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Israeli settlements depend on 500-1000 Palestinian child laborers

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View of Jordan valley fields outside Argaman, Israeli settlement

View of Jordan valley fields outside Argaman, Israeli settlement. Photo from Panoramio

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.

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5 Responses

  1. adele
    March 21, 2014, 11:50 am

    I wonder how Scarlett (A for Apartheid) Johannson is going to justify child labor in the illegal Israeli Settlements?

    • W.Jones
      March 22, 2014, 1:45 am

      I wonder if anyone will ever make her address this. I didn’t even know it myself.

  2. Citizen
    March 21, 2014, 12:13 pm

    Thanks for this article Phil.
    On a related note in terms of abuse of Palestinian labor generally. Israeli manufacturers are really angry about the “Made In Israel” label on products made in the OT. They don’t like it that the Israeli government gives Jewish manufacturers operating in the OT special tax breaks, and the Israeli government does not require said manufacturers to comply with minimum labor standards enforced behind the green line.

    I think somebody needs to send a memo to Scarlett Johansson.

  3. just
    March 21, 2014, 2:25 pm

    Thanks for the exposé, Phil.

    Another one of the myriad of international laws that Israel breaks with impunity. These children are enslaved in their own land by squatter thieves.

  4. just
    March 21, 2014, 3:05 pm

    Whoah! Richard Falk drops an enormous bombshell of truth!

    “A UN human rights investigator accused Israel on Friday of “ethnic cleansing” in pushing Palestinians out of East Jerusalem and cast doubt that the Israeli government could accept a Palestinian state in the current climate.

    He spoke against a backdrop of deadlocked peace talks and accelerating Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem which Palestinians say is dimming their hope of establishing a viable state on contiguous territory.

    Israel says Palestinian refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state is the main obstacle. U.S. President Barack Obama this week pressed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to help break the impasse, saying both sides must take political risks before the April 29 deadline for a framework deal.

    Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, told a news conference that Israeli policies bore “unacceptable characteristics of colonialism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing”.

    “Every increment of enlarging the settlements or every incident of house demolition is a way of worsening the situation confronting the Palestinian people and reducing what prospects they might have as the outcome of supposed peace negotiations.”

    Asked about his accusation of ethnic cleansing, Falk said that more than 11,000 Palestinians had lost their right to live in Jerusalem since 1996 due to Israel imposing residency laws favoring Jews and revoking Palestinian residence permits.

    “The 11,000 is just the tip of the iceberg because many more are faced with possible challenges to their residency rights.”

    This compounded the “ordeal of this extended, prolonged occupation”, according to Falk, an international law expert and professor emeritus at Princeton University in the United States. ”


    “Falk, an American law professor who is Jewish, has come to the end of a six-year term in the independent post and the U.N. Human Rights Council is expected to name a successor soon.

    He has long drawn controversy in Israel, in 2008 comparing Israeli military strikes against Hamas in Gaza – during which 1,400 Palestinians were killed and there was widespread destruction in densely populated areas – to those of the Nazis.

    Last June he said critics who called him anti-Semitic sought to divert attention from his scrutiny of Israeli policies.

    He is to address the UN Human Rights Council on Monday, but it was not clear whether Israeli delegates would attend due to an ongoing strike by Israeli foreign ministry staff.”

    more here:

    Bravo, Mr. Falk!

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