India should refuse Israeli calls to replace Palestinian workers with Indian nationals

Acceding to any Israeli request for Indian migrant workers would further enable Israel’s war crimes and support illegal settlements

The Indian government should refuse to enter into any agreement with Israel to allow Indian nationals to replace Palestinian workers from Gaza and the West Bank, FairSquare said today. Any such deal would further enable Israel’s forced displacement of the Palestinian population and support illegal settlements, in addition to leaving Indian workers vulnerable to serious abuse and exploitation.

On 1 November, the Israeli Builder Association announced it hoped to bring as many as 100,000 Indian workers into the country to replace Palestinian workers whose permits to work in Israel were arbitrarily cancelled after the 7 October attacks. Thousands were illegally detained in Israel amidst credible allegations of serious abuses including torture. United Nations human experts have since warned of “a risk of genocide against the Palestinian People”.  On 9 November, a spokesperson for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said that Israel had not made any specific request, but indicated that India would be open to such an agreement saying that any initiative “if taken up, would be long-term.” 

“India may soon be asked to help Israel replace Palestinian workers who have been illegally detained, abused and are now being ethnically cleansed in the full view of the world”, said FairSquare director Nicholas McGeehan. “To agree to this request would be a craven green-light for war crimes. As one of the world’s largest democracies, India should devote its efforts to ensuring a ceasefire not profiting from more violence.”

Israel’s disproportionate and illegal response to the Hamas massacres of 7 October is taking a toll on its domestic economy, in particular its labour-intensive construction sector. Construction sites in Israel, dependent on cheap Palestinian labour, have been shut since 7 October. It is in this context that the Builders Association of Israel has lobbied the Israeli government to demand 100,000 Indian workers to replace Palestinians. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 193,000 Palestinians worked in Israel and settlements in the West Bank in 2022, and 57.3% of them are employed in the construction sector. These settlements are described by the UN Security Council as “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”. 

Two former international prosecutors are among those who have called for the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants to Israel’s political and military leaders, citing United Nations experts and their invocation of the language of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Facilitating the recruitment of Indian workers  to Israel at this moment in time would not only support economic activity in illegal settlements, it would effectively enable Israel’s forced displacement of the Palestinian population. 

India’s major trade unions, including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) and Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), have issued a joint statement calling on India not to send any workers to Israel, saying such a step would amount to ‘complicity’ with Israel’s illegal  actions.

Any agreement on the recruitment of Indian workers for jobs in Israel would also place Indian nationals at serious risk of labour exploitation. There are currently 18,000 Indians working in Israel, the majority of whom work as caregivers in private homes. In May 2023, Israel signed an agreement with India whereby another 42,000 Indian workers, most of them construction workers, would migrate for work in Israel. International trade unions have detailed serious abuse and exploitation of Palestinian workers in Israel’s construction sector and a 2015 Human Rights Watch report on the abuse of Thai workers in Israel’s agriculture sector reported how workers were paid salaries significantly below the legal minimum wage, forced to work long hours in excess of the legal maximum, subjected to unsafe working conditions, denied their right to change employers, and housed in non-residential structures, such as warehouses and sheds with makeshift kitchen and laundry facilities.

The Hamas attacks of 7 October killed 34 Thai workers and led to 24 being taken hostage. Hamas also killed 10 Nepalese agricultural workers and three Filipino caregivers.

India has ratified the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. As confirmed by the International Court of Justice in 2020, all states have an obligation to prevent acts of genocide, irrespective of where they occur. In light of the mounting and compelling evidence of genocide, as affirmed by UN experts and scholars of genocide, India can adhere to its obligations under the Genocide Convention by calling for an immediate ceasefire and an end to the forced displacement of Palestinians.

Background

FairSquare is a non-governmental organisation that works at the nexus of authoritarianism, sport, and labour migration. We have published detailed and groundbreaking research on transnational recruitment and migrant worker deaths abroad, including the most comprehensive study of the deaths of migrant workers from India. FairSquare co-director Nicholas McGeehan researched and wrote Human Rights Watch’s 2015 report on the abuses of Thai workers in Israel’s agricultural sector.