Saturday, October 24, 2020

Palestinian youth on the fields of Settlers

By F.F. Dawkins - July 18, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Jordan Valley] [settlements]

With the average age of 22.4 years, Palestine's population is among the youngest in the world. As a result of the ongoing Israeli occupation, deteriorating economic situation and a lack of future prospects in the West Bank and Gaza, the most vulnerable of the Palestinian population, the youth, run a high risk of exploitation.

According to a labour force survey from the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics from 2018, 4 per cent of all children aged 10-17 were employed in the West Bank. 

One of these children is Mahmoud Zubeidat. He lives in a small village of 1,800 inhabitants called Zubeidat, located in the Jordan Valley about 54 km north-east of Jerusalem in the West Bank. When Mahmoud turned 13, he dropped out of school and started working on the Argaman settlement farm next to his village.

“I am working up to 10 hours a day,” Mahmoud told Palestine Monitor. When asked if he has any days off, he said, “It varies, sometimes I have, sometimes I have not. It depends on what the Jew wants”. 

Founded in 1968, Argaman, under international law, is an illegal settlement in the West Bank, which inhabited 128 settlers in 2017. Israeli authorities confiscated 120 hectares of land from surrounding Palestinian villages for the foundation of the settlement. 

Like many other Palestinians from this region, Mahmoud’s job includes harvesting arugula, dates and crops for a daily salary of 60 Shekels (USD$17), which is severely below the Israeli minimum wage. The fruits and vegetables picked by Mahmoud are mainly exported to Europe.

Project manager for the NGO Jordan Valley Solidarity, Rashid Khardiri explained the biggest economic sector of the Jordan Valley, namely agriculture, employs many children

“They normally start working on the farms at the age of 12 to 13. They collect dates, clean vegetables, or spray pesticides; up to eight hours or more per day,” Khardiri told Palestine Monitor.

Located in Area C, nearly 95 per cent of the Jordan Valley is under Israeli control. Only small villages, like Fasayel or Zubeidat, are designated as Area B and therefore under the joint Israeli-Palestinian control

The economic prospects and infrastructure of this area are heavily limited. The construction of schools or basic facility projects requires a permit from the Israeli authorities. In September 2018, 102 construction permits by Palestinians were requested from which only five have been approved, making the chances of receiving a construction permit vanishingly low.

These limitations on the economy of the villages create a substantial economic dependence of the villagers to the settlement farms. Around 10-30 per cent of the Palestinian population in the Jordan Valley works in the settlement farms.

Hamza Zubeidat was born in the same village as Mahmoud and worked for four years in the fields of Argaman settlement. He was eventually able to quit his job on the fields and now works as a human rights analyst for Ma’an Development Center visualising projects in the Jordan Valley. “The people in the villages start working in the settlements because they are poor and don’t have land anymore,” Hamza Zubeidat explained.

“Some children drop out of school as soon as they start working on the farms. As there is no economic prospect, they prefer to earn money and support their families instead of losing time in the school. The most common reasons why they start working are a lack of jobs, the support of their families and the wish to build a house and have a family”.

Mahmoud is now 15 years old and will continue to work on the fields; without a contract or insurance. The working conditions on the field are harsh, with temperatures rising to 40 degrees and a lack of protection. Mahmoud has not yet been injured, but injuries are not uncommon. 

“Some of the farmers pay for the hospital treatment when the children get injured, but as they do not have any insurance the children and their families struggle with the long-term treatment costs,” explained Hamza.

Legal requirements, but no enforcement

Israel and Palestine have ratified the United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the ratifying country is obliged to protect the child from “economic exploitation” and “work that is likely […] hazardous […] to the child’s education or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development”. 

Among other conventions ratified by Israel, several labour courts and the Israeli Supreme Court have decided that Israel’s domestic labour laws, and therefore the protection of the workers, also employs to foreigners and Palestinian working in the settlements. 

Nevertheless, a report of Human Rights Watch shows that this order is not implemented in reality.

“Israel doesn’t consider most human rights treaties or treaties that have protection to apply to its conduct to the West Bank,” explained Omar Shakir, Director of Israel and Palestine Human Rights Watch. 

To make the domestic labour laws efficient inspectors would need to surveil the enforcement of the laws. Shakir explained that the actual situation for child labourers shows that these inspections are either inefficient or never take place. 

“Even under Israeli law there are dozens of outposts that are illegal, so we are talking about a context where impunity is the norm,” Shakir explained. The lacking enforcement of labour laws is, therefore, a structural problem given to the illegal nature of the settlements and the resulting impunity for the settlers. 

“[Settlements] are areas of rogue unlawful activity,” Shakir concluded. “So it is expected that foreign or Palestinian labour suffers from serious human rights abuses, like child labour, working under difficult conditions and so on.”


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