Double Pay for Betrayal The Palestinian Workers Who Build Israel's Settlements

Like many thousands of his compatriots, Palestinian carpenter Haitham Asfur has a politically contentious job: He lays tiles for the enemy. He works on construction projects in the divisive Jewish settlements that currently threaten to derail peace negotiations.

Israeli diggers at work at settlement construction sites in the West Bank. "I am forced to betray Palestine," says Palestinian construction worker Haitham Asfur.
AFP

Israeli diggers at work at settlement construction sites in the West Bank. "I am forced to betray Palestine," says Palestinian construction worker Haitham Asfur.

By in Sinjil


In order to uphold principles you have to be able to afford them. For many in the Palestinian West Bank they are simply too expensive.

"Of course I hate my job," says Haitham Asfur. "But what can I do? I am forced to betray Palestine."

Haitham Asfur is a Palestinian man who builds Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Day in, day out, he lays tiles in houses that are not supposed to exist under international law.

Asfur is building the obstacles that now stand in the way of peace in the Middle East. Peace negotiations that only restarted in September under the tutelage of the United States are already in danger of collapsing -- because of Israel's insistence on continuing to build settlements in the West Bank.

'I Have a Job that Makes Me Unhappy'

A freeze on the construction of new settlements is the key issue for the current round of peace negotiations in the Middle East. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to break off the talks if Israel begins a renewed intensive building program within Palestinian territory. A 10-month moratorium on construction has just come to an end.

For his part, Asfur knows better than most that the agreement wasn't worth the paper it was written on. "I've been working the entire 10 months. A little bit less than usual, but there's been a steady flow of work." The reason is that homes that were already under construction were allowed to be completed during the moratorium. In East Jerusalem, expansion was allowed to continue completely unimpeded.

With the expiration of the moratorium on Sept. 30, the restrictions no longer apply and the only thing that has delayed an expected construction boom in the settlements is the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles holiday, during which all work grinds to a halt. "But next week it will all kick off again, and my schedule is already full," says Asfur. Twenty-five-thousand Palestinians work regularly for the enemy in the Jewish settlements. "And I get many calls from men," says Asfur, "who would like to work there."

The 33-year-old has no patience for people who are outraged over the end of the building freeze. "I have to feed my family, and the settlers are paying twice as much now," he says. For Asfur, loyalty to the Palestinian cause is a numbers game: One day of laying tiles in a Palestinian village would earn him the equivalent of €40 ($55). In a Jewish settlement, he gets paid €80.

"I don't want my son to live his life on his knees like I did" says Asfur, whose oldest child is 10 years old. But school costs money, as do the books, school uniforms and the bus fare. "I have a job that makes me unhappy, I do it for my son," he says.

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