Chile Ezra was violently raped in an abandoned building in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station when she was homeless, addicted to drugs and working as a prostitute. She managed to flee her attacker, a prostitution client, with her last ounce of strength to run into the street, her face bleeding from a brick with which he had beaten her on the head.
She shouted and pleaded for help, but encountered a combination of apathy and disgust. Nobody approached to help, no car stopped, nobody called an ambulance. “I’ve never felt so invisible in my life,” she said in an article in Haaretz in 2016, which reported her struggle to prevent her deportation.
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When she was finally brought to the hospital, and recovered, she promised herself that she would rescue herself from the abyss in which she was trapped. She filed a complaint with the police, testified courageously at the trial, and the serial rapist, who had harmed other prostitutes, received a long prison sentence.
A victim of human trafficking who was brought to Israel forcibly from Hungary in 1997 at the age of 22, was traded among crime organizations, enslaved in brothels and trapped in the local cycle of drugs and prostitution, Ezra began an exemplary path of rehabilitation that has lasted about 12 years.
A courageous ruling, handed down last week in the immigration appeals tribunal in Jerusalem, put an end to her Sisyphean struggle against the walls of inflexibility of the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority, which has been threatening her with deportation. In June it gave her a miserly one-year residency permit, and rejected her request to receive permanent residency for humanitarian reasons.
Judge Marat Dorfman of the immigration appeals tribunal, who opened his ruling with a reference to Anton Chekhov’s story “A Nervous Breakdown,” which describes an encounter in a Moscow brothel – wondered aloud how to prevent the demand for human trafficking in women in Israel.
In his ruling, he wrote: “It is clear to me that granting a permanent residency permit is not a miracle remedy that is capable of healing her wounds, but I am of the opinion that permanent residency could provide the appellant with the sense of stability that she has lacked throughout her life, in light of all she went through because of her abduction from Hungary to Israel.”
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Dorfman harshly criticizes the decision of the Population and Immigration Authority, and rules that Ezra, who has been living in Israel for 22 years, has a strong connection to Israel, and that the country is essential to her rehabilitation.
Ezra, one of the symbols of the fight against trafficking in women and prostitution, lectures and works in the Health Ministry’s Levinsky Clinic, helping women in prostitution. In his ruling, Judge Dorfman points to her significant contribution to Israeli society in eliminating the phenomenon of prostitution.
“The appellant is one of those few women who, despite all the terrible vicissitudes in her life, found the strength to be rehabilitated, and even to contribute from her experience to the rehabilitation of other women, and to removing them from the cycle of drugs and prostitution. I believe that it is actually in the public interest to grant permanent residency in Israel to the appellant, so that she can continue to contribute from her vast experience for the purpose of rehabilitating additional women.”
In making the decision to give Ezra residency status, the appeals tribunal was able to act against the onus of invisibility. Ezra says she felt that the court saw her as a human being rather than an invisible woman, as in the victory of the sun over a terrible winter that she thought would never end. A few hours later the Population and Immigration Authority had already hastened to freeze her victory, ordering a two-week delay in the implementation of the ruling, so they could examine filing an appeal.
Condemning the abusive, hardhearted and aggressive action of the Population and Immigration Authority against Ezra may be the real achievement of Dorfman’s ruling – exposing the true face of Interior Minister Arye Dery, and of Immigration and Population Authority director general Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, who are now trying to steal a portion of justice from a victim of trafficking.
The importance of the ruling lies in its lifting of the mask from those who pretended to be righteous while letting a victim of trafficking spend her life running to renew her permit every year, in constant fear of deportation.