Israel closes border to Palestinians, creating a shortage of workers

October 25, 1990|By Robert Ruby | Robert Ruby,Jerusalem Bureau of The Sun

JERUSALEM -- Israeli businesses tried to cope yesterday with the loss of more than 100,000 Palestinian workers as the government began enforcing an indefinite ban on Palestinians entering Israel.

Employment offices were overwhelmed with requests for Israelis to take the place of Palestinians who fill most of the country's unskilled jobs, state radio reported. Jerusalem's main employment office received more than 500 demands for day laborers, 20 times the normal number.

Defense Minister Moshe Arens had ordered the army to seal off the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in an attempt to stop a wave of Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers and also to calm the Israeli public. Mr. Arens, who ordered the measure Tuesday night, said the ban would remain in force for at least several days.

Defense officials say they will use that time to try to devise new, permanent measures to control the comings and goings of Palestinians. One of the measures said to be under consideration is an increase in the number of Palestinians permanently barred from Israel. There now are about 2,000 Palestinians prohibited from traveling from the occupied territories into Israel.

Since Sunday, Israelis and Palestinians have been the victims of a series of attacks, each apparently in revenge for earlier violence and accelerating a cycle of violence that has threatened to spiral out of authorities' control.

Three Israelis have been killed and seven have been wounded in attacks by Palestinians inside Israel, and Israelis have responded with stone-throwing and other actions of their own.

A Palestinian who on Tuesday stabbed two female soldiers died yesterday in a Haifa hospital, apparently as a result of having been beaten after his capture. A physician at Haifa's Rambam hospital said that Omar Ahmed Mohammed Shawani, 39, died as a result of a brain hemorrhage.

The Palestinian had stabbed the two women at a bus stop near Haifa, seriously injuring one of them. He was chased by several onlookers, beaten when he was caught and then taken away by police.

According to a police statement, Mr. Shawani was questioned and then moved to a hospital in the town of Afula. He was transferred to the hospital in Haifa, where he was operated on. Police have released no information about the extent of his injuries or whether they occurred before his arrest or after he was taken into custody.

By establishing roadblocks to stop Palestinians, soldiers were helping re-create the pre-1967 border between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After seeking for 20 years to make the dividing line invisible, officials have found that the 3-year-old uprising has made an open border an unacceptable risk.

Officials made clear that the travel ban was meant to punish the 1.7 million Palestinians in the occupied territories. "When Jews are attacked, and soldiers and citizens are stabbed with knives, we will not allow that those things pass without a reaction," the police minister, Ronni Milo, said in parliament.

"The closing of the transit points for workers in Israel is a message to those murderers, and those who think they can do things without a reaction, that we will not let them get away with it," he said.

Mr. Arens said he expected the violence to continue. "I don't think that those attacks will stop in the next few months or not even in the next one or two years," he said. "This is a confrontation with which we cope, and we cope with it very well."

Even if it lasts for only a few days, the ban on Palestinians will strain Israel's fragile economy. Palestinians account for about half of all construction workers, 15 percent of farm workers and the overwhelming majority of people in unskilled jobs ranging from garbage pickup to food service in restaurants.

Concern is centered on the construction industry because of the increasingly desperate shortage of housing for the flood of Soviet immigrants. The government had promised to complete 45,000 housing units before the end of the year but has started construction on fewer than one-third of them.

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