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HRW: Palestinian children pass out, vomit, from farming with illegal pesticides on Israeli settlements

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Bad pay, hard labor, nasty skin rashes, and poor sleep in constructions sites are just the tip of work conditions found in Israeli agricultural settlements, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report released Monday. The 74-page “Israel: Settlement Agriculture Harms Palestinian Children” is a devastating look into underage Palestinian laborers farming for Israeli companies. Minors as young as 11 are interviewed about their work as farm hands in the Jordan Valley, a bread basket in the West Bank—rather a “date basket” as dates are the top export from the region, and Israel is the highest supplier of dates in the international market.

Children working on these farms are exposed to toxins that cause serious illness. “They handle pesticides that cause nausea, dizziness and skin rashes, and over the long-term, are associated with cancer, neurological problems, and infertility,” said the report. While no Israeli child would be given a backpack full of neurotoxins in order to spray a damp layer over produce, Palestinian children are. HRW noted Israel ruled back in 1992 these chemicals are illegal for minors to handle.

A 15-year old named Saleh who left school to work on an agricultural farm described the job:

My shoulders are numb from carrying the backpack that I spray the pesticides with – it’s a 15-liter tank. I spray for half an hour each time, then I refill the tank. I need to do this 15 times before I’m done, on the days I’m spraying. I don’t do it every day – the older guys spray every day.

HRW also found three teenagers who claimed to have vomited after spraying pesticides, among other ailments. “I have had rashes on my hands, sore eyes, and I’ve thrown up after spraying it. The boss tells us to go home until we get better,” said a 16-year old who worked in the settlement of Tomer.

During the summer months when schools are out of secession, more children are employed on the farms. One 16-year old who said he dropped out at age 14 described being fired from pepper picking and pesticide spraying after passing out five days in a row. At the time he was working in a greenhouse. “I took myself home when it happened the next day. On the third day, I took myself home, then to the hospital in Jericho, where they gave me headache pills and said it was heatstroke,” said the child.

The extreme heat inside these produce facilities can reach over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Incidentally, Israeli law forbids minors from working in temperatures above 104 degrees.

The labor force in the Jordan Valley settlements are almost entirely sourced from a black market enterprise. Palestinian middlemen, subcontractors who–for a price–assemble lots of workers for hire on settlements, are notorious for turning a blind eye to underage workers. They do not get their laborers binding employment contracts, and therefore Palestinians do not receive the benefits that are guaranteed to them by Israeli law.

By comparison Palestinians who are employed in settlement factories generally have work contracts. Often industrial zones are located inside of a settlement’s guarded gates. Workers must present documentation in order to enter. Because these workers are on the books, they have the ability to access certain labor protections enshrined under Israeli law. Israel allows workers to sue their settler employers for lost wages if they fall ill, or seek medical care inside of Israel free of charge for work related injuries. However, the farmers must pay for their own treatment in a lesser quality Palestinian hospital and do not get back-pay for sickness or injury, because they are undocumented workers.

Another testimony from a second Palestinian child aged 15 detailed employer pressures to not take breaks, including bathroom breaks. The young worker claimed if he did not keep up with the arduous pace outlined through daily quotas, he feared “black listing,” a practice where middlemen refuse to hire a worker, or the worker’s family in the future:

If you sit down while you’re working with peppers or grapes the supervisor will come and tell you to stand up and not take a break. We don’t get bathrooms – we get permission from the supervisor to go out in the fields. They are always yelling at us, not insulting us but saying, ‘Work faster, you’re too slow.’ There’s no respect for me there. The middleman will fire people in the morning, without giving them their pay for the day, like if they damage the fruit for example. You can’t switch middlemen, they would talk to each other and force you to go back to the first one you tried to quit on.

Amongst Palestinians, settlement jobs are plentiful and coveted—even with the labor abuses and transport fees. While Palestinian child date farmers on settlements earn almost half of what Israeli minimum wage dictates, the pay is still higher than the average salary in a Palestinian owned farm. For an eight-hour shift, HRW said, underage Palestinians are given an average of $19 per day. Many workers said their take-home pay was much lower, as Palestinian workers pay for their own travel to and from the farms. They often must ride in expensive taxis from their villages to the Israeli controlled areas.

Responding to the publication of the report, David Elhayani from the Jordan Valley Regional Council and previously a settler farmer told AFP, “They’ve made up lies. The entire goal of this organization [HRW] is to sully Israel’s image.” While Elhayani dismissed the overall findings, he did suggest that oversight is lacking when it comes to farms hiring Palestinians through middlemen. “If some child infiltrates [works on a farm through a contractor], I have no way of knowing,” he said, again to AFP.

As HRW noted, Israel has consistently said it is the Palestinian Authority that must investigate labor abuses experienced by Palestinians, including child workers. Yet the Palestinian Authority has no jurisdiction over settler agricultural tracts in the West Bank.

