A report researched and written by Jerusalem-based Palestinian NGO Sawa offers a troubling look into forced prostitution and human trafficking within the Palestinian territories.
The report, entitled "Trafficking and Forced Prostitution of Palestinian Women and Girls: Forms of Modern Day Slavery," was released yesterday with the support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), though the research was conducted in June 2008.
"It's a sensitive issue," said Jalal Khader, an administrator at Sawa, which was established in 1998 and provides support to female victims of physical and sexual violence. "And it took a lot of time to find a way to publish it."
The report, which was compiled using a questionnaire and 11 face-to-face interviews, focuses on six case studies: three traffickers, two fathers selling their daughters and a woman forced into prostitution. Each of these instances is illegal in the Palestinian territories, but jail sentences usually range from three years to as little as a few months.
"This problem exists everywhere in the world, even if it's illegal," said Fabrizia Falcione, a women's human rights officer at UNIFEM. "We're not saying that it's particularly developed in the Palestinian territories, but it exists and it needs to be addressed."
The report identifies four main trafficking flows: within the West Bank, from Israel to the West Bank, from the West Bank to Israel, and from Gaza to Israel.
Many of the Palestinian women, according to the report, are from Nablus, Jenin, Hebron, Ramallah, E-Ram, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, though some women who are trafficked from Israel into the West Bank are from Eastern Europe.
Additionally, most of the trafficked women who cooperated with the report had been violently abused by their families, and they referred to prostitution as a means of escaping their homes.
One trafficker in the report primarily moves women who are students at Palestinian colleges and universities, and allows them to see their families once every two to three weeks.
The report also highlights, but does not name, a "small prostitution hotel" in Jerusalem's Old City, to which girls as young as 14 have been brought from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Beyond identifying the problems at hand, the report claims that although these particular trafficking routes and instances of forced prostitution have existed for some time, the political and socioeconomic situation in the Palestinian territories is contributing to their rise.
"Since the intifada, the economic situation has gotten worse in Palestine," said Khader. "There is more divorce, and this causes more domestic violence. And poverty pushes toward prostitution as well."
Khader also identified Israel's policies within the West Bank as a cause for the rise in trafficking.
"In the region, there are too many borders and checkpoints," he said. "And when you have borders and checkpoints, you have trafficking across them."
There are no definitive statistics available on forced prostitution and human trafficking specifically in the West Bank and Gaza, though a number of reports have been published about human trafficking into Israel from Egypt and Eastern Europe.
The Knesset established a commission on women-trafficking in 2000, which determined nearly five years later that between 3,000 and 5,000 women had been smuggled into the country through the border with Egypt or Ben-Gurion Airport.
Now, with the Sawa report, a new trafficking flow has been identified.
"This report is just to say that the issue of trafficking exists between Israel and Palestine, and that the problem needs more research in detail, and more statistics," Khader said. "It's difficult to have real figures. [But when we do,] then we'll know how to proceed, because [arresting and prosecuting] is mainly the work of the authorities in Israel and Palestine."