Jerusalem: The Human Rights Watch on Monday slammed the alleged abuse of Palestinian children working on Israeli settlement farms in the occupied West Bank.
Hundreds of children, some as young as 11, have been working for low wages and in “hazardous” conditions on settler farms in the Israeli-occupied sector of the Jordan Valley, Human Rights Watch said in a 74-page report.
The head of the Jordan Valley’s settler community dismissed the report outright as “lies.”
The report, entitled Ripe for Abuse, added that Europe and the US were significant export markets for agricultural produce grown on Israeli settlement farms.
“Israel’s settlements are profiting from rights abuses against Palestinian children,” HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement.
“Children from communities impoverished by Israel’s discrimination and settlement policies are dropping out of school and taking on dangerous work because they feel they have no alternatives, while Israel turns a blind eye.”
The report, based on the accounts of 38 Palestinian children and 12 adults working on settler farms, said that minors sometimes worked more than 60 hours a week in hot temperatures picking and spraying vegetables.
"Many suffered cuts and injuries from sharp knives and machinery, and some suffered from vomiting and dizziness after spraying pesticides with “little protection,” it said.
HRW urged Israel to ban employment of Palestinian children on settlements in areas the Jewish state controls.
“Israeli labor laws prohibit youth from carrying heavy loads, working in high temperatures, and working with hazardous pesticides, but Israel has not applied these laws to protect Palestinian children working in its settlements,” the New York-based watchdog said.
The head of Israel’s settler community in the Jordan Valley dismissed the report. “They’ve made up lies. The entire goal of this organization (HRW) is to sully Israel’s image,” David Elhayani, himself a former farmer, told AFP.
“If they’d show me a farmer employing a child, I’d report it to police immediately", he added.
Elhayani said it was simply not worth it for Jordan Valley farmers to hire minors due to the relative complexity of the agricultural work there.
A farmer would also lose his exporting license if he were caught employing a minor, Elhayani said. He did however acknowledge there are “Palestinian contractors who come for very specific jobs for a short period of time, when increased manpower is needed.”
“If some child infiltrates (works on a farm through a contractor), I have no way of knowing,” he said, stressing that no Jordan Valley farmers directly employed minors. HRW said that in at least one case, a Palestinian middleman had “supplied Palestinian workers to settlers.”
HRW also called on the US and Europe to exclude settlement produce from the preferential tariffs provided to Israeli export products.
“Europe is a significant export market for settlement agricultural products, and some products are exported to the US. The EU has moved to exclude Israeli settlement products from the preferential tariff treatment it provides to Israeli goods... but (member states) have not instructed businesses to end” trade with settlement-based entities", it said.
“The US in practice continues to grant preferential treatment to Israeli settlement products under the US-Israel Free Trade Agreement", the report added.