12 September 2006
WEST BANK - Six months of a crippling international
embargo on the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) has
brought its economy to a virtual standstill. As a result,
children are being driven increasingly to find work to
help support their families.
"After my father became jobless, I joined my friends to
work at the checkpoint in order to support my 11-member
family," said Subhi Abdullah 16, referring to his
unofficial job at al-Hawawer Israeli checkpoint in the
West Bank city of Hebron.
The embargo followed the democratic election of a
Hamas-led government in February. Hamas is considered a
terrorist organisation by the West and Israel.
With a population of 4.2 million people, oPt comprises the
West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
While plans were announced on Monday for a Palestinian
unity government that could meet conditions to have the
embargo lifted, ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer.
According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics
(PCBS), 40,000 children under 18 work in oPt - 73 percent
of whom were forced to work due to severe financial
Subhi goes to al-Hawawer checkpoint every morning,
dragging his steel handcart behind him. He competes with
other boys to get two or three shekels (45 to 70 US cents)
a time for carrying the luggage of travellers.
Forty percent of the West Bank has been under the limited
civilian jurisdiction of the Palestinian government since
the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, while Israel
maintains overall control - hence the checkpoints.
"One man's poison is another man's meat," said Subhi, when
asked what he felt about the existence of the checkpoints.
Israel has set up hundreds of checkpoints across the West
Bank for "security reasons", its army says. These
checkpoints make it difficult for Palestinians to move
freely from town to town; sometimes even from village to
Subhi said he leaves home at daybreak. He goes to school
first, then to the checkpoint. By the time he gets back
home in the evening, he is completely worn out. "My
studies have been negatively affected. I do not have
enough time to study. I think it is useless," said Subhi.
Abdul Rahman, 14, from al-Khader village near Bethlehem,
works at the al-Khader checkpoint. He prefers working than
going to school.
"I impatiently wait for the school bell to ring. And when
it does, I take my handcart, which I leave beside my
school, and rush to the checkpoint. I leave my school bag
with my younger brother, who takes it home," Abdul Rahman
said. "I start looking around with my colleagues to get
travellers' bags and transfer them to the other side of
While these checkpoint children or 'the little porters',
as they are sometimes called, are of great benefit to
travellers, NGOs and relief agencies are concerned with
their welfare and with the impact of the checkpoints on
the Palestinian population.
The United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has said that
the prevalence of checkpoints coupled with Israel's
intermittent curfews are hampering the education system in
oPt. More than 225,000 children and 9,300 teachers in the
West Bank face a daily struggle to get to school
According to the children's agency, two thirds of
Palestinian children live below the poverty line (US$2 a
day), 38 percent of Palestinian children are anaemic and
23 percent of students and 36 percent of teachers are
unable to get to school on any given day.
A Palestinian Child Draft Law states that it is forbidden
to employ children below 15 years of age. It stipulates
that the state should take all appropriate procedures to
rehabilitate working children - physically and
While the little porters continue to relieve travellers'
burdens, no one is helping them relieve theirs.
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