Marina sits at a table in one of Jerusalem’s all night bar/cafés. She’s dressed stylishly, albeit a bit provocatively for Jerusalem. It’s just past 5 a.m. on a Thursday night and Marina and her party seem to be having a good time. They’re drinking and chain smoking Marlboros – laughing and joking in Russian. They don’t seem significantly different from any of the other patrons at the impossibly busy bar. Marina has been in Israel for 3 months. A recent arrival from Novosibirsk via Moscow, she’s 26 years old and has a degree in Physics. Speaking passable English, Marina was both charming and vivacious – as were Artem and Vlad, the two guys she was with. Natalia and Irina rounded out the party, and although their English wasn’t as good as Marina’s, they were equally animated.
These people represent a continuing issue in Israel. They are the well scrubbed representatives of Israel’s booming $1 billion sex trade industry. When they walk into your hotel room, their appearance, intelligence and friendly demeanor might make you think that they are simply college students earning extra money for school books. After parting with a not insignificant sum of money and being serviced by one of these libertines, you might assuage your guilt by thinking that you’ve somehow helped.
You haven’t. Not really. See not only are Marina, Natalia and Irina Israeli sex trade workers. They’re also slaves. Little, if any of the cash they receive plying their trade actually goes to them.
Artem and Vlad are their drivers – they get some of the cash, but the lion’s share goes to their pimps – ruthless mobsters who purchase these women at impromptu auctions for anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000. Afterwards, the women, escaping grinding poverty and chronic unemployment in their homes in the former Soviet Union, have to work to repay the pimps for the price of their purchase and expenses involved in their upkeep. Despite sometimes servicing a dozen men a day, they rarely, if ever manage to repay their “debt.”
Horrifying no? Marina works as an escort for one of several agencies that advertise in tourist magazines and Israeli newspapers. As such she’s actually one of the lucky ones. Tourists and upscale Israelis don’t like their whores bruised, worn out looking or whacked out on heroin. Marina’s agency does outcalls, servicing clients at their hotels or homes. In the sex trade hierarchy, that’s considered the top position. But all other positions are well represented in Israel.
There are the so called “Health Clubs” where one can go for anything from a massage with a “happy ending” to full-on sexual intercourse. Typically, the women try to get you off as quickly as possible as this is a volume business. The women here may work as long as 18 hours a day, sleeping in shifts, and service upwards of 2 dozen men a day. The more upscale Health clubs, such as the ones located in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, service Israeli office workers and the occasional tourist directed there by a cab driver. The really scuzzy ones, such as those located near the former bus terminal in Tel Aviv specialize in servicing Israel’s growing population of foreign workers from China, Thailand and the Philippines. If a woman finds herself here, she is definitely close to the end of her usefulness to her pimp. Sex workers also operate out of private apartments. Israeli papers are full of advertisements for these places. They operate in a similar manner to the Health Clubs but offer more privacy to the customer and operate far less openly. Thus, while there are no Health Clubs in Jerusalem, there are plenty of prostitutes working out of such apartments.
One can also find street prostitutes in Israel – for instance, at the Tel Baruch beach, north of Tel Aviv and all along the road leading to the Mandarin beach. Prices here vary depending on the service offered, and the women plying their trade here include many drug addicts and post-op transsexuals.
The sex trade operates openly in Israel, including that part of the sex trade that involves women lured to Israel and forced to work as prostitutes against their will. Some of these sex slaves are smuggled across the Egyptian border by Bedouins. The smuggling is done by the Azazma tribe who also smuggle weapons, consumer goods and are suspected of assisting terrorist groups. Many of the horror stories told by foreign prostitutes smuggled into Israel involve being gang raped by the Bedouins en route to Israel. What further complicates things is the presence of Azazma tribe members in the Israeli police force. The lucky ones, like Marina, manage to get into the country on a tourist visa or as olim (Jewish immigrants), with the paper work arranged for them by their future pimps and corrupt Israeli officials – this way they avoid the gang rapes, but not the ceremonial “breaking in” by their pimp.
Marina couldn’t divulge many details with the muscled and tattooed drivers present, but from what I could piece together, despite her rather impressive degree, she was unemployed back home. Looking for work and maybe a little adventure and escape from the drudgery of her life, like many other young women in her position, she answered an ad promising remunerative overseas employment. She was told she’d be working under the table as a live-in nanny in Israel and an otherwise difficult to obtain tourist visa was quickly arranged.
