – live in the West Bank and one-third – 1,196,591 persons – in the Gaza Strip. The population growth rate is very high at over 4 per cent a year, and the total population is projected to exceed 4 million by the end of 2005 and 5 million by 2010. It is also a young population: in 2000 the share of people aged under 15 years was 47 per cent. Palestinian families are generally large: the number of children per woman was 5.4 for the West Bank and 7.4 for the Gaza Strip in 1999.
76. According to a recent PASSIA study,24 the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied territories increased between 1999 and 2000 (end of December figures) from 177,000 to 199,000 persons, of whom some 6,500 lived in the Gaza Strip and the rest in the West Bank. These figures exclude Israeli settlers in East Jerusalem, estimated at 180,000 by the end of 2000. The number of settlements varies according to source from 145 to 190. In the West Bank, 85 per cent of the settlements are very small in terms of their residential area (less than 1 square kilometre) and population size (fewer than 700 inhabitants). According to the PASSIA study, since 1993 three new settlements have been established and the housing built in settlements increased by over 52 per cent between 1993 and 2000. Although the Israeli Government attributes their expansion to natural population increase, Palestinian interlocutors pointed out that many settlements are only partly inhabited and many of the houses are empty.
77. The quarterly PCBS labour force surveys indicated an increase in the labour force by 5.3 per cent during the first nine months of 2000, compared with the same period of 1999. The total labour force thus reached 735,000 persons in the third quarter of 2000. However, there was a significant decline in the labour force between the third (Q3) and fourth quarter (Q4) of 2000 by 9.1 per cent to 668,000. This number remained almost unchanged – 670,000 – in the first quarter of 2001. The labour force participation rate slightly decreased by 0.3 percentage points in Q1 2000 compared to the same period of 1999 (see table 1). In Q3 2000, it reached the highest level since the launching of the labour force surveys in 1995 – 43.5 per cent (45.3 per cent in the West Bank and 40.1 per cent in the Gaza Strip). By contrast, the end of 2000 saw a considerable decline in the participation rate by more than 4 percentage points to 39.2 per cent as a consequence of the crisis. In the Gaza Strip, the decline by 8 percentage points (to 32 per cent) was three times larger than in the West Bank, where it dropped by 2.4 points (to 42.9 per cent). The rate further decreased slightly to 38.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2001 (41.6 per cent in the West Bank, 33.4 per cent in the Gaza Strip).