By Emmanuel Farajun, Tel Aviv, July 1979. Originally published in Hebrew by The Israeli Socialist Organization (MATZPEN) in “Dapim Adumim” (“Red Pages”), no 5, May 1978.


Palestinian Workers, A Reserve Army of Labour in the Israeli Economy

Chapter-4: Wages and working conditions

In view of increasing consumption in Arab villages both within the green line and in the occupied territories and in view of the prosperous construction industry, one has the impres­sion that the Arab worker earns a good living in Israel, sometimes even more than his Israeli ­Jewish counterpart. It is true that as a result of the enormous increase in the number of Arabs employed in the Israeli economy since 1967 there has been a general increase in the in­come of the Arab worker. But if we examine the daily wages of every worker seperately, i.e. the wages and the working conditions of the average Arab worker, the picture would look quite different.

When analyzing wages, we have to bear a few things in mind. All the workers from the occupied territories work, in fact, on a temporary, daily basis. Therefore they do not receive a monthly salary. Their salary depends on the number of days worked per month. The average num­ber of working days for workers from the occupied territories, due to Saturdays, holidays, sick leave and rainy days, as well as personal problems, is 21 days per month.1 Tax is taken off their basic wage, as well as other deductions, although they usually receive few benefits since it is beyond the ability of the administration to see to it that workers who change their place of work twice a year receive their benefits. This on top of bus fares, which are rather expensive – 20 IL (60p) per day – in 1977.

Gideon Kessler describes the deduction rates in his survey “A Minority Community in Israel”: “One of the cases I examined in the spring of 1971, was of an agricultural contractor from Ju’arish, near Ramleh, who paid 21.60 IL per day to a worker he employed pruning orange groves. He had to receive the worker’s wages from the employer first – 23.40 IL. Then the labour exchange gave the worker his wages, after the various deductions, through Bank Le’umi in Gaza, where the worker received his daily salary of 11.33 IL”.2

In other words, the labour exchange deducted 50 per cent from the salary. This rate of de­duction – 50 per cent – by the labour exchange or by the “Ra’is” is the usual rate. These workers do not receive any benefits whatsoever in exchange for the high taxes they pay. The following is the official wage table published by the Ministry of Labour (before tax). This table refers to wages paid in 1975 by Israeli factories in the Gaza Strip3:

Israeli Employers
Daily Wages (IL)
Monthly Wages (IL)
Banks (Le’umi & HaPo’alim)
Moshav Sadot
Ben-Bassat (Carpentry Workshop)
Pioneer (Cement Factory)
Avi Erez (Metal Factory)


According to the publications of the Central Statistics Office, the Quaterly on the Occupied Territories, volumes 7-1 and 7-2, the average daily wage for workers from the occupied terri­tories working in Israel, was approximately 54 IL in 1976 and 41 IL in 1975. In other words, an increase of 25 per cent, with the prices rising some 40 per cent that year, together with the average wage of the Jewish workers. And indeed, in 1970-75, the decrease in salaries of Gaza workers was approximately 17 per cent.4 The average monthly wages (a more significant figure) was 1,134 IL in 1976 and 924 IL in 1975 as opposed to the overall average wage in Israel, which stood at 2,920 IL in 1976.5 After tax and travel expenses, the Arab worker receives a minimum wage for which no Jewish worker would work. In fact, a welfare allowance, paid to an “army veteran”, is higher than the net wage of an Arab worker from the occupied territories, as stated in the Bank of Israel Report, quoted above.

Net salaries paid to workers employed in the occupied territories (50 IL) in 1976, were higher than those paid to Arabs working in Israel, since there are less deductions made and the fares are lower. Wages paid to industrial workers are lower again, i.e., about 10 IL per day for work inside Israel, before tax deductions.

The above are only averages and official figures received through the labour exchanges, the employers and the workers themselves. There are thousands who are not employed through the labour exchanges and whose salaries are sometimes higher. Those workers, however, do not re­ceive even the few benefits which the workers employed through the exchanges receive, like compensation payment or accident pay. They are mostly employed in seasonal agricultural jobs which do not offer any security whatsoever. In this free labour market a salary of 100 IL a day is considered high.

