Ramallah: Palestinian labourers working in Israel are at a high risk of sexual harassment by Israeli women, according to a recent field study conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The study found that 77 per cent of the Palestinian labourers in Israel had been subject to sexual harassment by Israeli women.

In an interview with Gulf News, Shaher Saad, the President of the Union of the Palestinian Labourer Federations, said the Palestinians face a real problem with the labourers who work in Israel on permits other than the official legal work permits.

He stressed that the problem increased further with the illegal labourers who are smuggled into Israel and spend days and weeks there for work. He said those labourers usually are blackmailed, harassed and forced to get involved in illicit and intimate affairs.

“There are about 55,000 Palestinian labourers who enter Israel for work through illegal and unacceptable methods,” he said. “The real focus needs to go to those illegal labourers who get sexually harassed.”

According to Israeli law, labourers who hold official work permits are more than 35 years of age with at least two children and clear security history. “We believe that those labourers are safe and to a large extent are not targets of sexual harassment as they enjoy some judicial rights,” he said. “In cases in which those labourers are subject to any kind of physical harassment, they can report it to the Israeli police which will handle such violations.”

Saad said his union has come up with extensive programmes to raise the awareness of the Palestinian labourers, mainly targeting illegal workers. “Aids is a key enemy fought by the union,” he said.

He said Palestinian labourers should be extremely careful inside Israel knowing that some Israelis will take advantage of the labourers and harm them. “The Israelis only care for their joy and interests and pay no attention or consider judicial consequences when they handle Palestinian labourers,” he said.

Meanwhile, Saad said the minimum Palestinian wage imposed by the Palestinian Government has made the already bad situation even worse.

The Palestinian government has approved 1,450 Shekels (Dh1,383) as the minimum wage level, a level which was refused by the union and other Palestinian official public welfare organisations.

Saad said this minimum wage scheme has motivated more Palestinian labourers to run to Israel and West Bank colonies for work.

“Palestinian labourers cannot survive on this wage in the West Bank at all,” he said. “The consequences of imposing this minimum wage were clearly been explained to the government but it did not take them into account.”

“We are forcing Palestinian labourers outside the West Bank in searches for better work place and Israel is the ideal destination,” he said.

So far, the Palestinian authorities have failed to imposed an HIV test for labourers who have worked in Israel, especially before they marry. An increasing number of HIV patients have been reported by Palestinian medical authorities. “This is an alarm and this issue should be taken in a more serious way,” Saad said.