Police Crack Ring That Smuggled Deaf Eastern Europeans Into Israel to Work as Beggars

Six human smuggling ringleaders arrested on suspicion of trafficking, forced labor, assault and rape.

Illustration: Begging in Israel.
Nir Kafri

Police arrested six people on Monday suspected of smuggling deaf people from Eastern Europe into Israel, forcing them to work as beggars and confiscating their earnings.

The six are suspected of serious offenses, including human trafficking, false imprisonment, forced labor, assault, rape, withholding passports and conspiring to commit a crime.

Police said they were detained in a “swift, professional and covert investigation,” based on information from the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority. The trafficking in deaf people was first revealed by Haaretz almost two years ago.

Three of the suspects are from Rishon Letzion, with the others from Ashkelon, Netanya and Bat Yam. They are believed to have brought deaf-mute people from Eastern Europe into Israel on tourist visas, forcing them to work as beggars, often treating them violently and extorting and threatening them.

Police say the ring provided the beggars with housing, took away their passports and confiscated a significant portion of the money they earned. One of the victims is believed to have been sexually assaulted, police said.

The beggars come from relatively poor countries, like Ukraine, Moldova, Romania and Estonia, population authority officials said. The ring also used deaf Israelis and Palestinians. Ten beggars who were being held in an apartment in the Netanya area were brought to a shelter for victims of human trafficking.

The beggars carried notes enabling them to interact with bus drivers, taxi drivers and passersby. They also carried receipt books bearing the international symbol of the deaf and hard-of-hearing, along with dolls they would give to anyone giving them a donation. The population authority said the beggars worked places like the Azrieli Mall and Tel Aviv Port, the Gold Mall in Rishon Letzion, the Herzliya Marina and the Malha Mall in Jerusalem. During the summer they were even sent to Eilat.

They were forced to work 14-16 hours daily and each would take in an average of between 1,500 shekels ($397) and 2,000 shekels ($529) a day, of which they were allowed to keep only 200 shekels. The rest went to their handlers, ostensibly to pay for their plane tickets and accommodation.

The population authority said that dozens of beggars had been arrested, questioned and deported to their countries of origin in recent years. The administration’s enforcement division noted that it had given real-time information about the trafficking ring to the police and the Justice Ministry.

The authority said it first heard about this type of human trafficking three years ago, when two deaf people from Eastern Europe were deported after being caught soliciting funds in Be’er Sheva for a fictitious organization. Their arrest spurred an investigation that revealed they were part of a ring of hundreds of beggars.

Yossi Hadad, who is responsible for the authority’s intelligence office in the south of the country, told Haaretz two years ago that the ringleaders would lure their European prey to Israel through dating websites for the deaf.