Some 100 Hashmira company workers, who are currently employed in an Israel Railways project, received letters Sunday informing them that their contracts would be terminated due to the fact that they did not serve in the Israel Defense Forces.
"We're okay for checking vehicles in shopping malls," one of them protested.
"Pursuant to our oral agreement," the letter said, "your work at the train junction project will end on April 1. You are asked to visit our office for a new work placement."
The project, which began about three years ago following several grave railway accidents, employs 260 workers, about 60% of whom are Arab.
Up to now military service was not a precondition for getting the job, but Israel Railways recently decided to promote IDF veterans – a move which hurt Arabs working as observers or patrolmen.
Although they anticipated this move, the workers were enraged by it. "This is a 100% discriminatory decision," one of them said. "I know that 40 workers have received letters of dismissals so far, and the rest will get the letters tomorrow at the latest."
An Israel Railways official said that according to information received from Hashmira company, a total of 100 workers were discharged.
Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al), who was approached by the workers, raised the matter for discussion at the Knesset last week. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who was present at the plenum, promised to look into the issue, but in the meantime, the dismissal letters have already been sent.
"This is a racist and discriminatory decision," said Tibi, who promised to take part in the workers' struggle. "The company's name should be changed from Israel Railways to 'Yisrael Beiteinu Railways,'" he added sarcastically.
Israel Railways confirmed the details, saying in a statement that "this year's tender has a new criterion stating that candidates must have completed military service.
"Nonetheless, we will continue reserving about 30 positions for members of minority groups who have not served in the army, in train junctions where knowledge of the Arab language is needed."
Hashmira company said in response, "Israel Railway's threshold conditions as part of the new tender state that people employed for supervision services must have, at the least, completed military service in the IDF.
"In accordance with this rule, the company is working to locate candidates who meet these threshold conditions, and will do everything possible in order to continue employing workers who do not meet these demands in other places."