Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Slavery in Israel

The good news is that the percentage of people around the world in slavery, if not the actual number of people, is much lower than it once was. Every country in the world has laws against slavery, even when it is not well enforced. And modern morality has pretty much reached the point when most forms of slavery are generally condemned - obviously not by the slavers.

The bad news is that millions of people are still enslaved today. There are a number of different issues when is comes to slavery: bonded labor, forced marriage, child exploitation, human trafficking, force and violence. Israel, unfortunately, has all of these, as do many other civilized countries around the world.

Bonded Labor

Work to pay off a debt is not inherently a bad thing, if you're paid fairly and promptly for your labor. This is not the case for tens or hundreds of millions of people around the world today. In Israel, some optimists in third-world countries pay $8-$10 thousand dollars to get a VISA to Israel, only to find that the promised job doesn't exist, is paid less than minimum wage, requires over 12 hours of work a day, includes work far outside the scope advertised, or includes no benefits.

Crooked employers may threaten to go to the police, withhold the person's passport, withhold wages, and so on. Women, in particular, may be subject to violence and threats.

The organization Kav LaOved is the address to turn to for worker's rights in Israel. There are many labor laws and unions in Israel, and the court system is ready to help. The police should be helping, but it doesn't seem like they do much.

Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is a problem in some Haredi and Arab communities. Young girls are married off, often without consent, their family roles now imposed on them by harsh social stigmas, threats of violence, or even deadly violence in some cases.

"It's a cultural thing" is the usual defense. Luckily, when noted, the courts in this country don't agree with that. I don't have statistics, and I'm hopeful that relatively few women are in crisis situations like this. One hears occasionally about a woman in crisis or an honor killing in the Druze or Arab population.

For information about women's resources around Israel - crisis centers, shelters, and so on - including specific ones for religious women and Arabs, click here.

Child Exploitation

Israel has some child labor and exploitation issues. Some children ages 15+ work in excess of what is permitted by law, especially in rural occupations. This includes both Jews and Arabs. At least, this is generally due to poverty - "forced labor" due to economic circumstances - not to any organized system of enslaving children.

Radical Jewish elements sometimes indoctrinate children as young as ten to demonstrate for political or religious causes. On the plus side, our army doesn't allow children under 18 years old to serve, although there have been exceptions.

Many Palestinians of all ages are indoctrinated into violence and martyrdom. Since 2000, around 100 suicide bomber or shooting attacks were carried out or attempted by Palestinian children between the ages of 14 and 17.

Human Trafficking

Israel had a problem with human trafficking, although it is making steps in the right direction. Most people trafficked into Israel are brought across the Egyptian border.

The largest facet of the problem is women from Eastern Soviet block countries brought in to serve in the sex industry in the Tel Aviv area. Once, estimates reported as many as five or ten thousand women affected; that number has dropped to around three thousand. A 2007 Knesset report estimated a drop to less than one thousand women trafficked into the country each year.

Women are often physically restrained, earning almost nothing - or nothing - from the ten to fifteen clients they are forced to serve each day. Escape is difficult: the pimps hold their passports, tell them horror stories of what the police will do to them, beat them, threaten their families or children, etc...

Addresses to turn to for more on this problem include Task Force on Human Trafficking, an Israeli organization, and The Israeli Women's Network.

In addition to the sex trade, trafficking is also done for labor purposes, leading to bonded labor.

Shelters exist specifically for victims of human trafficking. Legal penalties for perpetrators have been raised to decent levels, when they are enforced. President Peres recently spoke out against the phenomenon.

This year, as you raise cups to freedom, remember that all is not well around the world, and even in your own backyard.

Global resources: Anti-Slavery, Free the Slaves, Wikipedia,

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