Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Chile Ezra, 44, has had a hard time sleeping at night. It’s not just the situation of the homeless prostitutes at Tel Aviv’s central bus station that she sees three times a week during her work at the Health Ministry’s mobile clinic that’s keeping her awake.
On June 24, a humanitarian committee which advises the Interior Ministry will meet to decide whether to give her official status in Israel or deport her. For 22 years, she has lived among us and the fragile fabric of the life she’s woven for herself with great difficulty is constantly at risk of dissipating. Her story is complicated and full of pain.
She was born in Hungary and suffered from domestic violence and sexual abuse in her youth. She became a mother at a young age, consumed alcohol and tranquilizers and fell prey to a criminal organization that trafficked in women when she was 22. She was brought forcibly to Israel in 1997 when trafficking in women flourished here. Her passport was taken from her and she was trapped in a brothel that maintained order with violence and abuse; she was a sex slave for 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
When she escaped from the criminal gang she sank into the local prostitution industry, became addicted to hard drugs and married an Israeli citizen, an ex-con who worked in the brothel as a clerk. They had a civil ceremony and tried to obtain permanent residency for her through the Population and Immigration Authority. But their efforts to get off drugs and rehabilitate themselves collapsed and they lived as a couple for years on the streets near Tel Aviv's central bus station.
Ezra was repeatedly raped by a client, a serial rapist named Vendmo Brooklyn, who regularly attacked prostitutes at the old bus station. She filed a police complaint, and as a result of her courageous testimony, he was put behind bars for 28 years.
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Finally, she took herself in hand and tried to rehabilitate herself. But in 2015, her partner died, as a result of which her request for residency status was denied and she was told she had to leave the country. She appealed and has been battling to stay since. She has been off drugs for 12 years and is no longer working in prostitution. I interviewed her in 2016 when she was fighting the decision to deport her. Her visa was taken away and she was left with no way to work until a decision was made in her case. She was paralyzed with fear, and when she found herself in dire financial straits she sank back into prostitution for four months.
Ezra is conducting a daily battle to overcome the trauma she experienced from human trafficking, prostitution, and a society that remained indifferent to her situation. The police finally recognized her officially as a victim of human trafficking on November 20 of last year. She appeared without obscuring her face in the film, “A Whore Like Me,” directed by Yael Shachar and Sharon Yaish, which followed her life out of a desire to make viewers aware of this difficult phenomenon. The film won the Ophir Prize for Best Documentary under 60 minutes, and it is included in the Education Ministry’s culture basket. Ezra has turned her life into a daily public relations campaign against prostitution. She lectures and has been working to help prostitutes at the Levinsky clinic for nine years (seven as a volunteer and the last two for pay).
Is it possible that Israel, which was one of the target countries for ring trafficking in women in the mid-1990s and closed its eyes for many years to this hellish phenomenon, will deport a woman who was herself a victim? Is destroying the life of a trafficking victim yet again really necessary? Hasn’t the time come for the state to grant her residency, given its responsibility for her situation, and to allow her to live as a woman with equal rights?