Ibrahim Julani - Emil Salman
Ibrahim Julani. Photo by Emil Salman
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A man and woman were convicted Wednesday, in the first such case in Israel, of holding a Filipina in slavery in their Jerusalem home.

The Jerusalem District Court ruled that Ibrahim and Basma Julani of the Shuafat neighborhood in the capital held Mary Ann Paoig, of the Philippines, for work purposes by denying her freedom, as though she were their property.

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Paoig was held captive for about two years in a bathroom, where the defendants had put a bed. She received no days off and was at the couple's disposal day and night. She was paid a meager sum and was only allowed out of the house in the company of one of them.

This is the first time the court has defined holding a person as slavery, a crime entailing a 4-16-year prison sentence.

"This is a historic day," Rachel Gershoni, the Justice Ministry's coordinator of the war on human trafficking, said yesterday. "This case involves no violence or starvation. They even spoke to her nicely. And yet it's a case of holding in slavery due to the victim's objectification, denial of her freedom and the defendants' real control over her life," she said.

Paoig, 25, came to Israel via Jordan in 2007 and stayed in the spacious Julani villa for about two years. Basma, her employer, took her passport and refused to return it despite Paoig's requests. She was lodged in a bathroom consisting of a toilet and shower, as well as a bed.

She did not receive any days off, despite her requests, and the couple persuaded her not to leave the house, telling her she could be caught by the police.

The judges wrote in their verdict that while the Julanis allowed Paoig to call the Philippines from their house and bought her a cellphone and calling cards, "the few places she called indicate a lack of social meetings or the possibility of calling other people."

The Julanis did not allow Paoig to leave the house alone, except for short excursions to the nearby grocery store or for housework. One of the Julanis accompanied her whenever she left the house and kept a close eye on her at all times.

The Julanis' attorney, Ariel Atari, said the plaintiff had stolen jewels from her employers and as soon as they complained to the police she "remembered" to accuse them.

He said Paoig could speak freely on three cellphones, one of them provided by the Julanis.

"She sent some 5,000 text messages and made hundreds of calls. We proved she met a Filipina friend living nearby. At times she was alone in the house and could call for help - she had the phone number of the Philippine community head in Jerusalem. The judges asked her twice if she would have run away if they had opened the door to her, and she said 'no,'" he said.