In February 2003, the Tel Aviv-based Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW) published a report titled, "Modern Slavery and Trafficking in Human Beings in Israel," saying:
"In September 2002, a new 'Deportation Police' (Immigration Administration) was set up (to) expel 50,000 migrant workers" by year end 2003. Unprecedented in scope at the time, it reflected Israel's longstanding "official policy towards migrant labor."
HMW's report showed a pattern of denying migrant workers basic rights "to such an extent as to result in modern slavery and trafficking in human beings."
Ever since Israel allowed non-Palestinian migrant workers entry in the early 1990s, their rights steadily eroded. More recently, HMW said:
"Its primary manifestations include debt bondage, restrictions and violations of basic human freedoms, and renting and selling of workers," policies ongoing today.
Beneficiaries include employers, employment agencies and smugglers, reducing human beings to chattel. Though aware of the problem, authorities have done little to prevent it. Moreover, they're complicit by binding workers to employers, not enforcing applicable laws, and arbitrarily deporting migrant workers called "illegal" for reasons like refusing to work for abusive employers at low pay under degrading or sub-human conditions.
In fact, combined, these policies facilitate "conditions of slavery and trafficking in human beings in Israel," made possible by:
- companies recruiting workers abroad;
- using exploitive employment service intermediaries;
- binding workers contractually to a single employer;
- extracting large fees up to $15,000, entrapping them in debt; in fact, importing workers solely for that purpose;
- paying below legal minimum wages and extracting large overcharges for food and housing;
- providing sub-human living conditions;
- restricting worker freedoms;
- confiscation of passports;
- letting employees terminate workers unilaterally, leaving them vulnerable to jailing and deportation;
- letting them sell workers to other companies like chattel; and
- overall affording no legal rights under international law.
International Law Prohibitions on Slavery and Human Trafficking
Paragraph 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
"No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms."
The 1926 Convention on Slavery, amended by the UN in 1953, prohibited slavery in all forms, defining it in Article I (1) and (2) as:
"the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised, (including) capture, acquisition or disposal of a person with intent to reduce him to slavery...."
The UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (called the Palermo Protocol or Trafficking Protocol) defines the practice as follows in Article 3:
"Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs...."
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obligates nations to respect and safeguard all individuals within their territory, as well as prevent, investigate and prosecute violations of their rights.
Other relevant laws include:
- the UN Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others;
- the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women;
- the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; and
- the UN Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air.
Like many other nations, including America, Israel ignores them all, despite its own laws protecting migrants as human beings. As a result, HMW said:
"By focus(ing) on punishing foreign workers while ignoring their rights," Israel treats them "as objects that can be brought in and sent back, imported and allocated as quotas, transferred from one employer to another, bought and sold, exploited and deported."
At the same time, Israel calls this "an effective and humane solution that will reduce or totally eliminate the number of illegal aliens in Israel." In fact, it facilitates human trafficking and modern slavery, affording migrant workers no rights, leaving them vulnerable to the will of employers and state authorities. "In the final analysis, a heavy price is being paid, not only by the migrant workers themselves, but by all citizens of Israel."
Israel's Proposed New Slavery Law
On March 28, 2011, Haaretz writer Merav Michaeli headlined "The Modern slavery law," saying:
The Knesset Interior and Environmental Committee was considering legislation "that would yoke foreign nursing-care workers to a specific employer and area of the country," preventing them from leaving voluntarily. However, enactment will circumvent Israel's 2006 High Court ruling that limiting them this way constitutes illegal modern slavery.
Debate occurred at the same time authorities avoided negotiating with striking social workers to enforce greater pressure for low pay. "Indeed, before the import of foreign caregivers, there were many more Israeli (ones), both men and women, employed under much better working conditions."
As a result, dependent elderly or disabled people must choose between a poorly paid foreign caregiver or expensive nursing facility. In contrast, government officials see no "problem in exploiting weakened, aging citizens (as well as) subjugating even weaker" caregivers, afforded no rights.
On March 24, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) addressed the same problem in an analysis headlined, "The 'Slavery Law' and Beyond: New Bills Targeting Foreign Residents," saying the Knesset is considering three bills to restrict the legal status of non-Jews in Israel. If enacted, their basic rights will be more compromised on the pretext of reforming current immigration policy.
(1) The "Slavery Law"
Mainly affecting migrant women, the first bill restricts nurses and caregivers, giving the Interior Minister power to bind them to employers or specific work like caring solely for the elderly, disabled or minors, as well as in one location. Violators would be arrested and deported. As explained above, Israel's High Court ruled this illegal.
(2) A second bill stipulates that persons remaining in Israel illegally may acquire legal status only after a 1 - 10 year "cooling period" outside the country. It applies to:
- spouses of Israeli residents and citizens;
- parents of Israeli minors, disregarding their welfare;
- children and elderly parents of Israeli residents and citizens;
- native Negev Bedouins, Israeli citizens afforded no rights;
- migrant workers;
- victims of human trafficking;
- humanitarian cases; and
Persons this bill mostly harms will be families of Israeli citizens and non-citizen spouses, parents and children. Moreover, Israel's High Court addressed this issue in 1999 and 2006, ruling it illegal to require non-resident spouses of Israeli citizens to leave the country before or until their status is clarified. The Court also said doing so fails the proportionality test because of the harm caused to married couples' rights.
(3) The third bill establishes a Justice Ministry immigration and status tribunal. As part of the executive branch, justices will be allowed to rule with no public or oral debate. Authorities will also be exempt from "presenting various documents to the court and will be allowed to demand ex-parte hearings (where one party isn't present or given notice of court proceedings)."
If enacted, it will thus subvert "every rule of natural justice" by giving the Justice and Interior Ministries total authority over immigrants and non-Jews. These ministries will then have extrajudicial power to determine policies, "introduce procedures, execute them, judge them, and" decide on their legality, irrespective of Israeli and international law.
Increasingly in Israel, the rule of law is null and void, mainly affecting the most vulnerable, including migrant non-Jewish workers.
A Final Comment
On May 11, Haaretz writer Akiva Eldar headlined, "Israel admits it covertly cancelled residency status of 140,000 Palestinians," saying:
It affects those traveling abroad between 1967 and 1994, "in a new document obtained by Haaretz." During that period, "Palestinians who wished to travel abroad via Jordan were ordered to leave their ID cards at the Allenby Bridge border crossing," exchanging them for another valid for three years.
Palestinians not renewing them on time were no longer residents. The document includes no warning or information about the process, leaving travelers uninformed and vulnerable, including students studying abroad, businessmen, and laborers who worked in the Gulf.
The Center for the Defense of the Individual said that:
"mass withdrawal of residency rights from tens of thousands of West Bank residents, tantamount to permanent exile from their homeland, remains an illegitimate demographic policy and a grave violation of international law."
Article 13 (1) and (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in fact, states:
"Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state."
Moreover, "(e)veryone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."
Israel, of course, ignores international laws and standards, especially for Palestinians and its Arab citizens.
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|Allen L. Jasson|
|William John Cox|