Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization for human rights reported today that Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank are using Palestinian minors as laborers in agriculture fields, a practice that is contrary to international law.

In a 74-page report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that Israeli settlements, mostly in the Jordan Valley, employ children as young as 11 years old, mainly in agricultural work for which they typically receive very low wages.

The report also stresses that children endure long hours under high temperatures, lift heavy materials and are exposed to dangerous pesticides.

The document was prepared with the testimonies of some of the children working in the Jewish settlements and suggests that in some cases Palestinian families have to bear the cost of medical treatment for injuries or illnesses related to work performed by their children.

HRW interviwed 38 children and 12 adult Palestinians working in seven settlements in the Jordan Valley area. The settlements occupy more than 30 percent of the West Bank and are home to most of the major agricultural colonies. Israel occupies the area built in the West Bank, plus the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem since the 1967 war.

According to the report, Palestinian children working in settlements often leave school to work cleaning or packaging asparagus, tomatoes, eggplant and other crops. “Israeli settlements profiting abuse the rights of Palestinian children,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, The Director of HRW for the Middle East and North Africa.

She added that Israeli policies of discrimination result in “impoverished communities where children leave school and accept hazardous work because they feel they have no alternative, as Israel turns a blind eye”.

The spokesperson for the organization in Jerusalem, Bill Van Esveld, said that children working in the colonies do so by choice, although they are motivated by the lack of a better socio-economic reality.

“I do not say that they are carrying out forced labor, but many must wait until the end of the day until they can return home,” he said.

Meanwhile, the President of the regional council of the Jordan Valley, David Elhayani, refused the accusations made by HRW.

“These data are a fallacy he assured a news agency, we respect national and international laws. If someone is caught with minor working in the settlements, he will have his farm shut down, and nobody wants to take that risk.”

He said his council employs 6,000 workers daily, mostly Palestinians, but he denied that any of them are children.

“Our products are subjected to very tough competition and high quality standards; if a farmer employed a child, the economic damage would be terrible,” he said. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it was studying the HRW report.

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