Hope and fear for Gazans as Israel offers work

STORY: For Gazans, a job in Israel can bring in 10 times what they could earn at home, if they're lucky enough to get a permit.

Israel has launched a work scheme as part of a strategy to use economic inducements to help stabilize the volatile enclave - while enforcing military control.

According to the World Bank, unemployment in Gaza runs at about 50% and more than half the population lives in poverty, worsened by bursts of fighting like the 11-day war last year between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Add to that years of economic blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Omar Abu Sidu has been working at a car wash in southern Israel for six months, and says he has paid his debts and renovated the house.

He's aware that Israel could withdraw those benefits at any time.

"When there is an escalation, we fear we might not be issued permits again and that we would stop working. We're on our toes all the time."

Hani Al-Zahhar, a construction worker, says the incentive to work for what Palestinians see as the occupying power is strong.

He'd earn just 30 shekels a day in Gaza, which would barely cover a carton of milk formula for the baby.

"There in Israel, it is 300 or 350 shekels. Look at this house of mine. I'm 31 years old with five kids, and am unable to get a window, I don'tk have floor tiles. Life is difficult here, and this prompted me to work in Israel."

The Hamas-run Labor Ministry in Gaza says it has received 100,000 applications for permits since March, when it became involved in the process.

The Palestinian Authority, which lost control of Gaza in 2007, liaises with Israel on the issue.

Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said the number of permits might soon go up from the current 15,000 to 20,000.

That would depend on Hamas agreeing to return the remains of missing Israeli soldiers believed to have been killed in Gaza.

Hussein Nabhan, a father of six, is in construction too, but can't get a job or a permit.

He says it's about who you know.

"We applied a year ago. Some people applied and got one after a month or so. We know no one to advance our case, no connections. Only God... I sit on the street 24 hours a day. From house to street, this is our life. I put on my work clothes and pretend I have work, and sit in front of the house."

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority say neither bribes nor connections are involved.

As well as the permits, which analysts say bring around $2 million a day into Gaza's economy, Israel has also promised further loosening of economic restrictions, depending on positive signs from Hamas.

Israeli officials say the permits have forced Gaza's rulers in Hamas to face a choice between maintaining their fundamental opposition to Israel and allowing Palestinians access to well-paying jobs.