What happens in Morocco: Israelis flock to flourishing sex tourism

The strengthening of diplomatic relations with Rabat may have brought some Israelis to appreciate the country's culture and people, but it also beat the path for some to take advantage of the North African nation's sex industry

Adam Kutub, Morocco|
One of Marrakesh’s most popular hotels located in the city’s center is mostly empty during noon. Two Israelis in their 20s are talking to the receptionist trying to get more towels brought to their room to no avail. I approach them and offer to help, and the receptionist smiles and ensures them they’ll get what they want.
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“Thanks, man, are you Israeli?” One of them asks, to which I nod. The two present themselves as Yair and Sagi (assumed names) and ask me to go out with them as a way of thanking me.
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נשים במעגל הזנות במרקש
נשים במעגל הזנות במרקש
(Photo: Getty Images)
Later that night, I knocked on the door of their hotel suite, and presented myself as an Israeli student who was visiting Morocco for the first time. “You have no idea how wild things are here,” Yair says. “It’s our third time here. The food is cheap, our suite costs us pennies, and most importantly – the women are amazing.”

Sex trafficking in a taxi

Welcome to Marrakesh, the new prime destination for Israeli sex tourism. Officially, sex tourism is nonexistent in Morocco. Prostitution has been illegal in the country since the 1970s, with a penalty of up to one year in prison. In 2003, the Moroccan government also included sex tourism as a criminal offense in its penal code. This, however, hasn't stopped the practice.
Morocco's unique combination of an Arab country relatively open to the Western world, coupled with its economic hardship, has positioned the country as one of the global hubs for sex tourism and human trafficking for prostitution.
In 2015, the Moroccan Health Ministry estimated the number of women involved in prostitution to be around 50,000, with a majority concentrated in the Marrakesh region. According to UN estimates, the number is even higher, at around 75,000.
A local government inquiry found that in many cases, despite being a traditional Islamic society, women are pushed into prostitution by their own families, sometimes at very young ages. Other Moroccan women are sold to men in the Saharan region who use them in ways that would the vulgar description of a sex slave.
Many of the Moroccan women in prostitution rings are single mothers, who became pregnant outside of wedlock or were divorced, estranged from their families, and turned to the sex industry as a means of supporting themselves and their children. There is also male prostitution in Morocco, but it is less common, as homosexuality is illegal.
Last year, 11 million tourists visited Morocco, with approximately 70,000 of them being Israelis. It is estimated that in 2023, the number of Israeli tourists to the country will triple. The majority of them come to enjoy the exotic tourist sites, vibrant markets, and rich cultural heritage of this beautiful North African country.
Some of them also come for heritage trips and to explore the Jewish history that flourished here. However, an Israeli investigation into tourism to the country reveals that alongside all of these, many Israelis have also discovered the local sex industry, and in Marrakesh, women in prostitution have already learned some sentences in Hebrew.
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נשים במעגל הזנות בגן ארסט אל־בילק
נשים במעגל הזנות בגן ארסט אל־בילק
Protsitutes in one of Marrakesh's gardens
(Photo: Adam Kutub)
Prostitution is found everywhere in Marrakesh. It starts as soon as you land at the Marrakesh Menara Airport. After finding my suitcase, I’m directed to a taxi driver called Yousef. Yousef wonders what I've come to do in the city and if I'm married. “I’m here to enjoy myself,” I replied.
After exchanging a few more words about nightlife and tourist attractions in Marrakesh, Yousef reached into his glove compartment and pulled out a blue folder when we stopped at a red light. "Take a look and choose whoever you want," he said. "What you see is what you get."
In the folder was a variety of pictures of women, mostly Moroccans, with some Europeans, alongside their age and country of origin. A flesh market that’s organized, priced, and wrapped in a blue, battered folder.
Yousef looked at me through the rearview mirror, waiting for me to choose. "I prefer younger women," I tried to say, wanting to avoid choosing without raising suspicion. Yousef, however, doesn't hesitate. He opened his WhatsApp and entered a group.
There, I was shown pictures of girls, ranging from ages 11 to 16, completely nude. Next to each picture were details about the girls, who their contact was, how old they were, and where they were located. “I’m not into that,” I told him before he stopped in front of my hotel.

