Israel's Builders

Roy Arad

During Binyamin Netanyahu's visit to Eastern Europe in the summer, the governments of Romania and Bulgaria agreed not to vote in favour of the Palestinian state at the UN. Israel has since arranged several thousand work permits for Romanian and Bulgarian builders. This is supposedly a win-win deal that shows the creativity of the Netanyahu government (he also suggested replacing striking Israeli doctors with physicians from India). On the one hand, Israel wants to speed up cheap construction to solve its housing crisis. On the other, Romania and Bulgaria will earn foreign currency and reduce unemployment. The deal will also strengthen Israel's ties with Turkey’s European neighbours.

When my grandfather Hezi Holdengerber arrived in Israel from Romania after the Holocaust, he and his brothers built roofs together. Now Jews work in construction only as bosses or engineers. Half of Israel's construction workers are Arab citizens of Israel; the other half are Chinese or Palestinian, some of whom are likely to lose their jobs under the new agreements.

More construction workers have died in Israel in the past decade than Israelis died in the wars with Gaza and Lebanon. But since the dead are Arab, Palestinian or Chinese, they don’t get much attention from the mainstream Israeli press. Hasan Sholi, a safety guide from the Arab village of Kabul in northern Israel (it’s mentioned in the Bible, the village that Solomon gave to Hiram of Tyre in exchange for help with building the Temple), is doing what he can to tackle the problem. His Facebook page is the only place where all the accidents are noted and listed. On average, someone falls from a great height on a construction site in Israel every 22 minutes. Between January and November this year, 33 workers died, compared to 23 in 2010. In Britain there are 2.4 deaths for every 100,000 workers. In Israel the figure is about 15. Twenty inspectors supervise 20,000 building sites and 200,000 labourers. And when a labourer dies, his employer never goes to jail.

Sholi says the arrival of the workers from Eastern Europe will only make matters worse. They do not know the Israeli safety protocols and it will be difficult to teach them. 'What can you do,' he says. 'Hasan Sholi doesn't speak Bulgarian.'


  • 1 January 2012 at 12:51am
    Pennywhistler says:
    Um ... I'm sure there is a point to this. After all, LRB has articles on labor issues all over the world!

    Doesn't it?

  • 1 January 2012 at 1:03am
    Pennywhistler says:
    "More construction workers have died in Israel in the past decade than Israelis died in the wars with Gaza and Lebanon. "

    An estimated 5 million people work in China's coal-mining industry. As many as 20,000 miners die in accidents each year. And that's more than all the Chinese soldiers killed in battle since 1960.
    Jes' sayin'.

    The number of deaths per million ton of coal in China is about 100 times of that of the U.S., 30 times of that of South Africa, and 10 times of that of India. And that is more deaths than all the Indian soldiers killed since 1960. Jes' sayin.

    And mine deaths are on the rise in South Africa. Last year, 63 people were killed on South Africa's gold mines, which was a 22% drop from the 81 deaths in 2009.

    Jes' sayin.

    Give me time and I will find a way to tie the Palestinians into all this. I swear!

    • 2 January 2012 at 3:18pm
      Attrition says: @ Pennywhistler
      Butchered any Gazan children lately?

    • 30 January 2012 at 11:08am
      rupert moloch says: @ Pennywhistler
      Statistically, mining is the most dangerous civilian occupation. (More dangerous than working in construction, less dangerous than living in a zionist Bantustan)

      Jes' sayin.

      And I don't know that China has been engaged in too many wars since 1960?

      & the statistics you provide for South Africa don't support your imputation, "mine deaths are on the rise"

  • 5 January 2012 at 2:23pm
    Harry Stopes says:
    Pennywhistler, China and South Africa (for the latter of which, incidentally, your statistics suggest a fall not a rise in miner deaths) are not the biggest recipients of military, economic and diplomatic support from the world's richest and most powerful nation. Might that go some way to explaining the (supposed) focus?