Fighting the flesh trade – how Israel went from zero to hero in the fight against human trafficking

This post currently appears in the WIZO Lapid Newsletter

http://www.wizo.org/page_15227

One of the lesser known facts about Israel is that this tiny country is leading the battle against international human trafficking. In fact, Israel is considered a top tier country in this battle that is becoming more and more prevalent around the world.

It has not always been this way. In the past, Israel had an abysmal record when it came to catching the pimps and purveyors of vulnerable men and women. In 2001, Israel was considered a Tier 3 country and not responsive to dealing with the issue. Women from Africa and Eastern Europe were easily smuggled through the Sinai Peninsula and sold into prostitution or cheap labour. Israel’s rating was so low that we were on a par with Somalia and the Sudan.

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All this changed in 2001. The US State Department had put Israel on a blacklist and realizing the veracity of this issue, the country started the process of fighting the flesh trade.

Israel started the process that would result in the country becoming a leader in the fight against the flesh trade. This started with giving police more jurisdiction over arresting perpetrators and then an administrative body was set up at the Ministry of Justice which changed the way that victims were treated. Victims would no longer be treated as prostitutes but as victims who deserve help.

In 2006 the Knesset, spearheaded by the Committee on the Status of Women, passed a law which would see offenders sentenced to 20 years for human trafficking violations.  This was followed up in 2007 with further legislation in a campaign to end forced labour and an increased number in convictions for sex offenders.

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But what about the victims?

Israel started to give victims of human trafficking shelter, legal aid and protection assistance. Former head of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women says, “When we formed our committee, I met with a government worker who worked with the trafficked  women. It was a step by step process and we started out by going to speak to the women who had been rescued from the Sinai or Egypt and were in shelters or in a prison facility. Their stories were heartbreaking – many, including children and young boys have been sold into slavery and prostitution.  Rape is common occurrence for these victims. We took the media into these facilities and this really contributed in highlighting and bringing attention to their awful situation. The first law that was legislated was the creation of “no mans land”. Pressure was put on the government, judges and the police and today Israel is a country that leads  the global fight against human trafficking.”

Israel has made remarkable strides in the fight against human trafficking, so much so that the US State Department not only ranks the country as Tier 1 but the tiny state has achieved the highest grade.  More shelters have been opened and the construction of a barrier between Egypt and Israel, constructed in 2013, has helped close a primary route for traffickers.

In February 2013, Ha’aretz newspaper successfully sued the Tel Aviv District Court to reveal the name of a major sex trafficker who became a police informer, David Digmi

The success of various government departments working together is also something that can be applied to other socio-economic areas within the state.

Perhaps the most notable achievement is that Israel is the only country in the world to sponsor a year of rehabilitation for victims that have been trafficked and this is paid for by the government. A comprehensive training programme that includes personnel from the police services, hospitals and health workers who take care of victims has been successfully implemented. Government and NGO’s (non-governmental organisations) work in partnership and this has helped Israel become a first tier country. Israel has instituted a policy of “safe return” which entails skills training as well as physical and emotional therapy for victims. If a person is unable to return to their country of origin for whatever reason, Israel will grant asylum.

Every year, three awards are given out to individuals from NGO’s, government or industry for excellence in the fight against human trafficking. The selling of women into prostitution has virtually disappeared and it is illegal to advertise or distribute cards or pamphlets selling sex.

There is still so much to do to combat this international scourge. Israel can share how the successful models and legislation implemented help win the battle for the flesh trade. As a leading global women’s organization, WIZO can help educate and shine a light on this issue.

Israel has once again proved that although the country is tiny in size, it packs a mighty punch in the fight for justice and rehabilitation of the victims of human trafficking. Tikkun Olam at its finest.

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Crying for the Beloved Country

This post currently appears in The Times of Israel:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/crying-for-the-beloved-country/

Have you ever had that distinct feeling that you are living in some kind of Orwellian or parallel universe? Reading the comments and invective that has come out of South Africa since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge has been a frightening wake-up call, bringing out the latent anti-Semitism and ignorance that has been lurking under the surface. South Africa, once the bastion of victory against racism is fast losing its shiny lustre.

The ruling ANC has been a leading player in disseminating the hate infested drivel that is making headlines and trending on social media. From the ANC’s deputy secretary general, Jesse Duarte, comparing Israel to Nazis (her inability to count THREE murdered youth, not two, notwithstanding) to the ANC Western Cape social media manager tweeting that “Yes, man, you were right! I could have killed all the Jews, but I left some of them to tell you why I was killing them” underneath a picture of Hitler. I could fill in the space with some other nuggets of nasty but there simply is not enough column space.

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But just when I think I have seen it all, along came the comment published yesterday by the ANC, co-signed by Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe stating that Israel is a country founded on Apartheid and a crime against humanity.

