As Gaza reels from the latest Israeli air strikes, the reality on that ground is that bombs aren’t the only threat to the Palestinian people.
The effect of the Israel’s repressive policies towards Palestine impacts every facet of daily life, particularly in the Jordan Valley.
Situated in the eastern part of the West Bank, the Palestinian population of the Jordan Valley live in one of the most isolated and restricted areas in the Occupied Territories.
The Israeli government’s expansion of settlements in the area, the demolition of Palestinian infrastructure (both of which violate international law), in tandem with discriminatory laws and policies, have locked Jordan Valley Palestinians into a vicious cycle of poverty.
They also face limited access to land and water resources, and crippling restrictions on movement which prevents economic development.
But as people have limited access to employment opportunities, many Palestinians are left with little option but to look for work on Israeli settlements, which in some cases have been built on lands expropriated from them directly.
The Israeli settlement economy, on the other hand, benefits from the exploitation of Palestinian labour.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, around 9500 Palestinians – including children – are employed in agricultural settlements. Of that number, 1800 of them work in the Jordan Valley.
A 2012 ILO report reveals that almost all of the Jordan Valley is practically prohibited for Palestinian use and much of the region’s fertile agricultural land is instead exploited by Israeli settlers.
“Indeed, Israeli settlements in the Valley house profitable large-scale agricultural establishments engaged in intensive cultivation that yields produce worth 500 million shekels a year (over US$ 127 million) for domestic consumption and export,” says the ILO.
The Palestinians who work in the region often face discrimination and violation of their rights in numerous ways.
While the minimum wage in Israel is currently 22.5 shekels (US$5.70) per day, Palestinians earn an average daily wage of 10 shekels ($2.50).
Their work environments do not meet minimum health and safety standards, and Palestinian workers do not receive the benefits entitled to Israeli workers by the Israeli Labour Code, such as holidays, overtime, transportation costs, health insurance, and sick pay.
Since 2010, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has actively discouraged Palestinians from working on the settlements, which the PA says helps to strengthen the Israeli economy rather than the Palestinian economy.
However, it has provided few viable alternatives because Israeli-imposed restrictions in the Jordan Valley have limited opportunities for investment and development.
Palestinian workers depend on the goodwill of the Israeli employers to obtain work permits from the Israeli Civil Administration which the employers need to request. But the criteria for the provision of work and mobility permits are not transparent.
Palestinian workers who dare to ask for basic labour and safety rights face losing their employer’s endorsement and thereby their work permits. Sometimes they become labelled “a threat to Israel’s security” and are denied crucial mobility permits. Some Palestine workers are even coerced into cooperating with the Israeli secret service in order to guarantee a work and mobility permit.
The crucial link between labourers and employers are the subcontractors, who demand a percentage of the workers’ salary in exchange for providing them with information about jobs.
But this is a sensitive subject as most subcontractors are Palestinians, and in most cases they are actually related to the workers.
Child labour is also a serious problem in the Jordan Valley.
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics found more than 7,000 children between the ages of five and 17 were working there in 2008.
However, the statistics don’t tell the full story, as there is no data for many of the children working in the settlements in secret.
Although the legal age for workers in Palestine was recently increased from 14 to 16, this change has not materialised on the ground.
Settlers avoid this law by recruiting through subcontractors, so that they have no direct contracts with minors, who have no official employee status or rights. Nonetheless, settlers are fully aware that children are working on their fields.