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(Ismael Mohamad / United Press International)

Poverty drives Palestinian children to work in Israel’s agricultural settlement industry

Child Laborers in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the Jordan Valley, Palestine

About one month ago I wrote in my blog about the 60,000 indigenous Palestinians who live under the harsh conditions of the Israeli occupation in the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea area. Israel prohibits the Palestinians from using 94% of their land. Supported by Israel, 9,500 settlers have developed profitable agricultural businesses in the occupied Jordan Valley – in contravention of international law. The impact of Israel’s policies on Palestinian children becomes painfully clear in a video produced by Maan Development Center. In addition, Maan wrote a fact sheet that I received prior to publication.

Being forced to let him work makes me feel sick in my stomach, says a boy’s father

Sixteen-year-old Mohammed lives in Fasayil in the Jordan Valley. The story of Mohammed and his family is exemplary of the impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian life.

“I want to become a mechanic, but we don’t have enough money for that. So instead I work in the settlements, which is hard work. I have to move heavy boxes of vegetables, which I cannot really do, but I’m forced to,” he says in the video.

His father explains that the family has only five dunums of land (1 dunum is 1,000 square meters). To cultivate one dunum costs 2000 NIS (around US$ 530). “What can five dunums do for a big family? And you know, we are under occupation. We cannot export or obtain good prices in our markets. And when the prices improve, Israeli produce floods our markets. When checkpoints are closed, our products are damaged. So these are the reasons why my son Mohammed is forced to leave school and work in the settlements.”

The son of Mahmoud Zbeidat also works for Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley. He says in the video, “I want my son Ismail to become a doctor. I hope that all my children are happy in their lives. Any father would want their kids to become successful and better their lives. They don’t want to see their kids working for settlers. When I see my child going to the settlement at 6 am and wasting his life, in order to make money so that we can eat, I feel sick in my stomach about it, I’m forced to let him work.”

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Video screenshot shows 15-year-old Omar from Jiftlik explaining why he is working for Israeli settlers.

Child labor in the illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley 

Deep poverty and a poor education system push children to work in the agricultural settlements of the Jordan Valley.

A report (in Arabic) published by Maan reveals that between 500 and 1,000 Palestinian children work for Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley - some as young as 13. Many of the children are from the Jordan Valley - others come from different parts of the occupied West Bank. They pick, clean and package fruit and vegetables. The children have to work in the simmering summer heat of 50 degrees Celsius and also in the cold of winter when the temperature drops to 0 degrees Celsius. They start work as early as 5.30 in the morning and continue until two o’clock in the afternoon. They drop out of school because the work hours overlap with school hours.

According to Maan, most child laborers are informally employed and therefore receive no benefits. They “earn” 50-60 NIS (US$ 13-15) per day. Their wages are less than the wages of Palestinian adult males, who earn 60-100 NIS (US$16-25) a day, about one-third of the official Israeli minimum wage.

Rights of the child

Israel has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that a child – a person under the age of 18 - should be brought up in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity. Instead, Israel’s illegal occupation has created a disastrous situation for Palestinian families. The poor economic situation drives Palestinian parents and their children to accept work in Israel’s agricultural settlements in the Jordan Valley. Children accept work that they have to perform under difficult conditions for a very low wage. They work in an informal sector without benefits or protection of labor laws. Some drop out of school to contribute to the family income.

“As official policy, children working in the settlements is forbidden. But there are agreements between the Palestinian Authority and Israel which prevents us from interfering with this,” Amjad Jaber, spokesperson for the Ministry of Labor in Jericho, makes this shocling statement in Maan’s video. He is wrong. Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international community have the duty to protect the rights of children.

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To cooperate with evil is to feed evil. Noncooperation,no matter the cost is the main tool to use in fighting such iniquity...