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Gilad Perez

Lack of workers in Israel affects economy

“I was the first one to be shot in my knee. I thought I was hit with stones,” said Katchakorn Pudtason, a Thai farm worker who was injured on October 7th, at the Bangkok airport. Pudtason can still tell his story after the event, but for 34 of his fellow Thai workers, the Hamas attack became fatal. 25 other Thai workers were kidnapped that day.

It caused a big scare among Thai workers in Israel. Before the war, work in the country was mostly done by 30,000 Thai workers. In the aftermath of the attack, at least 7,000 Thais returned to their homeland at the urging of the Thai government, which is providing financial compensation.

Four of Pudtason’s colleagues were injured on October 7th, he told a group of journalists at the airport. “The gunshots were constant, it’s nothing like in the movies. The shots rained down on us, as if they wanted to tear us to pieces.”

Farmworkers

As bad as the testimonies are, Israel would prefer that workers continue to work in Israel. “Israeli agriculture is in the biggest crisis since the founding of the state in 1948,” the Agriculture Ministry announced. At least 15,000 workers have been in short supply since the beginning of the war.

75 percent of Israel’s vegetables are grown in the south, near the Gaza Strip. In addition to the thousands of Thai workers, 9,000 Palestinians also worked on the land. These are no longer welcome because of withdrawn permits.

Shlomi Kofman, vice president of the Innovation Authority, sees that the agricultural sector has been hit hard. “But,” he says, “you see that the Israeli people are coming to help them. People are helping to pick the fruit at the kibbutzim, but also to support the farmers financially by buying more products.” In Israel, campaigns are being launched to help the farmers. Volunteers are now picking fruits and vegetables at the farms.

Busy days

Outside the agricultural sector, there are also staff shortages. Israelis picking up work are facing busy days at the office. Some companies have to miss a large number of staff because of the war. For example, the absence of hundreds of thousands of workers due to the ongoing war with Hamas is costing the economy an estimated 2.3 billion Shekel (600 million euros) per week, the Bank of Israel calculated.

That tourism is flat and imports are also less than usual should come as no surprise. But this war is especially distinguished by the lack of personnel.

Companies have those shortages because of the evacuation of Israeli cities and the Israeli army’s call to duty. More than 200,000 people have been displaced from communities along the southern and northern borders. The Israeli army has also called up more than 300,000 reservists to join the fight. This situation continues to cause the closure of universities.

Resilience

Israel’s Finance Ministry hopes to help businesses affected by the war with an economic aid plan. But that risks not helping a number of “fledgling companies,” the CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority predicted.

But Shlomi Kofman is confident about the Israeli economy. ”In the first weeks of the war, there was a lot of uncertainty. But what we have seen over the past two decades is that the Israeli economy also has a lot of resilience and eventually rebounds.”

The economy did indeed recover after previous wars with Hamas, but this round has been going on much longer than the last wars. This is mainly because the Israeli army has declared to end Hamas rule. In addition, it still takes manpower to free hostages. The duration of the conflict also determines the degree of recovery, experts say.

Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, supermarkets are filled, cafes look packed and buses are running regular schedules. But while many Israelis are trying to return to some degree of normalcy, the war remains visible on the streets. If only because of the air alarms, the flyers of hostages and the many (heavily) armed policemen and civilians.

About the Author
As a freelance journalist in Tel Aviv, Gilad closely follows developments in Israel and the territories. He does this for, among others, The Times of Israel (as an social media intern) and Algemeen Dagblad (as correspondent). He has also written several stories for NRC, a Dutch quality newspaper. He attaches great importance to journalistic concepts such as independence and objectivity.
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