Many of these workers are paid without tax deductions. Their net wage, then, is 100 IL minus 20 IL for fares, i.e. 80 IL per day, or 1,680 IL per month, for an average, 21 days a month.

A simple comparison with the Israeli worker, can easily explain the preferance given to cheap Arab labour over Jewish labour. In most sectors, perks make up to 40 per cent of the salary. These perks, part of the wages, in every modern economy and particularly in the Israeli economy, include sick leave, annual leave, premium and gifts as well as a 13th and a 14th monthly salary per year. The vast majority of Arab workers do not get any of these perks. The average salary, including the above perks, paid to Jewish workers was 3,500 IL per month in 1977, twice or three times higher than the average salary paid to Arab workers from the occupied territories. The number of sick leave days, annual days of leave and the amount of compensation money recorded by the Ministry of labour6, indicate clearly that the Arab worker from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip does not get anything beyond his actual salary. Salaries of Arab workers living in Israel, though generally higher than those of workers from the occupied territories, are still much lower than the salaries of Jewish workers. Work done by women in the villages – usually subcontracted jobs in local sewing workshops and in agriculture – are the lowest paid jobs, similar to the average wage paid to workers from the occupied territories. Construction and skilled workers, on the other hand, get what they can on the open market. But here, too, a daily wage of 100-120 IL (i.e. 2,200 IL per month) is considered good. These workers, too, are mostly daily workers and therefore they do not get the usual perks and benefits the permanent, monthly workers receive, and they, too, spend a con­siderable amount of money on their travel fares.

On the subject of Arab workers living in Israel we possess reliable and detailed information. Fortunately, the sections of the 1972 population census published so far, include data on the wages paid to the two national groups in Israel. If we examine, first of all, the distribution of salaried workers into income groups, i.e. under 4,000 IL per year, between 4,000 and 8,000 Il per year etc., we shall see immediately the enourmous difference between Arab and Jewish salary workers:

The distribution of salaried workers according to income groups. Figures denoting percentages of salaried workers of each nationality 7
Total %
Up to 4,000


Whereas 72 per cent of the Arabs earned less than 8,000 IL per year in 1972, only 48.2 per cent of the Jews were in the same income group; and 52 per cent of the Jews, but only 28 per cent of the Arabs earned over 8,000 IL per year. But the huge difference in salaries is not the result of the Arabs working mainly at manual labour and the Jews in more lucrative jobs, as seen by the detailed table of occupations (Chapter-2), which leads us to a very significant conclusion: With one exception, an Arab worker receives a lower salary than a Jewish worker doing the very same job. A primary school teacher receives 5.8 IL per hour if he is Arab and 7.1 IL if he happens to be a Jew (this is a government salary). The same applies to the private sector: an Arab tinsmith – 3.2 IL per hour, a Jewish tinsmith – 4.1 IL per hour; an Arab construction worker – 3.5 IL per hour, a Jewish construction worker – 4.7 IL per hour; and of course, an Arab unskilled labourer – 3 IL per hour and a Jewish unskilled la­bourer – 3.4 IL per hour (all these figures refer to 1972).

The same table shows us that the average wage of a salaried Jewish worker was, in 1972, 4.6 IL per hour whereas the Arab worker earned 3.6 IL per hour on the average, i.e., a Jewish salaried worker earns on the average 40 per cent more than an Arab salaried worker, with differences of 20-25 per cent in each occupation.

The Jewish income per capita, including children’s allowances, with Jews receiving twice as much as Arabs, was 130 per cent larger than the income per capita for Arab salaried wor­kers in 1972.

It is difficult to find equally reliable figures for the last few years. Less reliable sur­veys reveal the gap narrowing between Jewish and Arab workers in the last few years; the reasons for this are twofold: firstly, the general fall in salaries during the recession years, in terms of buying power – i.e. the gap narrowing as a result of the drop in the sa­laries of the Jewish workers, not as a result of real increases in the salaries of Arab workers. The second reason, perhaps less important, is the tendency of Arab workers to move to more skilled jobs, as pointed out in Chapter-2.

