Ma'an News Agency
February 16, 2010 - 1:00am

Thousands of Palestinians hoping to gain work and higher wages in Israel were duped over the last three years by a gang of Israelis and Palestinians selling forged permits, Secretary-General of the Palestinian Trade Union Shahir Sa’d said Tuesday.

The scam was routed Sunday when Israeli police detained dozens of alleged gang members. The undercover investigation was carried out over a number of months under Commander Dorit Ben-Meir, the Israeli news site Ynet reported at the time. According to the report, 23 Israelis and 11 Palestinians were involved in the scam.

The head of the operation was identified as a high-profile Israeli security officer working in the Civil Administration offices, Linda Salem, while her second in command was an Israeli working in the Ministry of the Interior, Mariah Hashash, Sa'd said.

The Palestinian liaisons organized groups of 100 men who hoped to work in the Israeli agricultural sector, where permits allow laborers to stay in Israel for a limited period of time for seasonal harvests, the PA officer explained. The agricultural permits differ from the construction or day laborer permits, in that workers can stay overnight in Israel for an extended period of time, rather than having to return to the West Bank every afternoon.

The nature of the permits was taken advantage of for the scam, Sa'd said. The Palestinians would transmit the information to the Israeli Civil Administration office and Ministry of the Interior, which would grant the batch of permits. The group would travel to their work site and begin employment contracts, which depend on the issuance of a valid permit.

The permits would be canceled a few days after they were issued, with letters saying the men were not qualified to perform the work.

When the workers injured on the job went to claim insurance benefits, and when employers went to process cheques, the cancellation of the permits was discovered. While most of the men were paid for their time, they lost all rights of health, disability and unemployment benefits that may have been granted to them as workers in Israel.

Coordinating between the top two posts and the Palestinians involved, Sa'd said, was a man named Shlomi Cohen Sami, allegedly in charge of coordination between the Israeli Ministry of the Interior, Civil Administration and Palestinian partners. Sami charged 1,000 shekels (266 US dollars) per permit, approximately 30% of a monthly salary for a worker, he said.

As soon as the first batch of 100 permits was canceled, Sa'd said, another 100 were issued. "And on it went for three years," he said.

Sa’d said investigators estimated Palestinians were defrauded of millions of shekels, and called on officials in Israel and Palestine to prosecute the case. He said the pilfered cash should be returned to the would-be workers.


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