abuse of immigrant labor

I wouldn't have noticed if not for Yourish's outraged denial and predictable invocation of anti-semitism, but this story on the exploitation and second-class status of Chinese laborers in the country is quite shocking, if not exactly a surprise:

AN Israeli company has required thousands of Chinese workers to sign a contract promising not to have sex with Israelis or try to convert them, a police spokesman said today.
The labourers are also forbidden in the contract from engaging in any religious or political activity. Those who violate the agreement will be sent back to China at their own expense.
More than half the workers are in the country illegally. Israeli police have increased efforts to deport those working without permits in light of high Israeli unemployment, which has reached 11 per cent in recent months.

Israeli advocates of foreign workers - who come also from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania - say they are held by employers in nearly slave-like conditions, and their bosses frequently take their passports and refuse to pay them.

There is also a story in the Jerusalem Post that talks about the pain of the immigrant laborers, who feel persecuted and miserable due to their condition, and express their emotions through art:

'I send home many letters, but everything I write is a lie. Here there is no room for tears. Even the sun is not warm. The moon has no color, and sheds no light. Moving about is difficult. I wander alone as if I had no family, with boredom in my heart. On every street, I look for a dream."

Written in Mandarin, the text appears at the center of a mural that covers an entire wall of the Midrasha art gallery in Tel Aviv. To its right, an airplane drawn in white chalk takes off above a chain gang of crying workers who carry small bags marked CHINA as they march past an immigration official.

"At first, I didn't understand exactly what they wanted at the gallery," Chen-Loung told me as we settle down to an outdoor table at one of the kiosks scattered along Rehov Naveh Sha'anan, between the city's new and old central bus stations.
Artist Doron Rabina, curator of the Midrasha gallery, conceived of the mural as an act of political protest, an open invitation to foreign workers to voice their feelings about Israel's current deportation policies.

"Foreign Slaves" - the title he gave the exhibition - plays on the similarity of the Hebrew words for "workers" and "slaves." Rabina contacted the Hotline for Migrant Workers, whose director introduced him to several potential participants. Some of them made a great effort to come and meet him. Twenty-four hours before the scheduled opening of the exhibition, however, Chen-Loung was the only one who was not too afraid or too busy to participate.

The article also sheds some mor elight on the conditions that the workers face:

A fee of between $10,000 and $15,000 is the standard payment that Chinese contractors demand in advance from Chinese workers for bringing them to Israel, Chen-Loung explained. Many of them, he said, do not know they are being brought here illegally.

Throughout his years in Israel, Chen-Loung has worked nights at various construction sites. Working 10-hour shifts six days a week, he earns an average monthly salary of $280.

Once they are here, he explains, workers like him are unable to leave because going home means facing a debt they will never be able to repay from the wages they earn in Israel.

"I am angry because the Chinese contractors lie in order to keep bringing more people here who don't know what life in Israel is really like," he says.

"Other immigrants want to stay here and have children, but not the Chinese. It's too difficult for us. We don't speak your language. We can't eat your food. The police hunt us down because we are the easiest to spot," says Chen-Loung.

"Even if Chinese workers want to run away from their employers, they have no idea what to do or where to go. They don't know any of their rights. It hurts me to see them. I don't see a future here for Chinese people. Only stupid Chinese would think of having children here," Chen-Loung concludes.

The problem is not uncommon - abuse of immigrant workers, especially Asian ones, is endemic to the Middle East and the west. Diana also comments on this (with none of the desperate contorions that Yourish underwent). She links to the group ATZUM, which is dedicated to social justice in Israel, based firmly upon Jewish principles.

I have great sympathy for Chen-Loung but I have to question whether their condition would be better had they remained in China - if the abuses can be rectified through law and the actions of groups such as ATZUM, then people like Cheng-Loung will truly be able to reap the benefits of living in a country like Israel (especially since they afren't Arab and have no stake in the occupation conflict). The only real obstacle is people who refuse to see the problem.

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