The Israeli construction industry has asked the government in Tel Aviv to allow companies to hire up to 1 lakh Indian workers to replace the 90,000 Palestinians whose work permits have been cancelled since the Hamas attack of October 7.
A Voice of America report from the West Bank quoted the vice-president of the Israel Builders Association, Haim Feiglin, as saying: “Right now we are negotiating with India. We are waiting for 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.”
India’s external affairs ministry did not respond to queries relating to this report or say whether the government would allow Indians to move to a conflict zone for work at a time when Operation Ajay (the evacuation exercise from Israel) is still to be wrapped up.
With Palestinians making up roughly 25 per cent of the workforce employed by the Israeli construction industry, work has been disrupted since October 7, Feiglin said.
“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,” Feiglin said.
About 10 per cent of the Palestinian workers are from Gaza — which is at the centre of the conflict —and the rest are from the West Bank.
While the war is being cited as the reason for seeking workers from India, Tel Aviv has been on this course for the past few months. It inked an agreement with India in May that will allow 42,000 Indians to work in Israel – particularly in a construction sector faced with a labour shortage, besides nursing.
The Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Temporary Employment of Workers in Specific Labour Market Sectors in Israel was initialled on May 9 during Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen’s India visit.
This was the first time that the Israeli construction sector had opened up for Indians, who had till then mostly provided caregivers. The agreement also extends to nursing staff.
This framework agreement had been in the making for over a year before it was inked. A multi-ministerial Israeli team had visited India in March and toured training centres across the country.
The Middle East Monitor quoted the Population and Immigration Authority in Israel as saying that the incoming workers from India were diligent, experienced and fluent in English.
Foreign workers are increasingly being preferred to Palestinians because they are an insurance against frequent disruptions in work, as movement in and out of Gaza and the West Bank gets stopped frequently.