Combatting Human Trafficking: What Can Be Learned From The Israeli Success Story

By Evan Henderson

Human trafficking has emerged as a worldwide epidemic, revealing itself in the past decades to be a profitable and low-risk industry for traffickers. All across the globe, countries are consistently instituting new initiatives in an effort to curve this growing threat, and yet, in many places these efforts have been to no avail. Israel is one of the few countries able to claim virtual success in eliminating human trafficking within its borders. In this article, I will analyze Israel’s route to success in combatting human trafficking and identify some of the key takeaways to be considered from its achievements. 

Israel has not always been the gold standard in anti-human trafficking that it is today. From the 1990s until the early 2000s, Israel experienced a massive outbreak of trafficking. Women were being imported into Israel in droves, with law enforcement agencies estimating that there were upwards of 3,000 women a year being brought into the country for the purpose of prostitution. In the 2001 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report — an annual report released by the U.S. State Department which ranks different governments’ efforts to combat human trafficking — Israel was classified amongst the lowest ranking (tier 3), deemed a country putting forth minimal to no effort in combatting human trafficking. 

Being ranked among the bottom tier stimulated positive change in Israel’s anti-human trafficking efforts. In 2007, Israel released a national plan to combat trafficking in persons for the purposes of slavery or forced labor. In this plan, Israel had three main points of focus: prevention, prosecution, and protection. Through these three areas, Israel aimed to dramatically decrease the trafficking activities taking place within its own borders.

To lead the charge of its prevention efforts, Israel established the Office of the National Anti-Trafficking Coordinator (ONATC) inside the Ministry of Justice. The ONATC provides courses that aid in victim identification and increase awareness of the trafficking industry as a whole. These training courses have become incredibly successful, reaching more than 925 Israeli government officials last year alone. Other preventative measures include hotlines launched for trafficking victims, as well as the establishment of various bilateral work agreements between Israel and other countries as the sole way that foreigners may be recruited to work in Israel. Israel has also made major strides in the prosecution of traffickers. In the last two decades, Israel has ratified several international protocols that have aligned itself with global anti-human trafficking efforts, along with initiating amendments in domestic law that have significantly strengthened prosecuting power against traffickers. These amendments have designated potential consequences for being found guilty of trafficking in Israel to include 15 to 20 years of jail time, as well as monetary compensation to victims.  

  Due to this newfound emphasis on prosecution, criminal investigations and indictments have drastically increased against parties guilty of trafficking in Israel. In 2018 alone, 139 investigations were launched into trafficking offenses, 22 of which resulted in indictments. These statistics exhibit immense progress compared to 2001, when a single individual was convicted of trafficking-related offenses under Israeli legislature.

Protection was the most challenging area for reform. Initially, trafficked persons were regarded in the eyes of the Israeli government as criminals and illegal immigrants rather than victims. Overtime this attitude shifted, leading to major developments in legislation. Provisions were established to give recovering victims of human trafficking access to legal representation, temporary work, rehabilitation, medical services, as well as shelters and transitional apartments. Another key action taken by Israel was strengthening its immigration control. Large amounts of immigrants were being trafficked through the Sinai Peninsula into Israel for the purposes of forced labour or slavery. Israel addressed this by heavily increasing border security, with the most prominent development being the construction of the fence on the Israeli-Egyptian border. 

Due to these measures that were taken, Israel has experienced incredible success in their mission to fight human trafficking. It has virtually eliminated trafficking within its borders, with not a single case reported in 2010 and limited instances, all of decreased severity, in the following years. Israel has also sustained a tier 1 ranking in the annual TIP report since 2012, deemed a country that has taken measures against human trafficking that comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards. 

Despite their best efforts, many countries today still struggle with combatting human trafficking within their own borders. I propose that the most important lesson these struggling countries should take away from Israel’s success story is that when it comes to ending human trafficking, a comprehensive approach is essential. It is not enough to ramp up one aspect of anti-trafficking efforts. To truly put a dent in human trafficking, countries must attack the industry from all angles. Israel’s approach to anti-human trafficking has been so successful because it has emphasized decreasing demand for trafficked persons along with the supply, actually enforced the legislature it has passed in the area, and analyzed its specific environment for key problem-areas. To put it succinctly, the major takeaways for other nations from Israel’s success in eliminating human trafficking are: 

  1. Governing bodies must start viewing trafficked persons as victims, deserving of the necessary protections of those whose basic human rights have been infringed upon, not criminals. 
  2. Countries must emphasize confronting demand for modern slavery through increased societal awareness, as well as the passing and enforcement of strong legislature that will increase the risk of participating in trafficking.
  3. Each society must address the unique factors plaguing them — in the case of Israel; it was tightening immigration security to halt the major trafficking hub on the Sinai Peninsula. 

When these three factors are being globally incorporated, we will start to see true change in the fight against human trafficking.

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