Israel Railways has announced that it will require all safety inspectors patrolling its tracks to present a IDF discharge certificate as a condition for employment.
The new policy has provoked deep resentment among Arab employees, who will apparently no longer be able to serve as safety inspectors. The company providing Israel Railways with its safety manpower said the new policy means 60% of current inspectors to lose their jobs.
Assad Salame,from the Arab town of Qalansuwa said 260 employees were currently working for Israel Railways on behalf of the manpower company, including 20 from his town.
"There are 80 observation posts and eight patrol points, and each of these is manned by three guards," said Salame.
At first, he said, the manpower company announced that inspectors' wages would be increased by 15%, but later they had discovered that the raise would only be given to employees who met the new requirements. The others, he said, were to be let go.
Salame said the manpower agency had told the outraged employees that the demand for prior army service had been introduced by the railway company, and that the agency had complied in order to maintain its contract.
"We feel betrayed and discriminated against," he said. "Now that they want to improve the salaries, they remembered that we didn't serve in the army. It's a racist, discriminatory, and outrageous decision. We feel like third-rate citizens."
Kadi Abed al-Karim, another resident of Qalansuwa who is employed as an inspector by the train company, was also incensed at the announcement. "This reeks of racism," he said. "The train company knows very well that most Arabs will not be able to continue to work."
The employees appealed to MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al,) who came to their aid. He sent a letter to Israel Railways CEO Yitzhak Harel, Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, charging that the aim of the new policy is "to cleanse the train from its Arab employees."
"Needless to say, this conduct is illegal, discriminatory, and racist," Tibi wrote. "It is an especially grave matter as this is a public company whose operations are meant to benefit all citizens."
The manpower agency said that it would make every effort to employ the guards elsewhere.
Israel Railways said that the new policy was aimed at helping former soldiers to secure employment. In a statement, the train company said would also set aside guarding positions for Israeli Arabs who had not necessarily performed army service.