Jerusalem24 – Israeli settlement farms in the West Bank are using Palestinian child labor to grow, harvest, and pack agricultural produce, much of it for export, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The farms pay the children low wages and subject them to dangerous working conditions in violation of international standards.
Discriminatory Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to farmland and water in the West Bank, particularly in the Jordan Valley, a traditional center of Palestinian agriculture, cost the Palestinian economy more than US$700 million each year, according to World Bank estimates.
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 Israel allocated the lands after unlawfully appropriating them from Palestinians.
Israeli policies that support the transfer of civilians into occupied territory and Israel’s appropriation of land and resources there for settlements violate Israel’s obligations as the occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
These violations are compounded by rights abuses against Palestinians working in the settlements, including children, Human Rights Watch said. Israel should dismantle the settlements and, in the meantime, prohibit settlers from employing children in accordance with Israel’s obligations under international treaties on children’s rights and labor rights.
Virtually all the Palestinian children Human Rights Watch interviewed said they felt they had no alternative but to find work on settlement farms to help support their families.
Israel has allocated 86 percent of the land in the Jordan Valley to 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. 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 labor rights groups estimate that hundreds of children work in Israeli agricultural settlements year-round, and that their numbers increase during peak harvesting times.
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