JERUSALEM (AP) — A leading international human rights group on Monday accused Jewish settlements in the West Bank of using Palestinian child labor in farming, calling it a violation of international law.
Human Rights Watch said the settlement farms, most of them in the Jordan Valley, employ children as young as 11, pay them low wages and subject them to dangerous working conditions. In a 74-page report, the New York-based group said hundreds of children work in the settlement farms, often in high temperatures, carrying heavy loads and are exposed to hazardous pesticides.
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 war and has built dozens of settlements there since. Palestinians from nearby villages often find employment there in construction and agriculture.
Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 38 children and 12 adults in Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley. According to the report, Palestinian children often drop out of school to pick, clean and pack asparagus, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, onions and dates, among other crops.
HRW says international law, as well as Israeli and Palestinian law, sets 15 as the minimum age of employment, though many of the children interviewed by the group said they began working at 13 or 14.
"Israel's settlements are profiting from rights abuses against Palestinian children," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "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."
Israel's Foreign Ministry said the report was being studied and that a formal reaction is forthcoming.
But David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley regional council, angrily rejected the findings, claiming the alleged accounts were fraudulent. He said the council employs 6,000 Palestinians every day, but no minors.
"It is a horrific lie," Elhayani told Israel's Army Radio. "There is no justification for employing children, not just morally and legally but financially as well."