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The Other Israelis

Posted on Aug 7, 2011
Albert Sabaté

South Tel Aviv is one of Israel’s most diverse neighborhoods, with migrant workers and Israeli citizens of diverse backgrounds living in close proximity.

By Mary Slosson, Albert Sabaté, and Andrew Khouri

(Page 2)

Tabarrejo’s experience and relationship with her employer was “very, very difficult,” she recalled somberly. But she needed the money to support her extended family and diabetic brother in the Philippines.

She was constantly harassed, worked overtime, never got a full night of rest and wasn’t able to live out her own ethnic and cultural customs, like eating seafood.

Her official employer was an older woman who had suffered a stroke and had difficulty moving around the house. Her employer obsessed that Tabarrejo was stealing her money, clothes and personal items.

Tabarrejo was forced to share the same room with her employer (for which rent was deducted from her pay), like 31 percent of caregivers, and remained isolated in a fairly inaccessible village.


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The small middle-aged woman laughed nervously as she recounted her story in a thick accent.  Never married, the good-natured Filipina’s eyebrows raised as she recounted the most arduous portions of her story.

In a report released in December, Kav LaOved found that the live-in situation common to the caregiving sector can create a system of round-the-clock employment in which caregivers often work in extremely harsh conditions without adequate work-rest balance, resulting in health deterioration and injuries.

Almost a third (29 percent) of workers reported not receiving any regular breaks during the day. Almost half (46 percent) complain of back pain from lifting heavy patients or working household chores for long hours.

Uninterrupted sleep was impossible for Tabarrejo. At night, she awoke every two hours to help her employer use the bathroom. During the day, in addition to helping the elderly woman, she cooked, cleaned and ran household errands.

Tabarrejo was in effect given only one day off; she was allowed to rest from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. Because of limited public transportation and the village’s remoteness, traveling to be with her friends and for leisure became unrealistic.

And anytime she was in her employer’s house, even during her time off, she was expected to work.

She was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. Touching her chest, Tabarrejo repeated, “It was very difficult here deep [inside my] heart.”

Of the migrant caregivers surveyed by Kav LaOved, only 6 percent said they got a 36-hour rest period each week, as required by Israeli law. Practically all workers said they were on call 24 hours a day. The average caregiver worked 12.7 hours per workday adding up to more than 325 hours a month.

The report, which was presented at the United Nations committee that monitors discrimination against women, asserted that these issues are a function of the social isolation and financial vulnerability of migrant caregivers. Additionally, other widespread problems include employers withholding pay for months, refusing to pay overtime or provide benefits. And sexual assault of migrants is widespread, the report said.

While Tabarrejo hasn’t experienced sexual abuse, she said her friends have been subjected to various forms of molestation, including being forced to masturbate their employers, she said. According to the report, 35 percent of caregivers suffer verbal abuse, 12 percent suffer physical abuse and 4 percent suffer sexual abuse.

“I promise you, we are working very hard to save the rights of the workers,” said Lachmanovitch, citing a principle in Judaism to take care of one’s neighbors. But he admitted that deporting unauthorized migrants remains a central focus.

After two years and seven months of working for her first employer, Tabarrejo could take no more. She quit, with just two months of payments left. She was able to find another job where she has happily worked since.

In total, her loan cost her three times what she borrowed. She paid back almost $23,000.

In March, Tabarrejo’s second employer died. She’s been here longer than the 63-month standard allowed by her caregiver visa. She can no longer work or live legally in Israel.

Many workers with expired visas return to their countries of origin, but not all. Regardless, Israel still awards visas to thousands of new workers. In 2009, some 27,000 workers entered Israel while 23,000 left the country. In 2010, some 32,000 foreign workers entered Israel on work permits—an increase of 5,000 compared with the previous year, according to a government report. Meanwhile, 30,000 left the country.

Tabarrejo should be going back, but she won’t. She plans to continue working as a caregiver under the radar, she said. She has already found a temporary gig working for a friend who is taking a monthlong vacation to the Philippines. She plans to stay another year or two covering shifts for her friends.

Visa overstays or tourists turned permanent residents pose an ongoing challenge for the government, with more than 100,000 unauthorized migrants in the country.

The Underground

In a country where the ever-present mix of Hebrew and Arabic serves as a constant reminder of the core identity crisis, South Tel Aviv is a jarring divergence from that dominant narrative.

With impromptu tin-sheet houses constructed alongside more permanent buildings and graffiti on the walls in a smorgasbord of written languages, the area has a distinctly foreign feel.

The neighborhood crystallizes around the central bus station, a looming concrete structure that is maze-like inside, with stores bursting with knockoff jeans, tchotchkes and Asian food filling all seven floors. Buses depart and arrive with such frequency that the surrounding buildings have picked up layers of grit from the smoke they belch as they navigate the tentacle-like ramps that lead to the station.

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By Inherit The Wind, August 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm Link to this comment

There have been numerous cases here in the US of flagrant abuse of immigrant workers, particularly home workers. Just pick up your local newspaper and you’ll find them. Some have been truly disgusting, holding passports and visas illegally, withholding wages, demanding sex, physically abusing, even torturing those helpless to resist.

And that’s not nearly as bad compared to the sex slave trade, which has gotten far worse since the Iron Curtain fell.

