By: Hanna Zohar

Muniya, a mother of six and resident of Tulkarem, was suddenly widowed when her husband, who had been working in Israel for years, died as a result of cardiac arrest. The whole family depended on his salary for their livelihood and his sudden death, beyond the grief of losing a loved one, left them helpless and fearful of the future.

The people who came to console her, some of whom were working in Israel, told Muniya about the Survivor and Dependents’ allowance. Israeli workers are entitled to receive full, up to date information regarding their management of pension funds. Whether this is prior information, helping them to choose between various insurance policies or pension funds, or whether through quarterly and yearly reports. In contrast, and despite the fact that at any given moment tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are employed in Israel, these workers do not receive any explanation or guidance regarding the instalment of their Survivor and Dependents’ allowance.

Muniya could not get an answer from the Payroll Department at the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority regarding her Survivor’s allowance but instead was offered only to receive, in bulk, the pension funds accrued from her late husband’s salary. However, Muniya understood that receiving the money in the form of an allowance is better than in bulk and therefore turned to Kav LaOved for assistance.

In early 2011 we sent a letter on the matter to the head of the Payroll Department at the time, Mr. Avner Peres, saying as follows:

“…on 3.2.2010 a Palestinian worker died in his home following a cardiac arrest. His wife does not work and takes care of three children under the age of 18. The comprehensive pension he was insured with during his work period entitles his wife and her dependent children a Survivor’s allowance. We would thank you to check this issue as she may be entitled to additional sums from the Payroll Department as a result of her husband’s death.

We thought that our letter would expedite the handling of Muniya’s case, as often happens when we come to the help of Palestinian workers facing the Payroll Department. To our surprise, we did not receive a reply for a long time and we therefore had to refer Muniya to a lawyer. While preparing the claim, we encountered stalling and avoidance attempts on behalf of the Payroll Department and after a year went by without a response and without any regular income for her family, Muniya gave up and agreed to accept the Payroll Department’s offer for receiving the accrued pension as a lump sum.

Similar letters and reports were sent in several other cases which we accompanied in the last years. In these cases too, we tried helping widows by demanding monthly payments from the Payroll Department but were faced with an insurmountable barrier. Our demands were left with no response and our requests to obtain the regulations or procedures of the pension fund managed by the Payroll Department were met with stalling and avoidance. This January, we received a curious response saying that the Palestinian workers’ pension is no longer being managed as a pension but as a savings account.

The Payroll Department is in charge of managing the pension money of Palestinian workers. A 1970 government decision, which was later mandated by law, stipulated that the salaries of Palestinian workers employed in Israel should be transferred to the Payroll Department which is the mediating body who is supposed to transfer these salaries to the workers after deducing the pension amounts set by law, which should be managed by it, in the same way pension funds manage Israeli worker’s pensions. Since the June 1967 war, over one million Palestinian workers were employed in Israel, and only a few of these managed to overcome the Payroll Department’s obfuscation hurdle, as well as its encouragement to break the pension and withdraw the whole sum in bulk. From data we obtained after submitting a query based on the Freedom of Information act, only 349 widows are receiving Survivor’s allowance.

Thus, with it being publicised, the authorities have abused the pension rights of Palestinian workers, which is supposed to assure their income in their latter years, as well as that of their wives and children in cases where they lose their working ability before reaching retirement age, thus undermining the very essence and purpose of the pension fund.

The occupation, which forces workers to seek employment in Israel, relies on the rights of our forefathers, as promised in our scriptures. It is sorrowing to discover that the prohibition of robbing widows and orphans is not so piously observed.