Two construction workers were killed earlier this month while working on the Park Bavli Towers project in Tel Aviv.

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On the afternoon of February 10, workers Ahmad Ziad Asiad and Razi Abu Sabitan fell from the 42nd floor of the tower when the scaffolding holding them collapsed. Their deaths bring the total of workers killed on the job in Israel this year to eight, not even two months into 2022. 

Both Asiad and Abu Sabitan grew up in the At-Tur neighborhood in East Jerusalem. They studied at the same high school, six years apart. For the past two years, they worked together on the Park Bavli project in Tel Aviv. Each left the house at 5:00 am every morning and worked until 5:00 pm every evening, earning 350 shekels ($110) daily. They were both buried in the cemetery in At-Tur, and their relatives and friends performed the traditional Muslim three days of mourning at the Salman Al-Farsi Mosque in At-Tur.

“It was important to him to support his wife’s education”

Asiad, 26, was expecting his first daughter together with his wife Israa.

“He was so glad to hear about the pregnancy,” Mohammed Siad, Asiad’s uncle, said. “He was happy, pleased to hear it was a girl, he wanted to have a daughter.”

Siad described his nephew as a happy child who grew into a patient and well-loved adult. He longed to establish a household and therefore felt he had no choice but to pursue construction work, despite its known dangers.

“His wife is studying, and it was very important to him to support her education,” Siad said. “He wanted to provide a good future for his daughter on the way. He thought to stop working in construction, but construction work was the work that was available, and coronavirus put pressure on them with a baby on the way, so he kept working.”

Siad said that he tried to convince his nephew to give up construction work ever since he learned that he was expecting a child.

“He would respond, ‘I’m satisfied with this, they’re taking care of me,’” Siad recounted through tears. He told of another, minor injury that Asiad sustained a few months earlier.

“He slipped on the first floor [of the building] and was wounded. Nothing serious. He went on sick leave. After a week, he said to me, ‘Enough of this, I’m going back to work,’” Siad said.

A wedding had been planned for Asiad’s cousin the Saturday after his death.

“Ahmad was so happy about it, as though it was his little brother getting married,” Siad said. “He and my son were like brothers. All throughout the past few weeks, they were busy preparing. Just a few days ago, Ahmad finished making all the orders, he was so excited. Now, the wedding has been cancelled and my son sits by his grave in the rain for hours.”

“He had dreams to get married, to start a business, to buy a house”

Razi Abu Sabitan, 20, was the youngest in a family of six siblings. He is survived by four sisters and one brother. He had recently told his family of a plan to propose engagement to his partner of eight months. Following the wedding, he had planned to buy a small apartment in the Mount of Olives neighborhood in Jerusalem with the financial support of his father and brother.

“All of our messages on WhatsApp were pictures of houses. ‘The house looks like this,’ ‘It costs that.’ He had big dreams and plans for the future,” his brother Khaled Abu Sabitan said.

“He was a child, only 20 years old. He finished high school two years ago. He had so many dreams. He wanted to establish a family,” said Khaled, bursting into tears. “He wanted to start his own glasswork business, to get married, to have a house. That was all. He wanted to save up a little money for it, so he worked in construction. He had no other way to make money.”

Abu Sabitan had been working on the Park Bavli project for almost two years.

“He set it all up, he and Ahmad, from the beginning,” explained Khaled. “When he came home from work, our mother would beg him to stop working because of how dangerous it was. To calm her down, he would send her beautiful pictures from the scaffolding and write, ‘I’m up here with my friends, look at the beautiful view.’ Now my mother sits on the couch and can’t bring herself to speak to anyone.”

“He was a mama’s boy,” Khaled said. “He was always smiling, always laughing. Everyone loved him. He had the type of funeral a prime minister would have. The whole village was there with him in his final journey.”

“Where is this contractor? I would like to meet him”

Khaled Abu Sabitan described the complete shock he felt upon coming to identify his brother’s body at the construction site.

“When I saw him, I just collapsed," he said. "None of his limbs were intact. I couldn’t bring myself to have my sisters and my father come see him. I wanted them to remember him as he was, a beautiful child. I was afraid that if my father got too close he would have a heart attack.”

Many questions surrounding Abu Sabitan and Asiad’s death remain open.

“How can they have fallen if they were really properly secured? Where is this contractor? Do you all really value the lives of your workers so little?" he asked. "How do you place a worker on the 42nd floor and pay them 350 shekels for a full day of work? I want to meet the scum who act that way as an employer.

"Would the contractor be able to work that high up to make thirty shekels ($9.50) hourly? What should I say to the woman who should have been my brother’s wife? What will they tell Ahmed’s daughter when she is born? That the reason she is fatherless is because of faulty scaffolding?” Khaled Abu Sabitan asked.

The families were told that the Lahav 433 crime-fighting organization within the Israel Police will investigate the case and find the culprits.

“There are many contractors who treat their construction workers as though they are only a number,” Khaled Abu Sabitan said. “As though they are not people with families, with hopes, with dreams and plans for the future. Just a worker who takes their money and goes. It doesn’t make sense. Since the beginning of the year, seven young people have left for work and not come home. Why does no one care?”

Since the time of this interview, the number of construction workers killed this year has risen to eight.

This article was translated from Hebrew by Leah Schwartz.