Research groups and governments do not document the exact number of minors working as farm hands, because most of the labor is unregulated. HRW estimates a few hundred to one-thousand are employed during high season. It’s worth mentioning HRW is not the first group to investigate Palestinian minors in Israeli settlements, or the health hazards they are exposed to. Ma’an Development Center has published extensively on the topic. HRW is, however, the first international non-government organization to conduct a lengthy, four-year inquiry.

Read the full report here.

Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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11 Responses

  1. oldgeezer on April 15, 2015, 12:46 pm

    Wow this incredibly shocking. This is child abuse on steroids.

    • seafoid on April 15, 2015, 3:11 pm

      There are no industrial standards for Jews in the West Bank. They can cut corners, they can use poisons or pesticides that are banned in Israel, they can dump toxic waste, they can dump sewage and they do all of it because Israel does not give a fuck about standards when it comes to where Palestinians live.

      The level of cruelty, shortsightedness and cynicism goes way beyond whatever moral cover Judaism could possibly give.

  2. eljay on April 15, 2015, 1:03 pm

    Palestinian middlemen, subcontractors who–for a price–assemble lots of workers for hire on settlements, are notorious for turning a blind eye to underage workers. They do not get their laborers binding employment contracts, and therefore Palestinians do not receive the benefits that are guaranteed to them by Israeli law.

    “Jewish State” is unjust and immoral and these “Palestinian middlemen” are Satan’s little helpers. Shame on all of them.

    • Marnie on April 16, 2015, 1:29 am

      The middlemen, or “overseers”, are doing what the settlers believe they are above doing. Settlers work? Never! They are the biggest welfare recipients in the world. The settlements fit the bill for the american/european expatriots who have a hard-on for plantation life. They’re the masters there. But I wonder if they’re prepared for the flip side. Some day a rain will fall and return their poison to its source and they and their equally hideous offspring can choke, vomit and die on the fruits of their evil.

  3. Kathleen on April 15, 2015, 1:03 pm

    So disturbing. More evidence of Israel’s effort to systematically beat down, infect, destroy Palestinians. Reminds one of blankets being inoculated with smallpox and given to Native Americans. Know there are questions surrounding these claims. Although not hard to believe since Native Americans were massacred without much hesitation.

  4. amigo on April 15, 2015, 2:21 pm

    Excuse me but Israel has to keep it,s economy strong.This is probably part of what jeffy boy had in mind when he claimed successful societies are built on the backs of poor people.Rich folks invest their hard earned moollah in pesticides and give jobs to poor people who would otherwise die of starvation.How very very generous of these titans of humanity.

    Right catalan/Ivri/Mayhem/Yonah/jeffy boy et al.

  5. Walid on April 16, 2015, 3:32 am

    “… as dates are the top export from the region, and Israel is the highest supplier of dates in the international market. – ” (Allison)

    Allison shouldn’t believe everything the Israelis tell her. Israel may be the highest exporter of a certain type of date known as the “majdool”, which totals about 20,000 tonnes annually that goes mostly to Europe; it’s still a far cry from being the world’s largest producers of overall dates. Nonetheless, over half of Israel’s exported dates are grown on stolen Palestinian land which is currently the target of various Europen BDS chapters, especially the one in Leeds. In overall date production, Israel is somewhere between 20th and 25th in the world with Egypt, Saudia, Iran and the UAE each producing over a million tonnes annually .

    Last year, the Saudis accused the Israelis of buying the relatively cheaper-priced dates from Saudia and reselling them at a higher markup elsewhere. Canada and the US are known to be doing the same thing and repackaging the Saudi dates and reselling them at a much higher price.

  6. pabelmont on April 16, 2015, 9:54 am

    Be nice if EU would refuse to buy products made in such unsafe, slave-labor conditions. Be nice if USA would do the same, for Israel, for Mexico, etc. Higher agricultural costs would result, a benefit for workers everywhere. Instead we have a ‘race to the bottom” on labor conditions. (Think: NAFTA, TPP, etc.).

  7. RockyMissouri on April 16, 2015, 11:37 am

    DISGUSTING AND INHUMAN..!!

  8. Boomer on April 16, 2015, 11:55 am

    Disturbing, as is so much news from Palestine. It is a shame that it is not reported widely in the U.S. news media. I did hear a short report on the BBC about the difficulties Palestinians face in exporting olive oil. I searched for it, and found a longer report from the BBC from last year.
    http://m.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-30290052
    My search also revealed that the report elicited complaints about the BBC’s “biased” reporting.

  9. oldgeezer on April 16, 2015, 1:12 pm

    Apparently Israel did not live up to it’s 2013 agreement to stop it’s deceptive labelling of settlement products. Who can be surprised that an agreement with Israel is not worth the paper it’s written on or the time and effort to obtain.

    And the GoI has the temerity to complain about the trustworthiness of it’s opponents.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/16/foreign-ministers-petition-eu-to-urge-labelling-of-settlement-products

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