Closure of occupied lands hits Israeli and Palestinian purses

ISRAELI farmers and industrialists are complaining bitterly that the closure of the occupied territories is depriving them of their work force and costing them a fortune.

Moreover, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers have not been able to get to their jobs in Israel for the past three weeks, and thus have not earned any money.

The day after United States-born Jewish settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque Feb. 25, the government banned the entry of all Palestinians from the occupied territories into Israel to forestall revenge attacks.

That meant keeping 60,000 Palestinian workers away from their jobs - a particular problem for citrus farmers, who normally rely on Palestinian pickers at this time of year.

As an emergency solution, prisoners are being allowed out of jail in some parts of the country, to bring in the orange and grapefruit harvests.

A report this week from the Histadrut trade union federation estimated that the closure would cost the Israeli economy more than $130 million in lost production this year.

Of more immediate concern, however, are the 60,000 Palestinian families left without an income for nearly a month. The government has drawn up a compensation plan for them, but it still has not been implemented.

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