by EA Maria, Jordan Valley team,
Now back in Sweden, Maria spent much of her recent service as an EA with EAPPI in in the Jordan Valley, in the east of the occupied Palestine. In this blog Maria writes about her meeting with Bisam, a 14 year old who left school to work in an agricultural settlement in the Jordan Valley. 20- 04 -2015
Bisam has a soft, friendly face. His voice breaks when he talks and he seems a little shy. Maybe he wonders what all the fuss is about? Why are we sitting there, three Western women, looking at him with serious eyes? Why are we asking weird questions? What do we do with the answers we’re jotting down in our notebooks?
Bisam is fourteen years old, he works in an Israeli settlement next to his village of Fasayil al Foqa in the north eastern West Bank. He picks dates and bell peppers for about 10 shekels (approximately €2:30) per hour. The dates and the vegetables they harvest and pack are exported to the EU and the US markets. A few months ago he dropped out of school to work in the settlement full-time.
“I wanted to help my dad to feed the family; it is better if we share the burden,” says Bisam.
I can not work out whether Bisam himself made the decision to leave school, or if it was his dad; perhaps it was both of them. Either way it appears that the families economic situation was a deciding factor.
Bisam gives the look of a nonchalant teenager when I ask if there is anything difficult or dangerous about the work he dose? “No no. Nothing.” he replies. Personally, I feel that working outdoors or in the greenhouses during the hot summer months, when temperatures often go above forty degrees is not suitable work for a child.
A recent report by Human Rights Watch shows that Bisam’s story is far from unique. Human Rights Watch asserts that Palestinians as young as 11 work on settlement farms in unsafe conditions, including working in high temperatures, carrying heavy loads and being exposed to pesticides. Of the 30 children interviewed for the report all of them are working without contracts of employment, earning well below the minimum wage. Insurance and compensation for accidents and illness are generally non-existent. If protective equipment is used, it is still not adapted to the pesticides the children deal with. Notably the majority of the child labourers who were interviewed for the report had either dropping out of school or were falling behind in their studies.
All this is contrary to both Israeli, Palestinian and international law. “Both Israel and Palestine are party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognize the right of the child to be protected from being exploited economically and performing work that is likely to be hazardous or interfere with the child’s schooling. In addition, Israel is party to International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions 138 and 182. Under those conventions, Israel has affirmed a minimum age of employment of 15 (permitting “light work” for children of ages13 and 14) and agreed to prohibit hazardous work for any child under age 18. Israeli law provides that a child may be employed only as an apprentice during the period of compulsory schooling (up to tenth grade in Israel).” Human Rights Watch report 2015, p4.
We sit on the shady veranda, the hottest hours are over and a pleasant breeze sweeps past us. Bisam’s siblings, eight in total, sit around us, listening in silence. I ask Bisam, what are your hopes for them?
Bisam replies “I hope they’ll go to school and study.”
Agriculture or herding were traditionally the main source of income for Palestinians living in the Jordan Valley. However, since the 1990s when Israel assumed full control of 60% of the West Bank including 95% of the Jordan Valley, all this changed.
The vast majority of the Jordan Valley is now closed to Palestinian development, settlers directly control 50% of the land and the Israeli Military control another 45%.
There are 23 Palestinian communities in Area C of the Jordan Valley, 31 Israeli settlements and seven outposts. While International law regards these settlements as illegal the Government of Israel indirectly incentivises them by provided them with services and amenities. Meanwhile, it restricts Palestinians ability of to build, access water, land and resources in Area C. The cumulative impact of these restrictive planning and zoning policies has been dispossession, displacement of the Bedouin and herding communities from Area C as well as a stifling of the Palestinian economy and high poverty rates. Today increasing numbers of Palestinians are turning to settlements for employment. Many of the people we talk to say that work in the Israeli settlements, though it comes with a stigma, is the only option left open to them to make a living.
Fasayil al Foqa, where Bisam lives is no exception to this trend. Located in Area C of the north-eastern West Bank, this village and its 800 residents are under full Israeli control. The village, is not connected to a water network therefore residents purchase tanked water which is over ten times the price of piped water. In addition the majority of the arable land in the area is occupied by settlements this forces farmers to buy expensive animal feed in order to sustain their herds. These high costs make it extremely difficult for farmers to extract a living from agriculture, their traditional source of livelihood. The proximity of Bisam’s village to the thriving Israeli settlements of Tomer and Pertza’el, Ma’ale Ephraim, Gigal, Netiv, Hagedud and Yafit make its disadvantaged status all the more poignant.
Human Rights Watch: “Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labor in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank,”
Haaretz: “Israeli right-wing party drops bid to have labor law apply in West Bank”
Collaborative report: Trading away peace; How Europe helps to sustain illegal Israeli settlements.
European Council on Foreign Relations report on “EU differentiation and Israeli settlements”
Ma’an Development: Palestinian Child Laborers in Agricultural Settlements in the Jordan Valley
B’Tselem: Acting the Landlord, Israel’s Policy in Area C of the West Bank
The EIRIS Foundation has recently launched a database on companies doing business in occupied lands, including the settlements in occupied Palestine. You can search the database here.