Over the past two years, Moshe Vidal, an Israeli lawyer, has represented 520 Arabs who worked as agricultural laborers in Gush Katif and were suing their former employers for labor rights violations.
The former employers were shocked to learn about these lawsuits, many of them from ex-employees who were more than just that, who had close relationships with their employers. The employers turned to the Gush Katif settlers’ committee for legal assistance. The committee approached the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which introduced them to Sigalit Handsher-Farkash, a lawyer specializing in labor laws and a member of the Legal Forum.
Vidal submitted lawsuits against 150 former employers, former residents of Gush Katif. Serial claims were made against the State and the employers for violation of labor laws, with each worker claiming an average of 100,000 NIS. The plaintiffs demanded currency value differences, pay for extra hours, additional pay for work on holidays and severance pay.
Handsher-Farkash decided to inquire about the credibility of the claims and began preliminary procedures, asking to hear the workers’ testimony in court. This step completely overwhelmed the court system, stalling the process and buying time.
Handsher-Farkash and her team went through each claim and discovered that they were all exactly the same, all claiming the exact same work hours, severance pay etc., leading the team to believe that all the claims were organized. They then discovered that the power of attorney on the claims was signed by a Gazan lawyer, Yusuf Hijazi. Furthermore, the forms passed on to Vidal were partially or completely empty, and some even lacked the proper authorization and authentication signatures of the plaintiffs.
Handsher-Farkash was able to contact some of the former employees. The immensity of the scam was then uncovered. Some claimants admitted to being coerced by Hamas to submit the claims; many didn’t want to submit the lawsuit, knowing that their employers cared for their livelihood, which was cut off because of the Disengagement. Some explained that they were suing the State, not the employers, and asked to withdraw their claim when they learned it was being submitted against the employers. Handsher-Farkash even had a worker state in court, via the phone, that he wished to retract his claim. In another case, one of the workers sent a letter from Gaza stating that Vidal did not represent him.
Vidal claimed to have spoken to each of the plaintiffs; however Hendsher-Farkash proved that one of them was a deaf-mute, and therefore it would have been impossible for Vidal to talk to him on the phone.
Beyond procedural tactics, a basic deficiency in the basis of the claims was discovered. The calculation of claims was based on the assumption that each worker worked six days a week, even though there had been prolonged periods during which the workers did not come to work because of security issues. In addition, some did not have specific work hours, while others worked in certain seasons, not year round.
Handsher-Farkash proved in court that the claims were not lawfully submitted and succeeded in closing all the cases.
Not all the farmers chose this venue. Some sought legal counsel from other lawyers who advised them to settle in court. They paid their former employees, only to discover that the lawsuits were a scam.
It is important to note that the State took no responsibility in regards to the lawsuits, even though the case was a result of the Disengagement, which was a political decision. The State was included in the claims, but asked to have the lawsuits against it declared invalid because it was not the direct employer. As a result, these farmers, who had already suffered the loss of their homes, communities and livelihoods, were once again left by the State to fend for themselves. They were lucky to find assistance and resolution through the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel.
About the Author: Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.
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