Israel prides itself as a “beacon of light,” paving an enlightened path for democracy and human rights in a region of dictators, theocracies, tyrants and human rights abusers. In the shadows of the “beacon of light” lurks a brutal and inhumane abuse – trafficking of women and children for the sex-slave trade.
Hookers In The Holy Land
Police raided the Furmis Brothel, one of 250 whorehouses in Tel Aviv. The three-story building was under video surveillance. The police charged through iron gates guarded by armed bodyguards, next storming through the armed guards and iron doors fortifying the elevator, then ascending to the third floor and maneuvering through a narrow corridor where they noticed a suspicious cupboard. Crashing through the cupboard, they found another passage, where they collided with armed bodyguards, then hurtled through a locked door. Tel-Aviv magazine describes the officers’ horror at their find: Ten girls were locked up in a filthy, foul two-room brothel with only mattresses on the floor.
“These girls are kept like dogs.” A Tel Aviv police officer told U.S. News and World Report.
The Palace Club, a seedy brothel in Tel Aviv, was the target of a group of journalists on a fact-finding mission. Down a few flights of dark, stone stairs three girls huddled in a corner of a reception area waiting for johns. Their fat pimp dabbed the sweat from his forehead with a large silk handkerchief. The pimp bragged that his women make 120 shekels for a half-hour, “100 shekels for me, 20 shekels [$6] for them.” If their earnings had to be put into a kitty to pay the tax bill, the girls served as unpaid slaves.
At the Tropicana, in Tel Aviv, according to journalist Michael Specter writing in The New York Times, 20 women share 12 cubicles, working eight-hour day-shifts and 12-hour night-shifts.
One sex-slave, lured by an offer of legitimate work, told Amnesty International that she “had a nervous break-down. A client offering to help me escape turned out to be one of them and I was beaten up by the owners. There was nowhere to run – there were bars on the windows and bodyguards, day and night.”
“The conditions were terrible. One girl was kept to work in the basement for eight months. It was damp there and she got tuberculosis as a result. Most of the girls had different diseases – venereal and others related to their reproductive organs. I do not wish even to my enemies to go through what we went through.”
She escaped by jumping from the first floor of the building. When she returned to help another friend escape, she was arrested in a police raid as an illegal alien. She was afraid to testify against the pimp, who knew the whereabouts of her family in Ukraine.
“Nearly all prostitutes in Israel are Russian [70%], their boss is not. Israelis love Russian girls,” according to “Wake Up or Die,” an organization monitoring sex-trafficking who quotes a chuckling Jacob Golan, an Israeli slave master. “They are blonde and good-looking and different from us.”
“This is a whole industry – recruiting them, bringing them and distributing them to all of the parlors,” said Efraim Fhrlich, former commander of the Tel Aviv vice squad. This “national industry” brings in $450 million yearly. A pimp can earn $50,000-$125,000 per year on pimping one slave. A 10-slave brothel can take in up to 750,000 shekels or $215,000 a month.
The Victim As A Criminal
“Until now, the authorities have addressed this as a problem of prostitution, not kidnapping or trafficking in people,” Knight-Ridder News cites Yael Weisz-Rind, director of Amnesty International Israel. “Trafficked women are effectively treated as criminals by the various Israeli agencies with whom they come in contact, rather than as victims of human rights abuses.”
The Jerusalem Post reports that when pressured, Israeli police Commander Yossi Sedbon, while claiming that fighting the trade in women is a priority for the police, emphasized that only a minority of hookers were kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Sedbon declined to comment on the complaints filed against police chiefs for not addressing the problem.
A poll by the Israeli Women’s Network showed that 44% of Israelis believe all female Russian immigrants provided sexual services for pay. Reuters said that the women are stereotyped as having brought crime and prostitution, while exploiting Israeli laws enabling anyone with a Jewish grandparent to immigrate.
“The fact that most of the women knowingly enter Israel illegally made me think twice,” an Israeli university scholar I met in Jerusalem admitted. She had “a hard time being compassionate for people who break the law … it is even harder to sympathize with women who knowingly come to be prostitutes and then complain about the conditions.” However, after extensive research, she became an advocate for the girls.
“These women were manipulated, kidnapped, threatened, abused, drugged, raped, lied to, and used … the punishment that they receive from the government who sends them back to a dangerous situation in their homeland after long stays in jail does not fit the crime,” she said.
Invitation To An Israeli Hell
“Elderly Jewish women in the Ukraine often lure the girls into the trade,” Specter said. Or, the girls are recruited through “an ad or an unexpected meeting on the street, with a proposition to work abroad as a maid, secretary, showgirl, nanny or waitress.” A typical ad, writes Walter Zalisko, 24-year police veteran, authority on Russian organized crime in New Jersey and New York, seeks ” … pretty woman, under age 40, slender, educated, to work in modern office setting; $600/month; documents and transportation provided.”
Reuters interviewed one girl, starving in Russia, who got caught up in the whirlwind of international crime. Defrauded into working in Israel, she was kidnapped by a pimp, kept in bondage with eight women in two apartments and extorted of her pay.
“I came into this circle and then it was very hard to get out. My papers were fake, I had no money, I had no acquaintances and I was in an enclosed place.” Torn between her fear of physical abuse by her pimp and fear of deportation back to hunger, she did not dare seek help at the police station across the road.
Specter tells the story of a Ukrainian who, after seeing an ad, slipped off a tour boat when it put in at Haifa, hoping to make a bundle dancing naked on the tops of tables. In Israel, she was taken to a brothel, where her boss burned her passport. “I own you,” he said. “You are my property, and you will work until you earn your way out. Don’t try to leave. You have no papers and you don’t speak Hebrew. You will be arrested and deported. Then we will get you and bring you back.” Subsequently, the brothel was raided, and she was jailed.
Megan Goldin interviewed one 18-year-old girl that “has been bought and sold so many times she has lost count.” Admittedly lured to Israel by promises of large sums of money if she turned to prostitution, she said “I never thought I would actually have to do it � I thought once I arrived would find a way to escape and find other work, as a waitress or something.”
She had been flown to Egypt, where with 20 other women aged between 18 and 24, she was smuggled by a Bedouin cross the Sinai desert. The girls were forced to crawl under a barbed-wire border fence in the middle of the night.
Organized crime from the former Soviet Union invested $4 billion dollars in real estate and businesses in Israel in seven years. In a warped marriage based on greed that has no boundaries and no loyalties, Israeli mafias join with Russian mafias to cooperate with Arab Bedouins to smuggle women and children to the “Promised Land.”
The unfenced, unguarded 70-mile Israel-Egypt border allows the Bedouins to navigate through the desert with dune buggies and all-terrain vehicles. Israeli Border Patrols, focused on intercepting terrorists, ignore the Bedouin slave traders.
“It’s horrible,” an Israeli official said. “The women we found had been used along the way (by the Bedouins). After all, their masters had to test their product. They are touched and measured and prodded in heinous ways to ‘ensure the quality of the product.’ Some also bring friends or family to use the women. Then the women have to work for a period of one or more months free of charge to ‘pay for their passage.’”
Going Once, Going Twice
“It’s like a car. It depends how valuable she is,” “Amir,” a Tel Aviv pimp told Reuters. Four of the girls who were valued at lower prices ended up working in the slum area around Tel Aviv’s old central bus station where they were trapped and burnt to death when a religious fanatic torched their brothel, a Jewish weekly said. Girls are traded and bartered for a variety of goods, including drugs.
The girls, many of whom are Palestinian, are displayed naked at pimping auctions going at prices ranging from $4,000 to $20,000, depending on her looks, according to one Tel Aviv pimp.
Chaim Nardi, an Israeli sociologist, links the slave-trafficking to machismo attitudes in Israeli society, which “allow men to consider women their toy.” Most prostitutes suffer from depression, he said.
Prison officials report that 80% of the girls become addicted to drugs, mainly heroin, Israelis’ drug of choice. A vicious cycle of prostitution finances their addiction.
Criminologist Menachem Amir said that three groups – Orthodox Jews, Arabs and the 250,000 foreign workers spike demand.
Arabs and Orthodox Jews have “very strong taboos against sexual connections outside of marriage and therefore go to a place where they can do it more anonymously,” a Tel Aviv pimp, Amir, told Reuters.
Some rabbis, “Wake Up or Die” said, ride bicycles to the whorehouses. “A good percentage of the clients are ultra-Orthodox Jews, pious men whose lives are guided by Halachah (religious law), which tells them when they can or cannot have sex with their wives.”
So, on Thursday (boys night out in Israel) busloads of Orthodox Jews travel from Jerusalem, Haifa, and points beyond to Tel Aviv for a few brief moments of passion in a massage parlor, behind a sand dune, or in an alley. Other customers are accountants, lawyers, policemen, and politicians. “The entire spectrum of Israeli society is keeping the hookers in business,” Detective Shachar, veteran on the Tel Aviv vice detail, said.
“Many of the prostitutes in Israel, especially those of Arab descent, are abused by Jews expressing their ‘racial-nationalist fervor.’” The girls … “find that their Jewish customers only come to them after a Palestinian terrorist act to get their own brand of sexual revenge laced with racial-nationalistic fervor … and they do it with hate and anger.”
Neveh Tirza Prison warden Debi Sagi helped give Hotline for Migrant Workers, the interventionist organization dealing with the problem, better access to the prisoners. Victims share cells with Israeli convicted criminals. Many are detained in police detention centers because of the over-crowded jails, where the conditions are worse. Half are deported penniless.
The pimps’ attorneys often represent the girls, or the pimp might pay 30,000 shekels bail pending her deportation, so that she can go back to work. “These women,” said Nomi Levenkron, senior advocate of Hotline, “who were raped, trafficked and exploited before their arrests, were in fact sold once more, this time by the state itself.”
Israeli Police In The Hot Spot By Hotline
One 18-year-old Moldavian sought refuge in a Tel Aviv police station. Some of the officers, who were her clients, recognized her and called her pimp. She fled. The pimp found her and forced her back to the brothel.
“There are police who just come as clients, those who get special discounts because of their good relationships with the owner of the place and those that inform the owner about police operations,” Levenkron said.
Hotline found police involved in six of 24 cases in 15 months – four cases of policemen warning of impending police raids, one policeman managed a brothel, and another sold a woman to another pimp after her arrest.
Hotline accused the Israeli officials of: arresting pimps at their convenience, and ignoring crimes of notorious pimps who cooperate with the police on other matters; of disregarding the 16-year sentence allowed, and of making “shameful” plea bargains with pimps.
The authorities, according to Hotline, lied about women refusing to testify. Less than 20, of hundreds of women interviewed in two and a half years, had been asked to testify. Of 1,370 files opened between 1998-2000, only 2% were prosecuted.
“N” was arrested when she filed a complaint. The police refused to release her on bail for five days, claiming that her life was in danger because the pimps were too dangerous to be arrested. N’s Israeli boyfriend informed the pimps that the police were looking for them and advised them to turn themselves in, which they did.
Charges were pressed against her two pimps. One of them was declared unfit to stand trial and the other was sentenced on 15 February 2001, to two years in prison, one year on probation and fined $5,000. The prosecutors claimed that N was “rented” for only five days from the time the new law against trade in human beings was approved till her escape, and that her testimony was weak. No charges were pressed against the pimp for rape, managing a brothel and living off prostitutes’ income, although he had confessed.
“V” was arrested in a brothel and sent to prison for three months, waiting for her traveling documents. For a month and a half Hotline was told that there was no evidence to support V’s claims. The day after Hotline notified the Parliament investigation committee, the police decided to cooperate. V named eight people who sold, bought or raped her, giving their addresses. Twenty-two more days passed before the first pimp was arrested. Another pimp had fled the country.
Judicial indifference is compounded by police complicity, Levenkron said.
Amnesty describes treatment of several cases by authorities. Anna, knowingly joining the sex industry, was auctioned twice and taken to work in Haifa, where she was held with two other women in an apartment with bars. She was arrested after a police raid on the apartment. In court the police alleged that Anna had signed statements admitting to involvement in prostitution – but all the documents were in Hebrew. She later discovered that she had been framed – accused of running a brothel.
Tatiana arrived in Israel from Belarus to work as a hotel maid to support her mother and son. The pimp met her, took her to a brothel and told her that she would have to repay her “sale price” and the travel costs. After several failed escape attempts, Tatiana was finally released from the brothel after a police raid – a friend of hers had contacted the Belarus Consulate who contacted the police.
She was taken into custody as an illegal immigrant.
No Rehab for Rahab
On her prison bunk, she found an anonymous note threatening to kill her and punish her family if she squealed. Hotline petitioned the Chief of Police for witness protection, who replied that the Police could not guarantee anyone’s safety outside Israel. She was deported to Belarus despite begging to be flown to Poland or Lithuania and then allowed to cross into Belarus by car. She was reportedly met by a male relative and taken to an unknown location. Tatiana’s subsequent fate is unknown. “I don’t know the outcome of the trial. I only know that Arthur [the pimp] is at liberty I talked to him on the phone …
Arthur knows my address in St. Petersburg and my telephone number because he kept my passport. I have a small daughter, eight-years-old there. He threatened that he would find me in Russia, at home, if I did not do what he wanted me to,” one girl told Amnesty International.
A Jewish weekly interviewed Tel Aviv Police Superintendent Pini Aviram, who heads a special investigative team dealing with the trafficking issue. “My team consists of only five Russian speakers,” he said, frustrated at the lack of manpower.
In June 2000, the Knesset amended a 1997 prostitution law to prohibit the buying or selling of persons. Penalties are doubled if the victim is a minor.
The Knesset’s “feeble efforts” Human Rights Watch said, “were undermined by its failure to provide safe houses, witness protection, legal assistance, relief from deportation, or third-country resettlement.”
Israel has until 2003 to implement “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” or face stiff economic sanctions. In June of this year, the State Department bumped Israel up to the second tier, since it is “taking action against sex-trafficking.”
Hotline refutes testimony by the State Department that Israel had taken progressive steps towards halting the trafficking and exploitation of women, their spokesperson saying that Israel is merely acting under U.S. pressure.
Police Deputy-Commander Avi Davidovitch told Jewsweek July 2002 that although the number of trafficked women is growing alarmingly high, few complaints are filed against pimps, and many women either refuse to complain or later retract earlier statements they have made to the police, out of fear of reprisals.
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