Israeli settlements in the West Bank are using Palestinian child laborers to grow, harvest and pack agricultural produce, Human Rights Watch said in a report published Monday. The claim was quickly rejected by an Israeli local council chief; the Foreign Ministry said it was studying the claim and would then issue a formal statement.
According to the 74-page report entitled “Ripe for Abuse: Palestinian Child Labor in Israeli Agricultural Settlements in the West Bank,” Palestinian children as young as 11 are paid low wages and work under dangerous conditions in violation of international standards.
The report was rejected as a “horrific lie” by local Israeli officials, who maintained that no Palestinian minors were employed by these settlements.
The report said that hundreds of children often work outdoors in high temperatures, carry heavy loads, and are exposed to hazardous pesticides. It also said that most do not have insurance for work-related illness or injuries.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at the New York-based organization, said that “Israel’s settlements are profiting from rights abuses against Palestinian children.”
Citing World Bank figures, the report also said Israeli restrictions on Palestinian access to farmland and water access in the Jordan Valley cost the Palestinian economy upwards of $700 million a year.
The report’s authors said they interviewed 38 children and 12 adults currently employed on seven settlement farms in the Jordan Valley.
Of the children that were interviewed, 33 said they dropped out of school and worked full time as laborers on Israeli settlements. Of those, 21 said they dropped out of school before completing the mandatory ten years of elementary education required under both Israeli and Palestinian law. In addition, the report said the child workers were paid in cash, did not have work contracts, and did not receive pay stubs.
The organization — which is often viewed as unjustly critical of Israel — called on countries and businesses to end relationships with Israeli settlements to discourage their alleged child labor policies.
David Elchaiiani, head of the Jordan Valley regional council, angrily rejected the findings, claiming the testimony in the report was fraudulent. He said the council employs 6,000 Palestinians every day, but no minors.
“It is a horrific lie,” Elchaiiani told Army Radio. “There is no justification for employing children, not just morally and legally but financially as well.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the report was being studied and that a formal reaction is forthcoming.
AP contributed to this report.