Palestinian worker killed as he sneaks into Israel

The Associated Press
Sunday, October 3, 2010; 5:41 PM

SAIR, West Bank -- Israeli police killed a West Bank construction worker as he tried to sneak into Jerusalem on Sunday, shedding rare light on the risks taken by thousands of Palestinians who are desperate for jobs but are denied permits to enter Israel.

Also Sunday, an Israeli military court convicted two soldiers of using a 9-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield during last year's Gaza war - the most serious conviction yet connected to troops' conduct during the military offensive.

The West Bank laborer, Izzedine Kawazbeh, a 35-year-old father of five, was shot after scaling Israel's towering separation barrier by rope and dashing across a wide stretch of road heavily patrolled by Israeli police. Israel started building the barrier in 2002 during a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings that killed hundreds of Israelis. The last one was in February 2008.

In an added twist, some of the laborers head to construction jobs in Jewish settlements, helping Israel tighten its hold on lands the Palestinians want for their state.

The workers say they are too busy struggling to feed their families to think much about the risk or the nature of their work. West Bank jobs are scarce, and a laborer there makes only about half of what he would get on an Israeli construction site.

"All he wanted in life was to earn money to feed his family," Kawazbeh's brother, Zeinedin, 34. "He didn't care about anything else." Kawazbeh's widow, Fathiyeh, 30, is pregnant.

The West Bank has recently witnessed a modest economic recovery after years of conflict-driven downturn, but hardship remains widespread in places like Kawazbeh's home village of Sair, where hundreds of men set out weekly for jobs inside Israel.

West Bank Palestinians must obtain permits to enter Israel and the dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Israel argues that it must tightly screen Palestinian workers to weed out possible attackers.

About 20,000 Palestinians have permits to work in Israel, and another 20,000 have permits to work in West Bank settlements, said Salwa Alenat from Kav Laoved, an Israeli group that assists the laborers. As many as 15,000 sneak in without permits, she said.

Kawazbeh's last trip started like all the others he had taken since he started working in Israel at age 15, said his cousin, Radad Kawazbeh, 30, who made the journey with him.

Well before dawn, he and two dozen other workers from the village arrived near a section of the barrier where many Palestinians cross. Hundreds of laborers from elsewhere were also nearby, waiting to sneak across, he said.

When the men could see no army jeeps nearby, they ran for a 15-foot-tall section of the wall. Workers who crossed earlier attached a rope to the top, and the men used it to climb over, Radad Kawazbeh said.

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