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City in Focus: Tel Aviv, Israel

“For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” —Isaiah 2:3

Many might be surprised to know that prostitution is legal in Israel and that it is, in fact, a hotbed of commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking. However Israel stands on the brink of a massive breakthrough concerning the issue of sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

There is a very promising opportunity in the coming months for the passage of an extremely important anti-prostitution law in the Knesset, which is Israel’s national legislature.

This law would criminalize the purchase of sex (demand) and provide services for women to exit prostitution, as in Sweden’s Nordic Model. The bill is called “The Criminal Prohibition of Consumption of Prostitution Services and Community Treatment Bill.”

In an exciting turn of events, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the proposed bill in July. In fact, the Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked vowed to promote the bill, saying “As long as there is no law prohibiting prostitution, we are signaling to our children that it is legitimate.”1

The bill also passed the important “preliminary voting” session in July with 75 voting for it and zero against it!

Attorney Avital Rosenberger-Seri, Director of the Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution recently said, “After a decade of difficult struggle, we are gratified the Israeli government chose to convey a message of hope to women in prostitution and to Israel society as a whole. You can eradicate prostitution – you need to decide to place responsibility on the consumers. It is possible that a generation will grow in Israel for which the purchase of sex and women will be illegitimate and illegal.”2

It is possible that a generation will grow in Israel for which the purchase of sex and women will be illegitimate and illegal.

There are still three voting cycles in the Knesset. It is critical that we continue to stand with Israel to see this important legislation passed. If passed, this law will be a quantum leap in ethical legislation.

The main hub of prostitution in Israel is in Tel Aviv—the center of the country— where it can be found anywhere and everywhere. Sixty two percent of the apartment brothels and 48% of the prostitution “massage parlors” are in the Tel Aviv area. “Massage parlors”—brothels in disguise—apartment brothels, strip clubs, and street prostitution are part of everyday life in Israel.

Haaretz journalist Vared Lee took an incredibly extensive look into the realities of prostitution in Tel Aviv by speaking in depth with many of the women being exploited in the sex industry. Lee recounts the story of one woman named Aline:

“It’s depressing to come to an escort parlor in the light of day,” says Aline, who works at one such place in the center of Tel Aviv. “The whole way here, I look at the people who are on the way to a regular job or are sitting in cafes, and I feel sad. There used to be only a few escort parlors in Tel Aviv, but today I can show you street after street in the center of the city where there is an unbroken chain of prostitution places.

“Before you have even woken up properly in the morning,” she continues, “you have to go into a room with a man, smile, project a feeling of ease, show happiness, be soft, laugh and give him the feeling that you are attracted to him and also tell him what kind of sexual acts you do and how much they cost. That stage kills me. It’s a game, a show. I die inside anew every time. How much can you lie? To be naked and smile and give a strange man the feeling that you are providing him with what he wants?”

Aline is a beautiful, sensitive woman, void of masks, sober-eyed; she whitewashes nothing when she talks about prostitution. Occasionally, as she recalls certain events from her life, her eyes well up with tears. It is an effort for her to speak: her voice is feeble and betrays mental weariness. After eight years of working in the sex industry she has developed a serious drinking problem ‏(“I drink before work, during work and at home”‏), suffers from depression and lives a grinding life of poverty.

“I was barely holding out, and then my daughter was diagnosed with a rare illness. The medicine was not included in the ‘health basket.’ I had to pay for it myself. It’s not just the medicine, there are also special treatments… I fell deeper and deeper into depression. I felt that every road was blocked.” “I innocently told a girlfriend what I was going through. She told me she worked in prostitution… That’s how it started.”

A week after she started to work in an apartment in the center of the city, the depression became more acute and she tried to commit suicide. “I was hospitalized, and after I was discharged my health maintenance organization recommended a psychiatrist,” she recalls. “I went to his clinic in Tel Aviv and said openly that I was working in prostitution and having a hard time coming to terms with that. He offered to treat me free in return for sexual services. Afterward he also came to the apartment where I worked.”

