Police efforts to eliminate human trafficking has only increased incentives to enslave women; the price of a trafficked woman has skyrocketed from $3,000-5,000 to $7,000-10,000 in recent years.
This information, provided Tuesday in response to a question from MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), chairwoman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Trafficking in Women, was one of many instances during the subcommittee's meeting in which police and activists alike emphasized the difficulty of putting the kibosh on the practice.
Israel, according to a US State Department report issued in June, is "a destination country for women trafficked from Eastern Europe - primarily Ukraine, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Russia - for the purpose of sexual exploitation."
The women are smuggled in to the country, sold, and then forced to work 20-hour days year-round to "pay off their debt" to their purchaser, police said. Frequently, long after the initial fee is paid, pimps continue to hold the victims captive by threatening them and their families if they leave or go to the police.
Tamar Adelstein, coordinator of the Coalition against the Trafficking of Women, has estimated that 3,000 to 5000 women are brought into Israel against their will annually. In recent years, police have raided hundreds of brothels.
Rita Chaikin, head of the Isha L'Isha NGO, said plenty of brothels continued to operate under the noses of police, and cited several such houses of ill repute in the Haifa area.
Chaikin told the committee Tuesday that part of the problem was the Israel Police's lack of representation in the former Soviet Union, saying the single police liaison there was too overworked to effectively cooperate with his Russian counterparts.
Other activists complimented police cooperation with NGOs even while emphasizing the need for improved legislation and increased police manpower if real damage is to be dealt to the billion-dollar-a-year industry.
Supt. Sheli Aloni of the Immigration Authority said that they had little legal basis to prosecute the trafficking other than an obsolete law against border infiltrations. An updated version of the law had been stalled in the legislative process for two years, she said.
Just last month, Interior Minister Roni Bar-On (Kadima) agreed to issue victims one-year work permits, whether or not they agree to testify. That decision followed a call by Gal-On for the cabinet to put an end to the trafficking and to grant asylum to the victims.
Police told the panel the August 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip closed one smuggling route.
They said more and more women were using forged passports to bypass the route through Sinai and across the long desert border with Egypt in favor of an easy arrival at Ben-Gurion Airport.
MK Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu) said the only real solution would be legislation increasing the penalties and providing a speedy court process for offenders. "The traffickers are the ugliest people in society," said the former assistant chief of Israel Police.