Israel is a destination country for human trafficking. Women and children are brought into the country every year to be exploited as modern day slaves. The criminals responsible are organized crime syndicates who feed on the vulnerability of their victims with no regard for their basic rights and freedoms.
Rates of human trafficking in Israel are alarmingly high. Due to the clandestine nature of human trafficking, it is impossible to know how many victims are in the country at any given time. However, government sources indicate that over 3,000 women have been trafficked into Israel while most NGOs give a much higher estimate.
Nearly all of the trafficking victims in Israel come from the eastern bloc of the former Soviet Union. Source countries include Moldova, Uzbekistan, Russia, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan where victims are desperately seeking an escape from their poverty-stricken lives.
Most victims enter the country through Israel’s border with Egypt. They are transported across the Sinai desert and into Israel by a network of Bedouin smugglers who deliver them to their “purchasers”. Once in Israel, victims are often sold and resold to pimps and brothel owners who force them to work in slave-like conditions. At every stage in the process, the victims are abused and exploited, often suffering severe beatings, rape and even starvation.
Israel has made limited progress in the fight against human trafficking. In 2001, Israel was given the lowest possible ranking for its efforts to combat trafficking and was threatened with economic sanctions. Since then, Israel has made significant efforts to improve its policies. It has passed a law providing mandatory sentencing for traffickers and the Knesset has convened ongoing meetings of a special Inquiry Committee on the subject of trafficking in women.
But more can and must be done. Significant resources must be dedicated to combating trafficking in Israel in the areas of prevention, protection, and prosecution. Border police should be instructed to prevent the smuggling of victims across the borders. Police and military should receive training in how to identify victims and protect them once found. Extensive public awareness campaigns should be implemented to educate citizens about the phenomenon of modern slavery to eliminate demand.