(In)justice system: Slavery in Israel

In early March, 2012, a Jerusalem district court issued its first conviction under a 2006 anti-slavery law.

abuse_311 (photo credit: Courtesy (illustrative).)
(photo credit: Courtesy (illustrative).)
In early March, 2012, a Jerusalem district court issued its first conviction under a 2006 anti-slavery law. But on June 11, the court handed down the unbelievably light sentence of four months’ community service and a NIS 2,000 fine to the perpetrators. The sentence is even more disgraceful in light of the fact that a similar Jerusalem court in 2010 sentenced a man to three years in prison for throwing a shoe at a judge. These cases shed a light on the dark side of Israel’s justice system, its over-concern for itself and its total lack of concern for the weakest members of society.
MARY ANN Paoig first arrived in the Middle East along with millions of other foreign workers from the Philippines. More than 10 percent of all Filipinos work outside their country and send money home, with significant populations in the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Lebanon. 40,000 live in Israel.
What befell Mary Ann in Israel was not unique in the region; many Filipinos and other foreign workers who come to work as domestic servants in Middle East find themselves abused. Ali Fakhry, of an anti-racism group in Lebanon, has noted that foreign maids are almost all kept in a form of slavery.
“When they get here, their passports taken away from them, their wages are withheld, and they are often kept as prisoners, not allowed out of the home. Many are physically and sexually abused, and there is nothing to protect them. It is a system of slavery,” said Fakhry.
Mary Ann, now 25 years old, first arrived in Israel from Jordan in 2007. She was “employed” by Ibrahim and Basma Julani in their large home in Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem. The neighborhood is home to many of the wealthiest Jerusalemite Arab families and some Europeans who work for the UN and other organizations.
According to reports and the 2010 indictment, Paoig was soon forced into a situation of semi-slavery. Her passport was confiscated by the Julanis, and she was put to work.
In its 2012 conviction the court noted that “the combination of depriving the plaintiff of her freedom, the defendants’ intimidation and threats that the police would ‘get her,’ and the confiscation of her passport, all support the charges before us.”
Throughout the case the Julanis’ attorney insisted that she had always been free to leave whenever she wanted, and accused her of stealing.
MARY ANN did receive a nominal payment of $150 a month for her work. According to the Israeli employment law, minimum wage is NIS 4,100 a month. Labatt Meriam Cuasay of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration of the Philippines government noted in an interview with a Philipino magazine that according to Israeli law 25% of that salary may be deducted for insurance, water, electricity and housing, leaving the live-in worker with NIS 3075 a month. Mary Ann was thus being illegally underpaid.
FOR OVER 18 months Mary Ann worked in what the court said were “conditions unfit for human residence.”
She was given a small bathroom in which to “live,” with a toilet, a shower and a cot to sleep on.
Haaretz reported that “She did not receive any days off, despite her requests, and the couple persuaded her not to leave the house, telling her she could be caught by the police.”
In 2009, after more than 18 months of servitude, she finally contacted the Workers Hotline. This resulted in an indictment of the Julanis in 2010, for slavery. The government legal team included Rachel Gershoni of the Justice Ministry’s Human Trafficking Department.
It is interesting that the government chose not to charge the offenders with unlawful confinement, numerous violations of worker’s rights or theft of a passport, all crimes referred to in the indictment. The government wanted to get a conviction on the human trafficking law which was passed in 2006, and thought this case would be a head-shot.
Ironically, the government won, morality won – and then Israel’s “justice” system kicked in.
When the Julanis were convicted, Nicon Fameronag of the Hong Kong News noted that it brought tears to the eyes of Gershoni.
“The tears were of happiness and of exhilaration over the triumph of justice and [the] success of Israel’s efforts to combat all forms of trafficking in persons and slavery.”
IF SHE was crying in happiness then, she’s likely crying in shame now. On June 11, judges Jacob Zaban, Miriam Mizrahi and Raphael Carmel claimed this was one of the most serious offences of this kind they’d seen. And then they sentenced the Julanis to four months of community service, a NIS 2000 fine and NIS 15,000 to be paid to Ms. Paoig.
According to reports, the judges claimed that “because this was the first conviction based on the law, the penalty would be lenient.”
Let’s get this straight. The law passed in 2006 called for sentences of between four and 16 years in prison.
The prosecution asked for four years. Instead, the criminals got four months of community service. Four months for taking away 18 months of a woman’s life.
She is 25 today, she was 20 when she came. During the years many spend in college, Mary Ann lived in a bathroom stall, cleaning a house all week. The NIS 15,000 she was ordered to receive is the equivalent of about five months’ work at minimum wage, with discounts for the “unfit conditions,” she was living in.
What about the other 13 months? The court, in essence, legitimized slavery. In handing down such a non-sentence, the court set a precedent and gutted the 2006 law. The court implied that if you want to go out and enslave people it is basically ok – community service is not much of a deterrent.
We must condemn this ruling in the most extreme way. That a Jerusalem court can send a man to prison for three years for throwing a shoe, which it did to Pini Cohen in 2010, but punish enslavement with community service, is incredible.
We need to tell to the truth about this case. Had Mary Ann Paoig been an Israeli citizen, those who imprisoned her would have faced multiple charges and would today be sitting in prison. Had she been a judge, like the one Pini Cohen’s shoe was aimed at, no doubt the criminals would have been sentenced to life.
We must judge our society on how it treats the weakest among us, the ones who can’t afford attorneys and don’t have connections to judges and “good families.”
Mary Ann deserved our protection. The Justice Ministry tried to help her, but the (in)justice system crushed her and legitimized her slavery. The public must demand that more charges be filed and that this case be appealed, until Mary Ann receives not only her wages, but also compensation for the two years of life she lost here.