Jobless Jordanians seek employment in Israel
Amman - Ibrahim Salahat worked for ten years at a four-star hotel in Jordan’s famed tourist attraction of Petra, climbing the ladder gradually from the kitchen to housekeeping and ending up as an assistant receptionist until the hotel closed in early 2015.
The father of seven has since been looking for a job but did not find one until he learned about vacancies in the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat.
“Why not work in Eilat?” Salahat exclaimed in an interview with The Arab Weekly, rebuffing popular anti- Israeli sentiments among Jordanians, many of whom are of Palestinian origin and blame Israel for their displacement.
“At the end of the day, I have to put bread on the table. added the resident of Wadi Musa on Petra’s edge.
Jordan and Israel maintain cordial relations under a 1994 peace treaty, Israel’s second with an Arab country after Egypt. They have close trade ties, joint ventures and security cooperation. But the Israeli labour market had been kept out of the relationship clearly because of Israeli security concerns to hire non-Palestinian Arab workers.
Many Jordanians have applied for visas and visited Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Some who overstayed their visas have been expelled. Those who visited were mainly from Palestinian families that lost their homes in Israel proper as well as the West Bank and Gaza in Arab-Israeli wars since 1948. Their fate is to be determined in final status Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
A crackdown on illegal Asian and African workers in Eilat has caused a manpower shortage. Endeavours to entice Israelis to work in the Eilat tourism industry were not successful even with the launch of unprecedented campaigns Eilat hotel owners have long complained that they were short of workers for the difficult minimum wage jobs, such as construction, wall painting, maintenance and housekeeping.
With West Bank Palestinians facing road closures, which hamper daily travel in Israel, and Gaza Strip residents living under a stringent Israeli blockade, the Jordanians were a suitable option.
Salahat and many of those applying for the 1,500 job postings in Eilat are East Bank Jordanians, with no Palestinian ancestry. They come from Bedouin tribal families. Jordan’s tourism sector is suffering. Regional tension has taken its toll on the industry as potential visitors, concerned about security issues, go elsewhere. The industry is the second most significant source of hard currency after the remittances from Jordanian expatriates working abroad.
Under an agreement, Jordanian workers obtain multiple entry work permits in Israel, allowing them to return to Jordan on a daily basis. The plan is to have Jordanian workers gather at the Eilat border crossing, where they are security checked, and then bused to work places.
They must remain on the premises for their shifts, after which they are transported to the border crossing. If a worker has to remain in Israel for a few days at a time, the worker will need a special permit.
In a statement, the Israeli government said its deal to absorb Jordanians into the Eilat labour market may improve regional stability and help the Jordanian economy.
Jordan is saddled by a multibillion-dollar foreign debt, a record budget deficit, rising inflation and unemployment, which is officially set at 12.9% in the first quarter of 2015, up from 12.3% in the last quarter of 2014.
Unofficial estimates put unemployment at 30%.
Jordanian government officials declined to comment publicly. Privately, however, one official said Jordan will “do all it can for its citizens but that doesn’t mean we have to publicise it, especially during these very volatile times”.
“The workers’ agreement with Israel is good with all sides, from the hotels in Eilat to the workers themselves, benefitting,” the official added. He declined to be identified, citing the sensitivity of his comment.
The plan, which was approved in June, will be implemented in three stages, each of which will employ 500 Jordanians to work in the hospitality industry in Eilat.
The permits open opportunities for jobs available mostly in cleaning, dishwashing and housekeeping.
“This arrangement may help the roller-coaster relationship between Israel and Jordan and it will for sure help Jordan deal with the high rate of unemployment in the south of the country. So technically, it’s a good thing,” said an economist, who asked not to be named.