Human rights organizations believe that between 40,000 and 50,000 Palestinian workers enter Israel illegally every year. These workers are known in Israel as Shabahim (an acronym for "Illegal Transients").
Israel, in desperate need of labourers for building projects, tacitly allows this to go on, whilst making random arrests and detaining the workers, who have no legal status in Israel. A large proportion of the illegal laborers could get work permits, but chose not to because of the high price, up to 2,500 shekels a month, paid to the various intermediaries who are often involved. The extent of the phenomenon has created an “illegals industry” in Israel, which includes a wide range of services, such as transportation from the separation barrier to Israeli towns, cheap bus passes, and the establishment of daily collection points, where enterprising Israelis also set up food stalls and other stores for the laborers. One of the main problems facing these Palestinian laborers is sleeping arrangements. Most of them prefer to remain inside Israel, to save themselves journey time and crossing the separation barrier; the recent closure of the gaps in the barrier has made this an even more important consideration.
Many of the workers sleep on building sites, in restaurants, and in the stores in which they work. Compared to the alternatives, they say in all seriousness, these are luxury conditions. Others, who work in the central Israeli district of Gush Dan, are forced to rent a bed on a nightly basis in crowded apartments that mostly house refugees from Eritrea and Sudan. Others are forced to find even more creative solutions. Of late, there has been a proliferation of encampments in open spaces – often adjacent to Arab communities. There outposts consist of shacks made from leftover construction materials, corrugated tin, cardboard, and sheets of plastic. Conditions in these encampments are dire: the cold is biting, there is no electricity, and residents have to bring water in jerrycans from their places of work. Their diet consists almost exclusively of tins of nonperishable food. Every so often, police raid these shanty towns and burn the shacks. (Text adapted from story by Fadi Amun).