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

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.


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.


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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