Jobless Jordanians seek employment in Israel

Friday 07/08/2015
Replacing illegal immigrants. A 2012 picture of an illegal immigrant being taken from his apartment to a detention centre before his expulsion by the Israeli immigration officers in Eilat.

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.