Once in Israel, she was picked up at Ben Gurion by a representative of her “employment agency.” The representative immediately took her return ticket, passport and ID (for safekeeping) and brought her to an apartment in Tel Aviv. There she met with her future employer who made it clear that she now owed them lots of money and that she was going to be working as a call girl. What transpired next remains vague, but suffice it to say that Marina is now docile and acquiescent and was at all times extremely deferential to the drivers. She did not seem like what one would expect a willing prostitute to be like – she wore a crucifix and asked many questions about religious sites in Jerusalem and Russian Orthodox churches, which she hoped to visit one day.
I asked her about money and she said that she spends it all on cigarettes. Even if she smokes two cartons a week, that’s $50. If she services as little as three Johns a day, she’s earning at least $1000 a week. Clearly, the lion’s share of that cash goes to her pimp. As for her customers Artem and Vlad described a cross-section of male Israeli society. This included religious Jews of all levels of observance, ordinary Israelis, celebrities, politicians, soldiers, tourists, police officers and the occasional wealthy Arab.
Marina is still relatively new to the industry. Considered fresh and still attractive she’s treated somewhat well. The longer she stays in the business though, the worst it will get for her. Eventually she will be demoted and forced to service more men and work longer hours. Her options for escape are limited. She will never be able to repay her pimps. Going to the police means immediate arrest for being in the country illegally as well as detention for up to a year before deportation. Seeking help from the Russian embassy is difficult given the presence on the street of spotters working for her pimp who will drag her away and punish her severely, and threaten her family back home if caught. Sadly, the best thing that could happen to her is to be caught by the police and deported back home. There are a number of Israeli organizations who try to help, but with limited resources and an overburdened staff, their effectiveness is questionable – certainly, despite embarrassing publicity and governmental initiatives, the Israeli sex trade remains as robust as ever and constantly expanding with even more new recruits from Eastern Europe and, lately, from Asia.
Those of us concerned with Israel’s image and its moral imperative cannot however ignore this problem. Especially this close to Passover, the presence of slaves in our midst and the broad support given to an industry that thrives on their enslavement is insupportable.
I’d like to think that Jewlicious readers are a kind, caring and sensitive lot. That’s why we’re doing this little series on modern day slavery. We’re not experts by any means but we are duly horrified. We feel compelled and hopefully you will feel compelled as well. Other than raising awareness on the issue we’d also like to raise some money to help out some of the organizations involved in alleviating the situation.
The first is the Task Force on Human Trafficking, an organization aimed at helping end human trafficking in Israel. They deal with the government, the victims and raising public awareness. The TFHT is a 501(c)3, and you are also free to make donations to them directly through there Web site – tfht.orf. We’d also like to send some cash to an International organization that deals with slavery on an International scale (as discussed by laya in her previous post).
Please, please make any donation. No sum is too small. Use the button at the end of this post – all major credit cards are accepted. More importantly, feel free to look into the subject – a quick search on Google for “human trafficking” or “Israel prostitution” will reveal a wealth of information. Talk about it with your friends and any politicians or officials you know.
I know that sounded really, really weenyish and usually I am far more cynical about stuff. But if you’d seen those women, you’d be heartbroken too.
Oh and for the record, all the names and personal details reported in this post have been totally altered. I have no interest in getting killed by the Russian or any other mob. If you mob motherfuckers are reading this, I live in Wisconsin. Come and get me!
You can read more here:
Israel’s Sex Trade: Something Jewish
Meet Svetlana: Ynetnews
Avi Zenilman was a Slate intern while in High School last year. He took a trip to Israel with his high school and was joined by his dad, a “clap doctor” who took his son along on a visit of Tel Aviv’s sex trade industry. This was part of a study on HIV/STD rates among Tel Aviv’s estimated 3,000 prostitutes, not some misguided rite of passage into manhood. He wrote about it in a series, which you can read here, here, here and here.
Another great resource for articles about Israel’s sex trade and role in white slavery can be found in a number of anti-semitic hate sites. I won’t link to them, but really, why are we giving these people ammunition? Think about that too.
Have a happy Passover.