A piece on child labor in Palestine, by Matt Surrusco, at the World Policy Journal, reports illegal Israeli settlements’ use of children, aged 13-17, for agricultural work, as documented by a Palestinian group, the Ma’an Development Center. Employment of children under 18, on an exploitative basis, violates international law.
Chris [Whitman, formerly of Ma’an] jots down all the Jordan Valley settlements that he knows employ children: Tomer, Petza’el, Argaman, Yafit, Na’ama, Niran, Gilgal, Netiv Hagedud, Qalia, Beit HaArava, Ro’i.
Though Argaman does not have nearly the number of child laborers as Tomer, Chris says Argaman—the second Israeli settlement built in the Jordan Valley, and the third in the West Bank—has a long history. For Hamza [Zbeidat, of Ma’an] … Argaman was where he first learned about settlements, working with his father and brothers as a child…
Hamza’s work has also focused on 31 Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley, including Argaman, the settlement nearest [the Palestinian village of] Zbeidat.
Many of the men and boys in this West Bank village—including some children as young as 13—work on Argaman’s farms. They earn below the Israeli minimum wage, receive no social security or health benefits from their Israeli employers, and have no job security. Many are hired on a daily basis by a Palestinian intermediary, a waseet, contracted by the Israeli farm owner to recruit Palestinian laborers. Some 500 to 1,000 Palestinian children work on Jordan Valley agricultural settlements, according to Ma’an. The workers, some 10,000 to 20,000 Palestinians, plant, harvest, transport, clean, and package settlement produce for sale mostly in European markets. “The whole point of the agricultural settlement is exports,” Chris says. Unlike a kibbutz, or cooperatively owned farm, Argaman is a moshav, a farming settlement, where settlers own some of the land in common, though most is privately owned.
Under international law, enshrined in Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel has signed, participating nations must “recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The convention defines a child as any person under 18. International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and Israeli and Palestinian child labor laws set the minimum age to work as 15, but for employment considered hazardous to a young person’s health or safety, the minimum age is 18.
In the Jordan Valley, many child laborers, aged 13 to 17, work before and after school and on breaks, averaging six to seven hours daily. But in Zbeidat and other villages, some leave school before graduating to work full time and help support their families. Few teenagers return to finish their education after starting to work full time. The physically demanding labor puts children at risk of exposure to pesticides, skin cancer from working long hours in the sun, and fatigue, resulting in stunted growth and bodily injury. Moreover, children are not monitored, work long hours, and are doing jobs not suitable for their age nor physical capacities, says Mira Nasser, a child labor program coordinator in the ILO’s Jerusalem office. “There are more children dropping out of schools entering the labor market to work,” she adds.
Despite the low pay and taxing physical labor, young Palestinians go to work on settlements because there are few other jobs. In the Jericho governorate, which includes Zbeidat, the unemployment rate is among the highest in the West Bank—19 percent. In Zbeidat, at least two generations have worked on Argaman, where labor relations between the earliest Israeli settlers and older Palestinian residents stretch back a generation further.
Surrusco concludes that a peace deal would help end the practice. Barring that possibility, the Palestinian Authority should crack down on the waseet system, and “at a minimum, the Israeli government must enforce its own labor laws on territory it says is under its jurisdiction. This means prosecuting Israelis who illegally employ children, do not offer workers minimum wages and social benefits, and fail to adhere to safety protocols required by law, including medical examinations for children.” Yes, the Israeli government controls these lands. And Palestinians have no vote over that government.