Chinese refusal to send its workers to Israel after calling the Israeli reserve in the war against Hamas

In the wake of the “Al-Aqsa Flood operation” on October 7, 2023, China found itself facing the model it prefers in international politics, which is based on showing a difference from the American position.

The tension in Chinese-Israeli relations comes as a result of Israel’s participation in the Economic Corridor Initiative, which was announced by US President “Joe Biden” on the sidelines of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, on September 9, 2023, which will pass from India to the Middle East and reach Europe via the port of Haifa.  In Israel, with Israeli Prime Minister “Benjamin Netanyahu” celebrating it, this gave a negative indication of the deterioration of relations between China and Israel in the recent period, as China sees it as an alternative project to the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and aims to strike it. So we all witnessed this massive Chinese anger against Israel after the Gaza War on October 7, 2023, through a series of official Chinese statements that angered broad sectors within Israel, most notably the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, as well as the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs submitting several objections towards the Chinese statements directly during the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation.

   In the wake of the “Al-Aqsa Flood operation” on October 7, 2023, China found itself facing the model it prefers in international politics, which is based on showing a difference from the American position.  Confirming its role as a voice for the Global South, as well as China’s desire to question the moral position of the United States of America, the ultimate goal is to destroy the United States’ global standing and win the war of rhetorical power, by taking advantage of sympathy with the Palestinians around the world. China also tried to put pressure on the Israeli occupation, which acts as if it is above international law. Here, China did not yield to Israeli counter-propaganda, nor did it pay attention to Tel Aviv’s considerations, such as whoever is not with me is against me, nor even to American pressure. It refused to condemn the Palestinian resistance to the Hamas movement, and even used China, along with its Russian ally, to veto draft American decisions in the UN Security Council to condemn the Hamas movement and its attack on Israeli settlements and military sites in the Israeli settlement of the Gaza Strip.

   On the other hand, China is trying to play some of its economic cards to pressure Israel to stop the war, such as not sending its workers to Israel to fill the void left by calling up reserve soldiers and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Israelis abroad.  According to the Israeli government, there were approximately 30,000 Chinese workers working in Israel, most of them in the construction sectors, before the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, but a large number of them fled after the war began, and the Israeli government estimated that 10,000 Chinese workers left Tel Aviv.  Since then, up to 120,000 Palestinian workers have been forced to give up work in the Israeli construction sector, after the Israeli government canceled their work permits as a result of the war. The report of the “Poverty and Inequality” in Israel after Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood” was also issued by the Israeli National Insurance Institute immediately after the Gaza War. This report showed that about 1.98 million people lived below the poverty line inside Israel, constituting about 20% of the population, noting that about 50% of them are already working.

  There are also many reasons for job loss for Israeli workers themselves, including: absence due to military service in the reserve forces, suspension of studies in schools and universities, and the employee avoiding coming to work due to the state of emergency. This represents a major crisis facing the Israeli economy since the start of the war on the Gaza Strip, and is represented by the failure to attract cheap foreign labor to Tel Aviv, led by Chinese labor, on which basic sectors within Israel depend, such as the building and construction sectors and cheap manual and craft professions. Israel relies on these cheap expatriate Chinese workers to maintain the workforce in Tel Aviv in the construction and agricultural sectors, which are jobs that local Israeli residents reject, due to low wages and high hardship.

 The Israeli Building Association, which was created to represent different sectors in the building and construction sector inside Israel, after the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation, also stated that it hopes to bring more than 100,000 Chinese and Asian workers in the building and construction sector to Tel Aviv, to replace the workers.  Palestinians whose Israeli work permits were revoked.  But Israel failed to attract more cheap Chinese and Asian expatriate workers, especially with the increasing intensity of the battles taking place against Hamas and the Palestinian resistance militias, which represents a challenge for Tel Aviv, due to the bad reputation of Israeli working conditions.

  Therefore, the Israeli government and the Israeli Immigration and Employment Office resorted to employing thousands of cheap expatriate Chinese workers in such sectors, to replace the Palestinians who were doing these jobs, which, on the other hand, caused a rise in the unemployment rate among Palestinian workers to replace them with Chinese and Asian workers.  Here, the 48 Palestinian Arabs are considered the most affected, whether on the social or economic level, as they are considered the weakest link regarding the high rates of unemployment, poverty rates, and food insecurity.  After the outbreak of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the Bank of Israel conducted a comprehensive survey of Palestinian and foreign workers coming to Israel immediately after the Gaza War. It became clear that the crisis of employing Palestinian Arab workers in 1984 had worsened and increased due to the war, in addition to the decision to arrest them.  From working in the Israeli labor market, or being granted unpaid leave until further notice, or because they were not called to work in light of the decline in economic activity. The “Bank of Israel” survey also confirmed the existence of a severe shortage and paucity of workers in the building and construction branch in Israel after the Gaza War, due to preventing the entry of Palestinian workers, and the departure of thousands of Chinese and foreign workers from the country as a result of the war. This shortage of Chinese and Asian workers working in the construction sector has led to the partial closure of construction sites and a severe decline in productivity in this sector.