This narrowing of the gap is reflected in the following table, showing the wages of salaried workers according to their nationalities:

Gross yearly salary income, in thousands of Liras(IL), according to nationality 8
The difference


The constant difference, of 40 per cent, between the salary of the Arab and the Jewish worker, has fallen over the last few years to 18 per cent. This data expresses only the difference in direct gross income. The difference in net income is larger, for a variety reasons:

  1. As shown in Chapter-3, there are more Arabs working on a daily basis in small factories than Jews; in such factories there are few perks.
  2. In many regions – namely development towns, the south and the north – Jewish workers enjoy large tax allowances, which Arab workers do not receive.
  3. Jewish workers receive, on top of children’s allowance paid out by the National Insurance Institute (Bituah Le’umi), an army veterans’ allowance (which is another name for a “Jewish” allowance).

There are two reasons, apparently, for the difference in the salaries: a 20-25 per cent difference in each occupation and the large concentration of Arabs in production jobs and manual labour – “wood splitters and water boys”. The second reason actually clouds the issue rather than explains it, since it is not at all axiomatic to presume that production workers should earn so little. In the United States, factory workers and construction workers earn on the average more than office workers. The truth is, probably, that one of the reasons behind the low wages in “Arab” jobs, is the high number of Arabs in such occupations: i.e. in the occupations where the penetration of Arabs was made politically and socially possible, a large supply of manpower was created. This manpower is unorganized and has no political protection, therefore it does not constitute a political pressure group within Israeli society. That, on top of normal competition among workers, enables the employers to keep low wage levels. Thus, as confirmed by the Bank of Israel Report, 1975, both the absolute and the re­lative value of the wages in those areas of employment fall, compared to the other salaries the Israeli economy. This fall brings about a further decrease in the number of Jews applying for those jobs, since the government welfare allowance for Jews is usually higher than the salaries paid in those particular sectors. Thus we find a growing concentration of Arabs in some sectors: carpenters, construction workers, industrial unskilled labourers – are all examples of this process. As shown above, 50 per cent of the Arab workers tend to concentrate in seven occupations, five of which are particularly badly paid: agricultural workers, tin­smiths, carpenters and unskilled workers in industry and construction (see table in Chapter-2).

As shown in Chapter 2, Arab workers tend to work not only in specific sectors but also in a specific type of factory: about 50 per cent of the Israeli work force is employed in large factories, employing more than 100 workers and constituting only 2 per cent of all the factories in Israel. These factories, i.e. government concerns, like the Chemical Industries the Dead Sea Industries, and Aviation industry, the large Histadrut Corporations like Kur, private factories connected to the military industry like Tadiran or other large electronic factories, employ only a small number of Arabs. The Arab workers tend to concentrate in small factories, producing goods for local consumption: food, leather, rubber, textiles, fashion etc. Most of them are employed on a daily basis, like most of the workers (including Jews) in such factories. Not only are the salaries lower, but there are fewer perks than the paid by the large corporations. The following table demonstrates the wide gap between sa­laries in large and small factories:

Distribution of salaries
according to size of factory in 1976 9
No of employees
Monthly salary (gross)
in Liras(IL)


This table points out another reason for the low salaries paid to Arab workers: they tend to work in factories employing less than 20 workers, where the average salary is 40 per cent lower than the average salary in larger factories. Likewise, salaries paid by privately owned factories are lower than those paid by publicly owned ones – 2,500 IL per month in the private sector as opposed to 4,500 IL in the public sector.

The salary differences manifest themselves in differences in the standard of living of the Arab population as opposed to that of the Jewish population. For instance, whereas the Arabs constitute 17 per cent of the population, they only own 5 per cent of the private cars in Israel, i.e. a third of their share in the population. Though this is the result of other factors, too, like the size of the average Arab family, it is undoubtedly linked to their lower income level.

On the top of the large difference in direct renumeration paid to the Arab and Jewish worker, the Jew is entitled to many other indirect sources of income. Workers in the Negev towns or in development towns receive significant tax allowances. No Arab village is consi­dered a development settlement. All Jews are entitled to special loans in order to pur­chase “young couples” flats or to improve their homes. Arabs are rarely entitled to such loans, unless the municipality is interested in evacuating them for some reason. The grants paid by the Ministry of the Interior to the local authorities are 7 IL per year per Arab and 120 IL per year per Jew.

