Children work Negev for pittanceBy Aliza Arbeli, 02/20/2000 Ha'aretz Correspondent
Young Palestinian children are doing agricultural work in the Western Negev under harsh conditions and at very low wages.
"It is slavery," says Netivot Police Chief Rehavia Umasi, who on Friday arrested 28 Arabs without permits to be in Israel - 25 of them minors. The arrest was part of police efforts to prevent property offenses and to locate residents of the territories in Israeli without permits. The 25 children, whose ages range from 10 to 14, were released after being questioned by police and taken to the West Bank.
According to Umasi, many moshavim and kibbutzim employ children and youths from the Hebron area. "It is a cheap and available work force. They are brought in groups by Bedouin contractors from the Negev and are put to work in the fields and orchards for seasonal work. The phenomenon is particularly widespread during the watermelon season." He said that hundreds of children are brought to the fields at 4 A.M. and work until 5 P.M. with barely any food. The contractor, meanwhile, sits under an awning and supervises their work.
"In the best of cases, a child will earn NIS 50 for a back-breaking day's work. It is a horrifying example of child exploitation. When they are arrested for being in the country illegally, nothing can be done with them because of their age, and they are returned to their homes. The police initiate legal proceedings against their employers as well, but the courts impose fines that do not deter the farmers from continuing to exploit the children.