Days of Palestine, Jerusalem –Watch: Illegal Israeli settlers exploit Palestinian child labour to work in illegal Jewish settlement in occupied West Bank, HRW said on Monday.
The Palestinian children are being used by the illegal Israeli settlers to grow, harvest, and pack agricultural produce, much of it for export, a report by Human Rights Watch said.
According to the report, the illegal Israeli farmers pay the Palestinian children low wages and subject them to dangerous working conditions in violation of international standards.
The 74-page report, “Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labour in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank,” documents that children as young as 11 work on some settlement farms, often in high temperatures.
It said that Palestinian children carry heavy loads, are exposed to hazardous pesticides, and in some cases have to pay themselves for medical treatment for work-related injuries or illness.
“Israeli settlements are profiting from rights abuses against Palestinian children,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director.
“Children from communities impoverished by Israeli discrimination and settlement policies are dropping out of school and taking on dangerous work,” she said, “because they feel they have no alternatives, while Israeli authorities turn a blind eye.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 38 children and 12 adults who work on seven settlement farms in the occupied Jordan Valley area, which covers about 30 percent of the occupied West Bank and where most large illegal agricultural settlements are located.
Discriminatory Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to farmland and water in the West Bank, particularly in the Jordan Valley, a traditional centre of Palestinian agriculture, cost the Palestinian economy more than $700 million each year, HRW report cited World Bank estimates.
Human rights violations
Palestinian poverty rates in the Jordan Valley are up to 33.5 percent, among the highest anywhere in the West Bank. Some Palestinians lease agricultural lands from Israeli settlers, to whom Israeli authorities allocated the lands after unlawfully appropriating them from Palestinians.
Israeli policies that support the transfer of civilians into occupied territory and Israeli appropriation of land and resources there for settlements violate Israeli obligations as the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention, HRW said.
These violations are compounded by rights abuses against Palestinians working in the settlements, including children.
Israeli occupation has allocated 86 percent of the land in the Jordan Valley to illegal settlements, and provides vastly greater access to water from the aquifer beneath the valley to the settlement agricultural industry than to the Palestinians living in the valley.
HRW said that the Israeli agricultural settlements export a substantial amount of their produce abroad, including to Europe and the United States.
Official statistics are not available, but Israeli and Palestinian development and labour rights groups estimate that hundreds of children work in Israeli agricultural settlements year-round, and that their numbers increase during peak harvesting times.
No safe work conditions
The children whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had suffered nausea and dizziness. Some said they had passed out while working in summer temperatures that frequently exceed 40 degrees Celsius outdoors, and are even higher inside the greenhouses in which many children work.
Other children said they had experienced vomiting, breathing difficulties, sore eyes, and skin rashes after spraying or being exposed to pesticides, including inside enclosed spaces.
Some complained of back pain after carrying heavy boxes filled with produce or “backpack” containers of pesticide.
Of the children interviewed for the report, 33 had dropped out of school and were working full-time on Israeli settlements. Of these, 21 had dropped out before completing the 10 years of basic education that are compulsory under Palestinian as well as Israeli laws.
According to news reports and settlement and company websites, Europe is a significant export market for settlement agricultural products, and some products are exported to the US.
The US Department of Labour maintains and publishes a list of more than 350 products from foreign countries that are produced with the use of forced labour or child labour in other countries, but has not included Israeli settlement products on the list.
Other countries and businesses should uphold their own responsibilities not to benefit from or contribute to the human rights abuses against the Palestinians in the West Bank by ending business relationships with settlements, including imports of settlement agricultural produce, HRW said.
“The settlements are the source of daily abuses, including against children,” Whitson said. “Other countries and businesses should not benefit from or support them.”