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HRW report highlights mistreatment of children in Israeli settlement farms

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published a report entitled: "Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labour in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank". The 74-page report is based upon interviews with 38 children and 12 adults in Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley. Of these children, 33 had dropped out of school and were working full-time on Israeli settlements. The group recorded instances of children as young as 11 earning around US $19 for a full day's work (which could be up to 12 hours in harvest seasons).

The children interviewed mostly pick, clean and pack vegetables grown on Israeli settlement farms. According to the report, the work, which includes spraying poisonous pesticides without adequate protection and heavy duty lifting, has left the child workers experiencing vomiting, dizziness, skin rashes and body numbness. They often work in greenhouses where temperatures can reach up to 50 degrees Celsius. None of the children receive medical or social insurance benefits and the medical costs incurred as a result of work injuries or illnesses are not covered by the employer.

The employment of children violates international law, as well as Israeli and Palestinian law. According to HRW, Israeli labour courts and the country's Supreme Court have ruled consistently that Israeli labour law protections extend to Palestinian workers in settlements. Israeli labour laws specify a minimum age of employment of 15 (permitting "light work" for children of ages 13 and 14). It also prohibits those under 18 carrying heavy loads, working in high temperatures, and working with hazardous pesticides.

The estimated value of agricultural goods produced by settlements in the Jordan Valley and Dead Sea area totals around $128 million a year. The produce is shipped across the globe, ending up on supermarket shelves in Europe and the United States. The EU has moved to exclude Israeli settlement products from the preferential tariff treatment provided to Israeli goods under the EU-Israel Association Agreement. These settlement products, however, often continue to be sold under the "Made in Israel" label. The report states that Israel bundles settlement products together with Israeli goods for export to Europe and claims tariff-free status for the entire shipment. The foreign importers must determine the Israeli settlement products by scrutinizing the postcodes on each batch. Advice guidelines have been issued to importers in some EU member states but a ban on importing settlements goods is not in place.

The US in practice continues to grant preferential treatment to Israeli settlement products under the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement

States and businesses that continue to have trade relations with Israeli settlements must be held responsible. Their relationships not only sustain the internationally deemed illegal settlement industry, but legitimise and encourage its further development. The Israeli policies behind this industry advocate for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. For example, HRW states that 80,000 Palestinians live in the Jordan Valley-almost 90 percent of its population- but Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians mean that more than 94 percent of the Jordan Valley is off-limits to Palestinian land use. By contrast, Israel has allocated about 86 percent of the land in the Jordan Valley to the jurisdiction of settlement regional councils. Such restrictions force Palestinians to work in the settlement industry for below the minimum wage outlined in Israeli law, in unsafe conditions and with no job security.

This report not only highlights the above, but demonstrates that this industry is one that is also willing to employ children at the expense of their safety and future. Trade with such an industry must be brought to an end.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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