The Brighton Tubas Region Friendship and Solidarity Group is a network aiming at fostering links between community organisations in Tubas, occupied Palestine and Brighton. The Tubas Region, which includes the Northern Jordan Valley, is an area Israel wants to ethnically cleanse and annex. Israel is doing this by making life impossible for the people of the valley.
After the West Bank was occupied by Israel in 1967 the process of colonisation began. Israel began systematically transferring its civilian population into occupied Palestine in the form of Jewish-only settlements that contradict Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions. The first settlement was built on land stolen from the village of Ein El Baida using Israeli absentee landlord laws that permitted Israeli citizens to steal the property of Palestinian refugees. Since then 35 more settlements have been constructed on Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley. Almost all the settlements are agricultural and if it was not for the presence of the army protection would resemble an agri-business anywhere else in the world. There are 6200 Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley and between them and the IDF they control 96% of the land.
The Israeli’s have repeatedly stated that they intend to annex the Jordan Valley and officially integrate it into Israel proper as has been done with East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. However, this would be difficult to achieve with the current disproportionate ratio of Palestinians to Israeli’s residing in the valley. Forced expulsions in a similar vein to those done in 1948 are unlikely to be tolerated by international civil society so instead the policy of the occupation is to make life as difficult as possible for the Palestinians in the hope that they flee looking for brighter shores. This will allow the occupation to claim a sense of faux legitimacy by arguing that the Palestinian population left the valley ‘voluntarily’.
One of the predominant means by which the occupation has sought to suffocate the Palestinian communities into submission has been by removing their traditional means of income. Many of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley are Bedouins or farmers. By seizing control of almost all of the agricultural land available and either limiting access or giving it to the settlements, the Israeli’s are seeking to destroy the traditional way of life for the residents. Unemployment is rife in the Jordan Valley and one of the only options available to people is to work as labourers in the settlements. Over the last month we have interviewed a number of different Palestinian settlement workers who work in different settlements to get an overview of the conditions they work in.
For Palestinians, work at the settlement begins at 5am and continues until 2pm. Those who travel from Tubas leave between 3-3.30am to allow time for the lengthy delays that are almost inevitably experienced at Al-Hamra checkpoint. We were told that the soldiers at the checkpoint would regularly try and humiliate them-kicking, spitting and even forcing them to sit in a hole in the ground until they were content and let them continue their journey. The settlers say that their workers’ treatment at the checkpoint is not their responsibility and will dock wages for workers who arrive late regardless of the reason.
For their nine hour day, a Palestinian labourer will receive between 50-70 NIS (£8-12). However, if the worker needs to use the bus supplied by the settlers to reach the settlement then he will be charged 20NIS a day from the meagre wage. The work is relentless and they are given only one half-hour break to eat food and rest.
Inside all the settlements we interviewed workers from; there are children as young as 14 working. At Mishwah settlement in Al-Jiftlik there are at least 15-20 child labourers at any time and more so during the religious holidays when some adults refuse to work. We asked about the conditions that the children work in, we wanted to know whether their age meant they were given preferential treatment or whether they were discriminated against. Instead we found that the settlements treat the child labourers as if they are adults and give them almost identical working conditions. The settlers do not give them time off to attend school; if they do not work they will not be paid.
We met nobody who has been given a formal contract for their work despite interviewing people who had worked in the same settlement for up to 18 years. One lady receives a weekly timesheet which gives her a rota of which hours she must work but there is no guarantee week on week that she will receive work. All the others we spoke to said they had no guarantee of work and that they have to attend the settlement each morning to see if there is work for them. When we asked the workers whether they were allowed to form trade unions we were met with a resounding ‘no’.
Access to healthcare whilst at work seems to vary depending on the settlement and the settler in charge. Whilst we heard a story of people who were injured whilst working being made to wait for a service taxi to take them to hospital in Tubas, we also heard of settlers calling in an army helicopter to airlift an injured Palestinian to hospital. However, there is no general healthcare policy for workers in any of the settlements and compensation is routinely denied.
The Palestinian labourers are treated routinely as second-class citizens in the workplace and the settlers are even attempting to phase them out to be replaced by migrant Thai workers. The Thai workers are given preferential treatment; they receive higher wages for the same work, given health and safety equipment when doing dangerous work that is denied to Palestinians and many are even given subsidised accommodation inside the settlement.
With every Palestinian settlement worker we spoke to we asked them what they thought of the international boycott of Israeli goods. We asked whether they supported the boycott even if it may cost them their job in the settlement. All were supportive of the idea and saw it as a possible way to drive the settlements off their land. Many said that they are prepared to lose their work in the settlement if it means that they will eventually be able to farm their own land again.