The ANC never fail to use every opportunity to belittle and denigrate the suffering of millions of South Africans by drawing comparisons between the Jewish State to one of the most vilified regimes in history. The danger in this is that those who are not acquainted with truth and facts, take this comparison at face value and nothing could be more further from the truth. We cannot and should not dismiss this accusation as it is the very charge that the BDS movement is built on. It is an accusation that must be fought at every opportunity.

Why is the ANC choosing to focus on Israel at the expense of other conflicts around the world? Are they courting the powerful Muslim vote or is there another motive? Sadly, the country that once set the benchmark for peaceful negotiation has now proven itself to be so blatantly biased that any attempts by the ANC to broker peace between Israel and her Palestinian neighbours will be laughed out the room.

The accusation that the founding of the Jewish State is a crime against humanity is as dumfounding as it is hurtful. Surely an organization like the ANC that boasts the Freedom Charter that espouses equality for all and a country that has one of the most progressive and modern Constitutions in the world would not begrudge a persecuted people a country of their own? Surely they would find succour in Ben Gurion’s Declaration of Independence when he welcomed minority communities to be a part of the newly formed State? The ANC need a history lesson post haste and maybe a smack upside the head with a copy of the South African Constitution.

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The great irony is all of this is that boycotts will only harm those the ANC think that they are helping. The founding fathers Tambo, Mandela and Sisulu would be heartbroken. There is no country that is better poised to help South Africa than Israel but sadly there are elements so blinded by ignorance that they would rather sacrifice their citizens on the altar of stupidity and hate.

I cannot help but cry for the Beloved Country.

Peres Mandela

Media myths about Gaza – Op-Ed in iAfrica co-authored by Ben Friedman and Rolene Marks

This op-ed currently appears in iAfrica.com

http://mobi.iafrica.com/news/2014/09/03/reader-letter-media-myths-about-gaza/

A neutral observer reading recent media reports on the Gaza conflict could be forgiven for believing that Israel was deliberately targeting the Palestinian population. After all, the media reporting for the most part lacked context, truth and balance.

It was reported as fact that most of the Gaza casualties were civilians, as reported by Palestinian sources without any verification from Israel. According to Israeli sources, at least 1000 Hamas fighters were killed. After all, if after thousands of Israeli airstrikes, one would have expected many more civilian deaths if they had been deliberately targeted.

Hamas are an internationally recognized terror organisation and an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. It rules Gaza by terror and brooks no political opposition and does not uphold basic human rights. By its own admission it supports an “industry of death”, seeing “martyrdom” and suicide bombings as a tactical weapon against Israel. It has also executed alleged collaborators with impunity and bears a striking resemblance to Islamic State.

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Journalists who have left Gaza have documented how Hamas has used the civilian population as human shields, firing from mosques, schools, hospitals, private homes and abusing United Nations facilities to store rockets. This claim has been made on many occasions by Israel, who have observed strict rules to avoid civilian casualties, including warning civilians of impending attacks by phone calls, text messages, dropping of pamphlets and releasing low-charge explosives on roofs as a warning of an impending attack. Just for comparison, Sri Lanka – in its war against the Tamil Tigers – killed 40 000 civilians in the last four months of the war alone. Even Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas now admits that Hamas is to blame for the death and destruction in Gaza.

Then there is the myth of the seige and blockade of Gaza. Both Egypt and Israel have borne the brunt of terror from Gaza. Egypt keeps its Rafah border crossing tightly controlled. Even during the war, Israel was supplying food and medicine in regular convoys to Gaza through its border crossings, except when they came under Hamas fire. Israel, unbelievably, supplies Gaza with much of its water and electricity. The only reason for the land and sea border controls is to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons and materials to be used for attacks against Israel.

That is why the key to future peace and redevelopment of Gaza is a Gaza free from Hamas rule or completely demilitarized. Even now after a crushing defeat, Hamas proclaims that the truce is merely a means to recoup their strength and continue their objective of “liberating” Jerusalem and all of “Palestine”.

All of the above begs the question: why does the media put such a negative spin against Israel’s legitimate defence against the onslaught of 4500 rockets and missiles against its civilian population in this operation alone?

Yehuda Avner, in his book The Prime Ministers, records the story of former Prime Minister of Israel, Menachem Begin, on his first official visit to Margeret Thatcher of Britain. On arrival he was surrounded by a hostile press and was asked: “Mr Begin, there are those in Britain who would describe you as a terrorist. What do you say to that?”

Begin replied: “I see here in Britain many leaders from your former colonies who fought Britain bitterly in order to gain their independence. Today they are received here with pomp, ceremony and respect. Do you ask your question because I am Jewish?”

Israel - Cartoons Israeli and Hamas soldier with baby