Aline was unable to continue. After a long silence she adds, “Finally, I came to my senses and stopped going to him… I suffer from serious depression now, but I only go to the psychiatrist I have now for prescriptions. He doesn’t know about the prostitution, and I am afraid to tell him and be exploited again.”

For years she tried to stop working in prostitution, but unsuccessfully… “The years go by and you feel like you are being buried. There are periods when I am barely alive inside. I have no motivation to believe that I can change my life. I have no belief.”3

Sadly Aline’s story is extremely common in Israel. In 2014 the first-ever government survey into prostitution in Israel was conducted by the social affairs and public security ministries. The survey found there were between 11,420 and 12,730 prostituted people in Israel, of which 1,260 are children and 95 percent of whom are female. Fifty-two percent of women surveyed were born in the Former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, 97% are Israeli citizens and 86% are Jewish.

One young Jewish women named Anastasia told Lee of her harrowing experience entering the sex industry in Tel Aviv:

“I want to tell you about my first day here,” Anastasia says, and tears well up in her blue eyes. Her sincerity is irresistible. She looks gentle, fragile, vulnerable. “I got here five months ago, after a whole week of not having food to give my son,” she says. She lights up a cigarette but it cannot calm her inner tempest. “With my last shekels I bought food for my son. The food ran out, the money ran out. The first day of work here I couldn’t stop crying and my body shook. One client and another client and another client, and I am crying and shaking hysterically. Then my son suddenly called and said, ‘Mom, I don’t have anything to eat. There is no food in the house.’ I already had NIS 400 that I had earned. I started to cry and told him, ‘Don’t worry. Today we will have food. Today we will go to the supermarket.”4

Lee recounts yet another grim tale of a woman who was being prostituted out of what locals call “peep shows,” just another phrase for a strip club. These clubs, however, are merely places where women are advertised for prostitution.

The Ramat Gan bourse district is teeming with people at 10:30 A.M. But in a small peep-show club on one of its streets, it seems to be evening. The appearance of the place, with its dim lighting, is deceptive. An emaciated young woman wearing panties and a bra sits and stares into an aquarium with murky glass. She rebuffs every attempt at communication. Her eyes are glassy.

Nearby, three women are working midmorning at a strip joint, to meet the demand. The entrance has a kitschy look. The workers, heavily made-up, wait for the clients in a dark inner alcove where sunlight is not an option. They are dressed minimally and walk about on stiletto heels.

In the tiny, stifling “dance rooms,” the black walls seem to be closing in; a large, well-padded sofa stands next to a stainless steel pole. Stacked next to the sofa are paper towels and oils, which suggest that the dance pole is meant to be only a setting, or at most a starting point for the client-dancer interaction.

Dafna has been working at the club for three years. “We are all mothers here,” she says, and suddenly tears course down her face. Until 8 P.M., when her shift finishes, she is expected to handle 20 to 30 clients, she says. A security guard intervenes, saying that all the women in the club are there of their own volition. “They are all here by choice,” he says. The women lower their gaze. An oppressive silence ensues. “Not one woman chooses this and not one really wants it,” Dafna says rebelliously. “These are simply women who have no choice,” she adds, and the tears fill her eyes again.5

As watchmen on the walls, we must battle in prayer and action for thousands like Anastasia, Dafna, and Aline, who are caught in the horrific sex industry in this nation.

Israel is a small geographical place, about the size of New Jersey, yet the eyes of the world are constantly upon her. Described in the Bible as the “apple of God’s eye,” He looks upon Israel and sees her significance. They are those to whom the Scriptures were entrusted, called to be His chosen people and to be a representation of God’s righteousness on earth.

Let us contend for Israel, during this critical moment in time, to fulfill her calling to pass just laws concerning prostitution and sexual exploitation. Let us stand alongside her to see justice established, and righteous laws go forth from Israel to all the nations (Isaiah 2:3). Let’s intercede for those trapped in all areas of the sex industry, that they may be set free, healed, and restored to wholeness.

Please stand with us as we proclaim God’s truth in the very place where Jesus himself began His ministry by declaring liberty to the captives and freedom to all who are oppressed (Luke 4:18).


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