 In addition to another analytical point, which the Egyptian researcher noticed as a specialist in Chinese political affairs and its relationship with Israel, which was the objection of Palestinian workers in the first place to work in the sector of building illegal and illegal Israeli settlements in accordance with international and UN resolutions, so Israel’s decision was to attract cheap Chinese and Asian workers to work in the building and construction sectors in their place, with a firm and strict objection by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the matter related to the work of its workers in building illegal settlements and demanding their immediate dismissal and cancellation of their work permits, which is what Tel Aviv circumvents, by attracting illegal Chinese workers to enter,  That is, those who entered the Israeli border through smuggling without legal residency. We find that this plan has suited Israel to a large extent. Because the workers who come for a limited period, they receive the minimum wage, and their accommodation is very cheap because they live in poor housing and work long days.

   Here lies the Israeli astonishment that Beijing did not express condemnation of Hamas even with the killing of 4 Chinese citizens in the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation launched by Hamas. Rather, after that, Foreign Minister Wang Pei described, during his chairing a discussion session in the Security Council at the end of November 2024, the actions of the Israeli army. It is a policy of collective punishment, while describing the policy of transferring Palestinian civilians inside Gaza as a policy of forced displacement of them.  The Israeli press also accused Chinese politics of sponsoring what it considered anti-Israel propaganda on social media to influence world public opinion.  Israeli diplomats also felt frustrated because they accused the Chinese authorities of covering up the stabbing incident of the Israeli deputy consul at the Israeli embassy in the capital, Beijing, by a man in Beijing believed to be an extremist from the Israeli point of view.

  What is more evident than Chinese dissatisfaction with Israel’s policy of arrogance is the position of China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations “Zhang Jun” and his boycott of Israel’s representative to the United Nations “Gilad Erdan”, because of his scathing statements against the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and UN Women, during Beijing’s presidency of the UN Security Council, when they criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children and women and deliberately bombed them, and Zhang Jun’s request to his Israeli counterpart at the United Nations “Erdan” to show respect to the participants in the session.

  On the other hand, we can confirm the Chinese bias towards the Palestinians, through several positions taken by Beijing, including that it highlighted the right of the return of Palestinian refugees to their country, and did not condemn Hamas, but rather, together with Russia, prevented a resolution in the UN Security Council to condemn the movement, and in November 2023  China itself, as the international president of the Council at the time, led emergency discussions aimed at condemning Israel.  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went further, describing the Israeli bombing of civilians in Gaza as actions that go beyond the scope of self-defense.

  On the economic side, China is working to obstruct its dual-use civil-military exports to Israel, which Israel considered, and that Beijing is imposing sanctions on them, against the backdrop of the war in Gaza.  The Chinese Shipping Company, known as the China Shipping Company, which called “OOCL”, which also decided stopping all its flights to and from Israel in the Red Sea without specifying a specific date for returning again, which represented another blow to the Israeli economy.  A number of Israeli importers also confirmed that Chinese suppliers have begun bureaucratic practices without announcing sanctions against Israel and have demanded that many forms be filled out. They are delaying shipment under the pretext of not filling out the forms correctly, and the result is difficulties in obtaining supplies.  All Israeli high-tech companies also complained about delays in supplying components for civilian and military dual use from China.  Israeli importers also complained that importing through a third party caused a problem with high costs and delayed delivery time.

   According to the previous analysis, we understand the extent of tension in China’s relations with Tel Aviv after the Gaza War and before it as well, which sparked anger and dissatisfaction among all parties within Israel, especially with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs deliberately using the terms Palestine and Israel as two parties to acts of violence, and not mentioning specific factions.  Such as Hamas, which rejected the UN resolution to condemn it as a terrorist organization along with Russia.  There were also multiple objections to the Israeli embassy in the Chinese capital, Beijing, by “Yuval Waks”, the deputy Israeli ambassador to the Israeli embassy in Beijing.  A number of American officials also went in the same direction, such as Majority Leader in the US Senate “Chuck Schumer”, who led a delegation on a visit to Beijing after the Gaza War on October 7, 2023. During his visit to China, he announced his anger over the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s statement, whereas he considered that China did not sympathize with Israel or support it during what he called the difficult times it was going through.  Hence, we understand that the Chinese position on what happened on October 7 has roots connected to it, especially with Israel expressing its approval of the proposal of an American project competing with the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, which passes from India to Europe via Israel.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit