Now, the phenomenon has disappeared.
Al Monitor has an interview with David Tsur, chairman of the Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women and Prostitution in Knesset.
While it is shameful that it was such a serious problem, it is fairly incredible that Israel solved it so thoroughly and in such a short amount of time. In this case, some credit also has to go to the US State Department, whose policy on the issue is what woke Israel up.
Al-Monitor: Do you remember when you understood that Israel had become a destination for trafficking in women?(h/t Yerushalimey)
Tsur: On a personal level, I realized it after 2001, at one of my first meetings with the Americans on the topic of terror. I was then the head of the operational headquarters of the Ministry for Public Security. After one of the discussions, the representative of the State Department asked me what was happening with trafficking in women. I didn’t understand what he wanted, and I had no data on it. In response, he told me that he must bring it to my attention because our situation is not good, and that we’re on the same level as Sudan and Somalia. Of course, I was insulted and said it couldn’t be because we’re a democratic country.
In retrospect, of course he was right. When we began to study the subject, we understood that most of the women were brought from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova. Law-enforcement personnel in those countries were sometimes part of this food chain, and looked the other way in exchange for bribes. When we researched it in depth we found mafias that had sprung up in these regions.
Israel became a destination because of the arrival of criminal elements who established a foundation for trafficking here, and also because of the peaceful border with Egypt, which was then porous. The Bedouins, who became a link in the smuggling chain, understood that they could make a good living out of it. And so developed a phenomenon that bordered on slavery. Israel became a prime destination. We were busy then with the terror of the second intifada, and we didn’t notice what was happening under our noses.
Al-Monitor: So we woke up only because of the Americans?
Tsur: If I were a seasoned and professional politician, I would say that the decision to act was not related to the Americans, but the reality was that without the whip of the State Department, we would not have taken serious steps. We understood that if we didn’t address the problem, aid funds would be stalled, and very quickly we would have a new center of criminal activity on our hands.
Al-Monitor: So what did you do?
Tsur: When the US State Department reports put us on the blacklist in those first years, we understood the extent of the problem. At first it was placed in the jurisdiction of the central units in the police districts, and later an administrative body was created at the Ministry of Justice and the victims were treated a bit differently.
From the point of view of law-enforcement authorities, the women were prostitutes and were treated as part of the problem, not as victims who live in fear and don’t have enough to eat. We understood that if this had continued to be the approach, they would not agree to file complaints and testify and we would not be able to incriminate the traffickers. Simultaneously in 2006, the Knesset passed a draconian law against the traffickers, which set a 20-year jail sentence for a human-trafficking violation, and the message was very clear.
Women who filed complaints were treated at special shelters, where the state invested a lot of money in rehabilitation. Slowly, the phenomenon diminished. Of course, the closing of the border with Egypt helped a great deal with the disappearance of the problem. We handled it very aggressively, with cooperation among all law-enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Welfare.
Al-Monitor: In Israel 2013, there’s no longer trafficking in women?
Tsur: In the last three years, the phenomenon hardly exists. Actually, I can say that trafficking in women from Eastern Europe stopped entirely, and that it’s very rare to find a woman who was imported to Israel by a party or person. We know that according to the US State Department reports, the phenomenon of trafficking no longer exists in Israel. It disappeared. This was continuously verified by data and testimonies — not just data from the authorities, but also from external, critical parties.