'That gate and those stairs make no secret of what lies beyond'
Close to where I live in Tel Aviv, on a large street in a very good neighborhood, there is a gated entrance to a set of descending stairs. Above the gate is a very clear address sign, which is brightly illuminated at night. The gate, you'll notice, is closed and locked during the day. But at night it's flung open.
The gate, it should be emphasized, opens onto a major thoroughfare. Families stroll down this street to the sea. Young girls go shopping, joggers plod along, and people of all sorts sit at the cafes, of which there are about three or four to every block—including one on the block of the gated stairs.
That gate and those stairs make no secret of what lies beyond. For those who miss the clue of an unmarked establishment that's open only after dusk, or the unsubtle hint of a laundry delivery van bringing dozens (if not hundreds) of cheap little white towels and clinically thin sheets once a week, then the descent of lone men (though, admittedly, they sometimes come in groups of three, but rarely more than that) down the stairs or back up again completes the puzzle.
It's a whorehouse. It sits there in full view, unashamed. Its patrons come and go in full view, unashamed. It's by no means the only whorehouse in Tel Aviv. But this one—with its telltale signs unhidden, its street-facing entrance, and its brightly lit (and pretty well cleaned) address sign—stands out a bit more.
You have to wonder, considering all this, about the exact nature of the relationship between the police and the proprietors of this place. Is it that the police are imbeciles, and the owners of the place smart enough (at least) to take advantage? Or is it more equivocal, with authorities willing to turn a blind eye in exchange for a tacit promise that the operators make sure their customers leave all things illicit (except the leers on their faces) at the gate? Or maybe there's more of a wink-wink situation, a kind of I rub your back, you rub—well, you get the idea.
I've wondered about it. I'm curious about how that relationship was actually arranged. By phone? By unspoken agreement (and if so, how does that work)? Did they sit at my local café, speaking in gruff undertones and writing things on napkins and then looking away? But at the conclusion of this personal pulp fiction of mine, I realized: Does it matter?
Tel Aviv turns its blind eye
Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Oman are among the countries that Israel can count as co-members of the US State Department's Tier 2 human trafficking category. This honor wasn't bestowed on Israel solely on account of the numbers—between 3,000 and 5,000 women are smuggled into Israel to be sold into sex slavery each year—since larger countries see much larger numbers in annual human trafficking.
Rather, the Tier 2 classification is tied to the amount of effort that Israeli authorities-- i.e. the police – put into fighting human trafficking and sexual slavery. In the State Department's words, Israel doesn't comply with even "the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking."
Maybe this sheds some light on the shady question about our clean, well lighted brothel. The government doesn't seem to care that women are being pressed into slavery—by way of Jordan and often by Palestinians, it should be noted for those looking to "conflictize" this issue. So why would the police be concerned when their services are made use of?
But this explanation only touches the surface of things. It's not the police who turn a blind eye, but our culture. It's Tel Aviv that turns its blind eye—or maybe, it's just sadly and willfully blind. After all, the gated brothel is there, out in the open, unhidden. And in case you missed it, scattered all over the city, strewn on the ground and slotted into car windows, are little business cards with neon backgrounds showing nude women offering their services as "massage therapists."
When the Johns leave the gated brothel and step onto a busy street they don't need to worry about whether anyone will see them. Everyone will see them. And no one will care. Men in Israel (though not just Israelis) see prostitutes one million times—a month.
It's an uncharacteristically "progressive" policy, but in Israel prostitution is legal, though brothels and pimping are not. With demand soaring, completely unchecked by social disapproval, the supply of bodies has to come from somewhere. So from the most macro to the most micro level, from the supply side of the traffickers to the demand side of the brothels, there is no need for anyone to be concerned.
Actually, that's not true: The young girls lured by the prospect of a halfway decent job only to have their passports confiscated and their bodies sold should be very concerned. The rest of us, however, needn't be bothered.
Ashley Rindsberg is a 29-year-old writer who’s contributed to The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post and Ynet, in addition to recently publishing a book of short fiction, Tel Aviv Stories .
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