The conclusion, then, is that salaries paid to Arabs, especially to those residing in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, are much lower than those paid to Jews, particularly in the food industry, in textiles, in packing, agriculture and in the mining industry. The huge demand for manpower in the Israeli economy during the boom years, created a situation in which skilled Arab workers could command higher renumeration for their work. These workers, though, are very dependent on the market, much more than their Jewish counterparts. Thus, skilled construction workers could have easily made quite a lot of money in 1972-74, though in 1977 this was much more difficult.


“Workers from occupied territories locked in at night in order to prevent vagrancy.  The disaster, which took the lives of three workers the day before yesterday in a mattress factory in Tel Aviv, has uncovered the jail-like ‘hotels’ that exist in many factories.” Yediot Aharonot, 16.3.1976.


  • …one of the three Palestinian workers burnt alive in the small mattress factory during a fire which started while they were locked in, was called Ali (or Yusuf, or Ahmed)
  •  …he was born in the Abu-Kabir village, a part of which is still standing, now criss-­crossed by Herzl and Kibbutz-Galuyot streets… (or in Kafer Salameh, Kfar Shalem now, or in Sumail – upon which the offices of the central committee of the Histadrut in Tel ­Aviv were built, or in Sheikh Munis – now the University of Tel Aviv)
  • …in 1946, at the age of 18, he was employed as a post office worker by the Mandate Government (or as a construction worker by a Jewish contractor in Tel Aviv or as an assistant chemist in a Jaffa Pharmacy)
  • …In 1948, eighteen months after his wedding and two months after his first son was born, he escaped, with his family, to Majdal (today Migdal Ashkelon) with only a few belongings, hoping to return home after the fighting (or was driven away with his family a few days after the Israelis occupied his village)
  • …when Majdal was occupied by the Israeli army, he continued to live there for about a year, until August 1950, when he was driven beyond the cease-fire lines to the Gaza Strip (or ran away, again in the hope of returning after the fighting died down)
  • …since then he has been living in a refugee camp in Jabelieh (or Shatti, or in Gaza it­self)
  • …in 1956, when his refugee camp was occupied by the Israelis, along with the rest of the Gaza Strip, he lost his job in an Egyptian army camp (or continued his work as a street­ cleaner in the city of Gaza)
  • …after the June 1967 war, when the second Israeli occupation settled in, he went looking for work beyond the green line, (in) the State of Israel, in order to make a better living for his large family (or, continued his work in the Gaza Strip)
  • …after he found work in Tel Aviv, the spot where he was born, he agreed to stay on during the week in Tel Aviv, in order to save the fare home and gain a few more hours of sleep (or, had to stay on, under pressure from his employer, who demanded over-time), sleeping in the factory, in a small stuffy room, locked from the outside;
  • …when the fire broke out, he died instantly (or managed to bang on the door, calling for help, trying, in vain, to open it, mumbling curses and dying in the flames)

Perhaps the above details don’t fit any of the three Palestinians burnt alive. We’ll never know. No details were given, their photographs were not published, their families and friends were not interviewed, no memorial monument was built to commemorate them, they did not even attain martyrdom.

They lived anonymously and died anonymously. Just ordinary Palestinian workers.

But there are hundreds, thousands, hundred of thousands like them, driven from their homes; their lands confiscated, exiled from their homeland. They are doubly exploited: class exploitation – as workers; national exploitation – as Palestinians.

Let us struggle against such exploitation.


  1. Statistical Quarterly – The Occupied Territories, vol VII, No.2; also Israeli Statistical Annual, table XXVII, 23
  2. Gideon Kessler, “The Dynamics of a minority community” (PHD Thesis, the Hebrew University) p. 107, 1972
  3. Ministry of Labour, Report on activities, Gaza Strip, 1975-6
  4. Ministry of labour, Administered Area Unit. Report on activities, Aug. 1976
  5. Israeli Statistical Annual, 1977, p. 337
  6. Ministry of Labour, Administered Area Unit. Report on activities, Aug. 1976
  7. Appendix 8, Statistical Monthly, 1972
  8. Appendix 2, Statistical Monthly, 1972, p. 22
  9. Appendix 5, Statistical Monthly, 1977