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OPT: Toiling for a pittance on Israeli settler farms
Palestinian workers with recently picked produce at Tomer settlement
JERICHO, 18 June 2012 (IRIN) - Some 10,000 Palestinian labourers are being exploited on Israeli-owned farms in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, according to Abed Dari, coordinator of the Palestinian workers’ project at Kav LaOved, an Israeli NGO protecting labour rights.
Despite a ruling
by the Israeli Supreme Court in October 2007 that every Palestinian working for Israeli employers in the West Bank should be given the work benefits provided by Israeli law, this is not happening, Dari told IRIN.
"The high court decision enforced Israeli labour laws for Palestinians, which actually binds all settlements. But there is no enforcement. Israeli law sets the minimum wage at 180-190 shekels [US$46-49] for a full work day," said Eyal Hareuveni, an expert on the Jordan Valley from the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem.
"Applying foreign law on the Palestinian workers as opposed to applying Israeli law on the Israeli workers violates the Palestinian workers' basic rights and subjects them to discrimination," the Supreme Court stated
Palestinians have few options for independent economic activity in the Jordan Valley
, where they are prohibited from using about 87 percent of the area’s land, which falls within Israeli-controlled Area C and is made available for the use of Israeli settlements and the Israeli military.
"There is widespread poverty resulting from the overall situation in the Jordan Valley and the isolation of the area due to difficulties to access land and other restrictions," Isra Muzaffar, head of the central West Bank office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN.
The issue of workers’ rights is further complicated by Palestinian contractors who recruit them on behalf of the Israeli settlers. This way, employers can avoid dealing directly with the workers. Moreover, there is no written employment contract between the workers, the contractor and the employer, says Kav LaOved
"The contractors are a big problem. They try to get Palestinians for as cheap as possible so they can make more profit themselves," Abed Dari said. "We tried to get the Palestinian Authority to pressure these sub-contractors. But nothing happened."
The contractors also charge workers coming from other cities in the West Bank, such as Nablus, for transport, reducing their net pay to as little as $13 a day.
Kav LaOved has been representing workers from the Jordan Valley who took their employers to court. Most Palestinians are too scared to do such a thing.
"The settlements put pressure on Palestinians. All of them know each other and they act like a cartel. If one settlement knows that a guy named Muhammad sues another employer, he will fire all his family members," said Dari.
Dari said 150-200 children, some as young as 12, also worked on the farms. Other sources
estimate the number of child workers to be 500-1,000.
Muhammad, aged 15, who dropped out of school before the end of compulsory education set by the Palestinian Authority at 15, works in the greenhouses of the Israeli settlement of Tomer.
"The work is hard. Sometimes it is more than 50 degrees [centigrade] in the greenhouse," he said. For his nine-hour shift he is paid $18 per day, without being provided any insurance.
"It is mostly Israeli farmers and international companies who make the profit. They are exporting most of the products, such as peppers, spices, and especially dates, which have become the most important source of profit," said Eyal Hareuveni.
The children tend to work to support their impoverished families.
"Actually, I would like to become a car mechanic, maybe learn how to do it in Jericho. But that’s just not possible," Muhammad said, provoking an immediate explanation from his father.
"We simply can’t send him to Jericho. As an employee at a local school, I am earning only 1,700 Shekels [$430] per month. Only with Muhammad’s income are we able to get by," Khalid Rashayde said.