Despite the daily repression, 45 year old Abu Fathi goes to work in an industrial zone beside an Israeli settlement in the Salfit District. Among the thousands of Palestinians working there, one refers to it as a "chemical grave," while another organization says nearby olive trees have chemical burns.
Abu Fathi told PNN on Monday, International Workers Day, that he has not stopped working throughout the closures and difficulties of the past four and a half years. His family continues to live in Nablus and he continues to travel to work in Salfit, not a far trip if it were not for the lengthy delays at Israeli checkpoints. He is only able to make it home on the weekends.
He continued to tell PNN that hundreds of workers live in the same way in the northern West Bank, staying near their places of livelihood as it is too difficult to make it early enough everyday due to Israeli barriers.
The industrial zone which holds tens of production facilities for food, plastics, wood, electricity, iron and spices once employed thousands of Palestinians as the major source of cheap labor before the Israelis replaced them with Russian and Thai workers.
Abu Fathi said that he watches Palestinian workers suffer from the beginning of their trip, arriving at the industrial zone’s gate where the guards begin inspecting their bodies and belongings, including taking photographs and finger prints. Israeli military patrols then transfer the workers into their specific factory sites.
He says that a plethora of restrictions are placed upon workers from the Nablus area, which causes so many to stay in areas in the Salfit District.
The story is similar for many, including Mohammad Salman, who has spent 10 years working in the industrial zone. He told PNN that Palestinians work 10 hour days in the wood factory without health or safety standards in place. Salman also revealed that the Israelis do not release names of the workers in the case of injury so that the factory will not be held accountable in case of injury.
The National Office for Land Defense and Resisting Settlements affirmed that it cannot downplay the danger of the settlement that was imposed in the Salfit District. It is the largest industrial area in the region and produces several hazardous materials, including oil, lead and weapons, without proper safety precautions. Toxic gases saturate the earth and noxious odors permeate the air and reach the waters. The substances are so toxic that several olive trees have chemical burns.
The Land Defense Office continued to report that from the stone factory, dusts fall onto neighboring agricultural lands and trees, bringing about the destruction of dunams worth of crops by blocking their pores.
One of the workers from Nablus who chose to remain unnamed said, “I have worked for two years and get a monthly salary of 2,000 shekels, with an additional 400 for travel. The number of Palestinian workers in the sewing and stone-breaking factories is around 4,000. I consider the entire zone a chemical grave. The damage done to the agricultural lands, soil, water, and Palestinian people is unbelievable.”
The Union of Palestinian Workers reports that at least 13,000 workers are inside the factories, with an approximate 3,000 now unemployed due to closure and lack of permits to travel even a short distance within the West Bank. The Union also reports that the average daily wage is 60 NIS, which equals an approximate 13.36 USD.