A young man’s


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The death of Palestinian prisoner Ramez Elrzi in Israel’s Al Nafha prison is an event that reflects the greater level of injustice inflicted upon Palestinian laborers and prisoners alike, and thereafter upon the Palestinian people as a whole.

How and why Elrzi reached such a tragic end, lonely in his cell, is claimed thus far to be a mystery by Israeli sources. For Palestinian and international human rights organizations operating in Palestine, however, Elrzi’s death, as well as the deaths of many Palestinian prisoners throughout the years, are by no means puzzling mysteries. But little can be done when those who investigate these deaths are exclusively Israeli Jews (i.e. the medical examiner, the prosecutor, the judges, and often the lawyers). Once Israeli forensic doctors concluded their hiding of any evidence that may have been left on the body, Palestinians could do nothing more than fold his tired body in a flag and bury him with a small prayer and many chants.

Elrzi was a refugee from one of Gaza’s most crowded refugee camps, Nusseirat. He was barely 18 years old when Oslo was first signed between Israel and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and 25 years old when he was declared dead on August 11.

For Elrzi, as is the case for many Palestinian youths, peace meant freedom, employment and a stable income. None of the above was delivered, despite the many promises made.

The Palestinian economy is still heavily reliant on Israel. And with the passing of time, this dependence grows. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is failing to deal with economic challenges facing the West Bank and Gaza, not only because of Israeli political domination, border control and the intentional crippling of Palestinian businesses, but also due to growing corruption and mismanagement of resources.

As far as Israeli-Palestinian “economic cooperation” is concerned, the equation goes something like this: Israel floods the Palestinian territories with the lowest quality yet very expensive Israeli produce. Palestinian imports from other channels besides Israel are monitored, regulated and often blocked by Israel, as are Palestinian exports. The result is that Israel’s economy booms through the guarantee of a needy Palestinian market, and the Palestinian economy deteriorates further.

Inside the PA’s autonomous areas in the West Bank and Gaza, eligible workers are many, but work is scarce. When work is found, it is low-paid PA work.

Even these available jobs are not granted based on merit but rather on family and political affiliations.

For the bulk of Palestinian workers, Israel is the only alternative available for their families to be fed. But this is something easier said than done.

“The humiliating journey” is how many Palestinians perceive their daily quest for work in Israel. Many of those who succeed in obtaining permits to cross “the safe passage” to Israel, gather before dawn near Israeli military check-points and wait for an Israeli “m’ualim” or “boss” to come, looking for a few cheap Palestinian laborers for a day or two of work.

Day-to-day jobs are how many Palestinian workers spend their lives. And with this kind of work, as one may expect, there is no security, no health insurance, and clearly no dignity.

Some of those “lucky ones” who find their way to Israel through temporary permits prefer to stay and hide near their jobs in abandoned warehouses or under bridges. The reason is their prior knowledge of the uncertainty of the safe passage and the difficult task of being granted a renewed permit or finding new work.

Elrzi was among the “lucky ones” who made it to Israel but was later caught with an expired permit and was convicted under a harsh and cruel Israeli legal system.

The Israeli judge who sentenced Elrzi to three years in prison might have conveniently overlooked the fact that Israel was the reason of why Elrzi stood before him that day seven months ago. It was Israel that pressured the Palestinian economy to near suffocation and forced Elrzi and his peers to endure the fear, humiliation and arrest for being caught with an expired permit or without a permit at all.

Palestinian laborers still have nowhere else to turn to but to Israel’s low-paying jobs. Unfortunately, any of those eager workers are well educated. But it’s the pressing need for survival alone that forces a Palestinian engineer, a chemist or a psychologist to clean Tel Aviv’s streets, or scrub dirty dishes in an Alafolah restaurant. Alafolah was the city where Elrzi was “caught” working, and in a nearby prison cell, seven months later, the young Palestinian man “mysteriously” died.