Palestine: children laboring

View of Zbeidat, a Palestinian village in the northeastern Jordan Valley, the village mosque and date orchards and agricultural fields, July 15, 2013. (Photo: Matt Surrusco)

View of Zbeidat, a Palestinian village in the northeastern Jordan Valley, the village mosque and date orchards and agricultural fields, July 15, 2013. (Photo: Matt Surrusco)

Originally published March 2014 in World Policy Journal.

ZBEIDAT, West Bank—The elec­tricity in the village went out for the third time on a warm July night. But the young men, some in their teens, didn’t want to stop playing cards. A few took out their mobile phones to project some light on the patio’s low table outside Amjad’s house, the regular hangout for a dozen or so of the young men of Zbeidat, a village of 1,870 in the northern West Bank. Three minutes later, the lights flicked back on, illuminating the cards strewn across the table, the young men’s grinning faces, and a few additional patio areas outside other Zbeidat homes, where men were drinking tea or coffee and talking. On Amjad’s pa­tio, Hamza Zbeidat, a Palestinian from the village, and Christopher Whitman, a New Englander from the United States, were sit­ting with the guys, some teenagers in high school, others in their twenties and work­ing or in universities.

Hamza, 28, moved to Bethlehem last February after getting married five months earlier, but he sees his family in Zbeidat regularly. Having visited the village doz­ens of times, Chris, 27, was welcomed as an honorary resident. Both speak Arabic and English, though each is fluent only in his native language. Hamza works for Ma’an Development Center, a Palestinian non-governmental organization, out of its Ramallah office, as did Chris until Febru­ary. Their development projects and advo­cacy work have been based in Jordan Valley villages and tied to Zbeidat. Since their reports compare the quality of life and resources avail­able to Jordan Valley Pal­estinians and Israelis, Chris and Hamza’s work has also focused on 31 Israeli settle­ments in the Jordan Valley, including Argaman, the settlement nearest Zbeidat.

Many of the men and boys in this West Bank vil­lage—including some chil­dren as young as 13—work on Argaman’s farms. They earn below the Israeli mini­mum wage, receive no social security or health benefits from their Israeli employers, and have no job security. Many are hired on a daily basis by a Palestinian intermediary, a waseet, contracted by the Israeli farm own­er to recruit Palestinian laborers. Some 500 to 1,000 Palestinian children work on Jor­dan Valley agricultural settlements, accord­ing to Ma’an. The workers, some 10,000 to 20,000 Palestinians, plant, harvest, transport, clean, and package settlement produce for sale mostly in European mar­kets. “The whole point of the agricultural settlement is exports,” Chris says. Unlike a kibbutz, or cooperatively owned farm, Ar­gaman is a moshav, a farming settlement, where settlers own some of the land in com­mon, though most is privately owned.

Under international law, enshrined in Article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Israel has signed, par­ticipating nations must “recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physi­cal, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” The convention defines a child as any person under 18. Inter­national Labor Organization (ILO) conventions and Israeli and Palestinian child labor laws set the minimum age to work as 15, but for employ­ment considered hazardous to a young person’s health or safety, the minimum age is 18.

Read the full article in the Spring 2014 issue of World Policy Journal.