The line between consensual prostitution and sex slavery (which is, of course rape, kidnapping, and forced confinement, all of which are felonies) is very, very thin. 

I would guess (and I have no statistics) that only the highest priced call-girls and Nevada Bunny Ranch types actually can choose not to be prostitutes.  The rest face everything from beatings to murder if they refuse or try to escape.

The problem of mistreatment of non-citizen “guest workers” is universal.  Why is it a surprise that Israel’s no more immune than any other nation?

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By LocalHero, August 10, 2011 at 9:06 am Link to this comment

Nothing new here. Just more barbarism practiced by the terrorist-bandit state of “God’s chosen people” and it fits nicely with their organ-trafficking operation.

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By sand11, August 9, 2011 at 5:25 am Link to this comment

There is only one word to describe this whether it takes place in America or Israel: human trafficking. And it all takes place under a thin veneer of legality as long as one does not look too deeply. The exploitation of workers who are merely trying to make a better life for themselves and their families is shameful and to excuse it by saying that it happens in other countries also is beyond criminal.

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By walterbard, August 9, 2011 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

Yes there is a migrant problem worker problem in Israel, as there is in the United States and many other countries. But like the United States Israel is a Democracy with a free press. Haaretz has had articles on the problem and even more rightwing papers such as the Jerusalem Post have
discussed the issue. There are Israeli laws against exploitation that should be more vigorously enforced,
as in the United States. There are migrant worker rights groups in Israel, with many Jewish
Israelis participating. Many migrant cases have been brought before Israeli courts,
with favorable outcomes. 
Of course a virulent anti Israel rag such as Truthdig(liedig) predictably published an article which cherry picks it facts and quotes. Of course the exploitative treatment of some migrant workers
is wrong and should be corrected. But compared to the exploitation of migrants in Arab countries
it pales in significance.  What about Saudi Arabia? What about the massacre of Sudanese in
Egypt? One thing is certain Liedig will scrupulously scrutinize Israel for any wrong, ignore the efforts of Israel to correct them. And of course the wholesale violations of human rights
in Arab countries, in Gaza, in the West Bank are never given as much scrutiny by Liedig.But then
there is no free press in Gaza and the West Bank
so we rarely hear about human right violations there.

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By gerard, August 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment

What this points up, obviously, is the double fallacy of a nation-state whose citizenship is based on one particular religion—no different that being based on one particular race or one non-negotiable nationality. Any exclusion from full citizens’ rights makes for discrimination, second-class-citizenship, and exploitation.
  Worldwide it appears that nationhood is a remnant from pre-modern days, now rapidly giving way to international travel, communication, and all-too-visible disparities, unequal rights and opportunities, and gross differences between rich and poor.
  Nationalism will die hard,  however, due to old habits of thought and behavior, gross economic and educational differences and vast gaps between a relatively few rich, some middle (muddle) classes and billions in a state of desperate poverty.
  I believe the human race will muddle through - but
at the moment the problems are dauntingly complex and pressing. I believe it not because it’s obvious but because otherwise there’s no motivation to remain civilized (in the best sense of that word).

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By Arabian Sinbad, August 8, 2011 at 3:19 pm Link to this comment

I read this lengthy article through, up to each comma, period and other punctuation marks. However, I failed to understand the relevance of the article’s title to its contents!

My point is that the title of “The Other Israelis” is a very wrong title for such a piece, since the people whose human rights violations have been documented are not Israelis to start with. More appropriate titles for such a report can be:

* “The Sad Story of Migrant Caregivers in Israel”;
* “The Other Humans in Israel”;
* “Violations of Human Rights in Israel”;
* “When Jewishness Overrides Basic Human Rights in Israel”.

Though I commend the authors of this report for bringing up one dimension of human rights violations in racist apartheid Israel, I do wonder why they failed to give the report a more clear and appropriate title; or was it a deliberate choice of an editor at Truthdig to give this more subtle title for such unsubtle abuses in Israel?!

But what else do you expect from racist, colonialist, savage occupier, and apartheid Israel, artificially born in the womb of the racist whites of Europe, under circumstances of wars and colonialism, and artificially planted in the heart of Palestine to kill, dispossess and destroy the lives of the natives of the land?!

The final point: If they violated the basic human rights of the whole Palestinian nation, what is it for them to violate the human rights of few thousands migrant workers whom they would discard as pieces of garbage after they have exploited their noble work and sweat?!

Anyway, thank you Truthdig for helping to expose the fact that the idea of Israel was and is a cancer in the human body that should have not been allowed to exist, let alone to grow! With certain dangerous
diseases, preventive measures are the healthy way to deal with them!

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By talkmaster, August 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I stopped reading after the two words Jewish State

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By Mark P. Albright, August 8, 2011 at 1:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You hardly need
travel to Israel to
document so tragic a
story. Large American
including the
country’s leading
meat packers,
routinely exploit
undocumented Mexican
workers as a source
of cheap, powerless
and readily
expendable labor they
offer up on a
rotating basis to
I.C.E. to meet their
enforcement quotas.
Don’t get me wrong -
I’m not saying the
situation described
in your story isn’t
appalling. I’m just
saying that “the land
of the free and the
home of the brave”
has every bit as much
blood on its hands,
and the documentation
of these horrors in
other countries
should not become an
excuse to deflect
well-earned criticism
of labor abuses right
here at home.

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