TEL AVIV—The low rents of Tel Aviv’s Neve Shaanan district draw drug dealers, prostitutes and foreign workers, said a man from Nigeria who identified himself only as David, but the foreign workers are the only ones routinely hunted by the police.
Since the early 1990s, when Israel reduced the number of Palestinian workers it would allow in the country, it has relied on large numbers of foreign workers from developing nations and Eastern Europe to do manual jobs. The workers come hoping for relatively high wages, but many say they find their promised land offers little more than exploitation and, according to Israeli human rights activists, “slavery conditions.”
And, in response to high unemployment rates in Israel in 2002, the government of Ariel Sharon decided to send home 263,000 foreign workers—10 percent of Israel’s workforce.
The majority of foreign workers arrived in the years after the first intifada began in 1989, when Palestinians were prevented from entering Israel to work. By last year, with the help of 460 immigration police—acting legally—Israel had repatriated 116,000 people.
Hanan Zohar, director of the foreign workers’ pressure group Kav LaOved, said: “In spite of this, there are around 40,000 foreign workers entering the country per year, coming from Eastern Europe, Turkey, Nepal, China, the Philippines and other countries.” The foreign workers pay Israeli middlemen, who link them to an employer and provide them with a visa. Zohar said the Chinese pay $10,000 to come to Israel, while the Turks pay only $2,000.