Israel-Hamas War: Israel Pummels Areas to Which Gazans Have Fled

Israel-Hamas War: Israel Pummels Areas to Which Gazans Have Fled

Workers from South Asia are heading to Israel, whose need for labor has become more pressing since the Hamas-led attack in October.

Israel’s government closed crossings from the West Bank, cutting off thousands of Palestinians from work, and many of the foreign workers that Israel relies on to operate its farms and construction industry left. Most of the roughly 30,000 foreign agricultural workers in Israel were from Thailand, dozens of whom were kidnapped or killed on Oct. 7.

In the coming weeks, thousands of people from India and Sri Lanka will be sent to Israel, officials in the three countries said, as part of agreements to supply workers, primarily in construction, health care and agriculture. Both India and Sri Lanka suffer from high unemployment, and officials said they have received thousands of applications for construction jobs in Israel.

Mukesh Ranjan, a construction worker in the northern Indian state of Haryana, said that despite the risk presented by the war in Gaza, he and dozens of others from his village had applied for construction jobs through a state government agency, which said it has received more than 2,500 applications.

Mr. Ranjan said that if he is selected, he would use the wages to pay for better schooling for his two teenage daughters and to pay down debt incurred because of losses on his farm.

“I will jump on the opportunity,” he said.

The recruitment is part of a deal struck in May between India and Israel that would grant permits to 42,000 Indian workers, Indian news media reported. About 34,000 workers would be employed in construction and 8,000 in health care.

About 10,000 Sri Lankan workers are already employed in Israel, primarily as caregivers in the health care sector. Bandula Gunawardena, a Sri Lanka government minister, said the country had entered into an agreement with Israel in November to send more agricultural workers and that the first group had already traveled there.

The recruitment in South Asia is not intended to fill the gap left by Palestinian workers but is part of filling existing quotas for foreign labor, Israeli officials said.

Inbal Mashash, the director of the foreign workers administration in Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, said that Israel’s economy was under pressure because of foreign workers leaving, more Israeli reservists being called up for military service and restrictions on Palestinians entering from the West Bank.

“There’s no doubt that the economy is experiencing a kind of crisis right now in terms of manpower,” she said.

Representatives from the Israel Builders Association, a private organization, said that they were screening workers in India for construction jobs, and that screenings would begin soon in Sri Lanka, where thousands have applied.

Before Oct. 7, about 80,000 Palestinian workers were employed in the construction industry in Israel, Shay Pauzner, a deputy director for the builders association, said. They were joined by 18,000 foreigners from Eastern Europe and China, and another 200,000 Israelis.

Overall, the number of Palestinian workers entering Israel from the West Bank daily has dropped to roughly 8,000 from 124,000 before Oct. 7, said Shani Sasson, a spokeswoman for COGAT, the Israeli defense agency that oversees policy for the Palestinian territories.

In India, there is some opposition to the recruiting. The country under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has moved closer to Israel, with which it now shares extensive defense ties, but also has long supported Palestinian rights.

K. Hemalata, the president of the Construction Workers Federation of India, said she worried that Israel was using Indian workers to deprive Palestinians. “We are totally against this,” she said.

But Ms. Mashash, of Israel’s immigration authority, said foreign workers “are not replacing Palestinian workers,” whose work permits have not been revoked.

Johnatan Reiss and Pamodi Waravita contributed reporting.

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Kyle C. Garrison

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