newsIsrael at War

Protesters block PA workers’ entry to Efrat

The protest—the third of its kind over the past several weeks—was organized by "B’yadaim Shelanu" ("In Our Hands"), an initiative launched by a group of women in the Gush Etzion town.

A protest organized by B’yadaim Shelanu to prevent the entry of P.A. workers to Efrat in Gush Etzion, June 23, 2024. Credit: B’yadaim Shelanu.
A protest organized by B’yadaim Shelanu to prevent the entry of P.A. workers to Efrat in Gush Etzion, June 23, 2024. Credit: B’yadaim Shelanu.

Some 120 protesters gathered in the Gush Etzion town of Efrat on Sunday morning to prevent local building contractors from bringing Palestinian laborers into the community.

The protest—the third of its kind over the past several weeks—was organized by “B’yadaim Shelanu” (“In Our Hands”), an initiative launched by a dedicated group of Efrat women in December. It opposes the reinstatement of Arab workers from the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre.

According to Israeli intelligence, Arab workers from Gaza who had been allowed into southern Israeli kibbutzim aided Hamas’s attacks, mapping out homes and passing detailed information to the terrorist group.

Before the war, 193,000 P.A. workers were employed throughout Israel, including 30,000 in Judea and Samaria. Today, only around 8,000 P.A. workers are employed by Jewish businesses in Judea and Samaria, mainly in local industrial zones or construction sites.

According to an Israeli security official, while communities can request that P.A. workers be brought in, residents cannot keep them out.

“If a community wants to bring in P.A. workers, they can approach their local security chief and ask him to put in a special request with the IDF regional commander who makes the decisions,” the official, who asked not to be identified, explained to JNS. However, he continued, the only way to stop them being brought in is to “block the entrance.”

In addition to the protests, B’yadaim Shelanu has been raising awareness among local residents with the slogan “Efrat is not returning to Oct. 6.” The group has also been voicing their security concerns to local municipal leaders and Knesset members.

Social-media strategist and activist Malkah Fleisher, one of the movement’s founders, has lived in Efrat for around seven years. (Disclosure: Fleisher is a former JNS employee.)

“Following Oct. 7 … we refuse to accept the notion that in order to build or run our town we need to hire people who support terrorism against us, or could themselves be a terror threat,” she told JNS.

She went on to state that “polls have shown that an overwhelming number of residents of the P.A. support the wanton rape, murder, mutilation and kidnapping of Jewish children, women and men.”

Due to this, “We came together, a group of wives and moms, to say something very simple: We will not stand for terror supporters coming into our town. We are a town that wants to be built by lovers of Israel … not by those who want us to fail and to die.”  

According to Fleisher, in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre, P.A. workers were barred from Judea and Samaria communities for several months. However, the IDF then decided to relax this policy, starting with construction sites, she said.

“We refuse to ignore and forget the lessons of Oct. 7; we are going to stand strong and make sure that we do not accept the idea that we are dependent on a population that seeks our destruction. We demand that solutions be found that do not threaten the lives of our people just to save some money,” she said.

Business owner Stephanie Treger, who has been living in Efrat for nine years and is another of the movement’s founders, told JNS her group “will work tirelessly to prevent terror supporters from entering our streets. We will meet with every Knesset member and influencer to change the pre-Oct. 7 status quo and make sure our children are safe and our grandchildren can live peacefully.”

She explained that Sunday’s protest succeeded because when the military grants permission for P.A. workers to enter a community, it sets a specific time for them to do so. In the case of Efrat on Sunday, that window was 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.

When the Jewish Israeli building contractor arrived and saw the protesters blocking the entrance, he decided to avoid confrontation, she said.

Lactation consultant Rachel Pearson, another B’yadaim Shelanu founder, has lived in Efrat for the past 15 years.

“After Oct. 7, we know P.A. Arabs cannot be trusted,” she told JNS. “We need to keep our children and families safe and we cannot go back to the way things were on Oct. 6. We cannot bring them into our town, especially while we are at war with them. Our safety and our lives come before all else,” she added.

Efrat Mayor Dovi Shefler, who was elected this past March, has attended several of B’yadaim’s protests. He took to Facebook over the weekend to emphasize that the decision on whether or not to allow P.A. workers into Efrat was not up to him but “in the hands of the army.”

He explained that these decisions would greatly impact “new building projects, cleanliness of the community, gardening and other community functions.”

One of the protesters, who asked not to be identified, told JNS that Shefler “is basically looking to the building contractors to come up with solutions, but won’t prevent them from bringing in P.A. Arabs as building is his top priority.”

The mayor claims that the workers will only be allowed into construction sites and not the community at large, “but this is a slippery slope and we must keep our families safe.” 

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