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  Middle East & Africa
Angry Palestinian Laborers Demonstrate
By Yasser AbuMoailek
Middle East Correspondent
Courtesy AFP
Gaza City, Feb. 17, 2004 — Despite the very cold wave overrunning the Middle East region, hundreds of Palestinian laborers demonstrated in front of the Israeli-controlled "Eretz" checkpoint, the main crossing point for Palestinians working inside Israel.

The death of a Palestinian laborer the other day prompted the angry demonstration, after having a heart attack caused by the cramping of workers in the narrow passage leading to the crossing. The 1,500 angry laborers shouted slogans against the tightened Israeli measures, and demanded that these measures be relieved.

Thousands of Palestinian laborers go through a daily painful and humiliating series of measures enforced by the Israeli soldiers controlling the checkpoint. Laborers have to arrive there as early as two in the morning, and they enter the Israeli side with their identity cards in one hand and the other lifting up their clothes to show that they do not carry any explosive vests.

Of the thousands of laborers who show up at Eretz, only a few are actually able to pass through. Israel issues working permits for nearly 19,000 Palestinians, but only a couple of thousands pass through, said Palestinian laborer Shukri Hamdouna, 32. Hamdouna works as a construction worker in the Israeli city of Haifa. He says that he only worked for one week during the past two months, which has been very difficult for him and his eight-member family in Jabalya refugee camp.

"Eretz is the checkpoint of death," Hamdouna chanted. "I am a worker and I have the right to live."

Courtesy AFP
Among the protestors was Mr. Rasem Al Bayyari, president of the Union of Palestinian Workers Syndicates, the Palestinian Authority's government body concerned with the Palestinian workers. Mr. Al Bayyari said that the latest Israeli measures in Eretz checkpoint are merely "punitive" and do not intend on bringing more security more than they are to collectively punish the Palestinian laborers.

The Eretz checkpoint is comprised of a 22-meter long and five-meter wide aisle, followed by 24 narrow lanes of iron-barred passageways, ending with a two-stage Israeli security check. Nearly 7,000 Palestinian laborers are crammed in the aisle, before arriving at the lanes, of which the Israelis open just three to four of, a thing that creates many bottle-necks among the laborers' traffic line.

Other Articles by Yasser AbuMoailek
    Korean FM's Visit to Palestine 'Historical'
    Heated Campaigning But Friendly Atmosphere
    Gazan Weapons Dealer Reveals All
    "Reform and Change" Wins Hamas Elections
    Tunneling as a Life in Rafah, Gaza Strip

Yasser AbuMoailek, a journalist and feature writer working for the International Press Center in Gaza Strip. He contributes to many circulations inlcuding the Seoul Times, as well as monitoring the situation in the Middle East, especially the Palestinian territories.






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