Under cover of night

Before leaving for Marrakesh, I contacted a local friend, Emil (assumed name), who knows the city well, including its darker sides. When evening falls, Emil picks me up, and we head to Jemaa el-Fnaa.
This expansive and famous square is located at the entrance to the old city, known as the Medina, and is surrounded by shops, cafes, markets, bustling traffic, and tourist groups, including many Hebrew speakers.
It's a charming tourist area, especially at night, but that’s only on the surface. You don’t have to do much searching for the city’s darker aspects, they tend to find you. At the western end of the square, not far from the famous Kutubiyya Mosque, is a small garden called Arset El-Bilk.
It's an abandoned area where ancient trees serve as a shady refuge for opportunistic tourists during the scorching days of August. But at night, the garden paths turn into a hub for the local sex industry. Women in the prostitution ring, as well as a few men, sit on the benches, and potential “clients” wander among them, inspecting them.
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 כיכר ג'אמע אל־פנא, ב"מדינה" של מרקש
 כיכר ג'אמע אל־פנא, ב"מדינה" של מרקש
Jemaa el-Fnaa Square
(Photo: Shutterstock)
The voices speaking in Hebrew were hard to miss in the garden, and during our stroll in the area, we came across several Israeli groups. Emil and I approached one of them, trying to listen in. They were three men in their twenties, and it was clear they saw this as any regular trip to the market.
"This one’s ugly, do you really think I’d fuck her?!” one of them said to his friend as they walked past a bench where a woman was sitting. "Let’s move on and see what other options we have," his friend replied.
We continued walking next to them. After about 200 meters, the three stopped near two young women. One of the Israelis approached to negotiate in English. “They're willing to join us, and each wants 200 dirhams." One of the group’s members commented this was an excellent deal: "That’s pocket change, let's take them."
They continued down the road, flagged down two taxis, and got into them, on their way to their hotel or the villa they had rented. After all, 400 dirhams, about 150 shekels, is “pocket change.”
Emil then takes me to Parc Lalla Hasna, found south of the Kutubiyya Mosque, which is named after Princess Lalla Hasna of Morocco. The place is dark and dilapidated, and also plays a part in the local sex industry during nighttime. By now, Israelis have also learned of this.
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הגבר הישראלי עם הילדה בפארק לאלה חסנה
הגבר הישראלי עם הילדה בפארק לאלה חסנה
Israeli man with the Moroccan girl at Parc Lalla Hasna
(Photo: Adam Kutub)
A man in his 30s passes us by, accompanied by a girl looking to be 12 or 13 at most. The man speaks Hebrew excitedly on his phone, telling his companion on the other side he’ll be arriving with the “merchandise” shortly. He hugs the girl closer, and continues walking. The two then leave the park and enter a taxi.
We return to the market at Jemaa el-Fnaa Square. Even at this late hour of the night, tourists travel among the stalls, and here too, there's no need to make an effort to find the city’s sex industry. "Come, Habibi," a woman says, trying to solicit me in the middle of the square. I shake my head and continue to wander the stalls with Emil.
Morocco is trying to combat human trafficking and pedophilia that thrive in it, but when it comes to women in the prostitution ring, Moroccan authorities are ambivalent. On one hand, this activity, as mentioned, is illegal; on the other hand, it is clear to everyone that sex tourists are a significant driver of the tourism industry, one of Morocco's main economic sectors.
This is why the authorities don’t fight prostitution as well as they could, but aren’t very pleased when the issue is discussed publicly. During this investigative report, I requested, for example, to speak with representatives of international support organizations that assist Moroccan women in the prostitution ring. Most of them were extremely hesitant to give a response.
According to the U.S.’s 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in Morocco, “The [Moroccan] government enforced strict procedures limiting journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists were required to request approval from the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports before meeting with political activists, which they did not always receive. There were several reports of arrests and charges based on social media activity.”
But one representative did agree to meet, on the condition that I don’t disclose her name or the organization she works for, fearing for her safety. I met Yasmin (assumed name) at a restaurant in the Medina market, after she called me several times asking to relocate the meeting.
She recounted workers from her organization have vanished, and that "torture, degradation, cruel, inhuman punishment, and degrading treatment is routine”
"I need to protect myself," she explained when we finally met. Fear was evident in her eyes, which darted around every several moments, searching for an undercover police officer. She recounted workers from her organization have vanished, and that "torture, degradation, cruel, inhuman punishment, and degrading treatment is routine.”
According to her, her organization, which deals with social activities, is well aware of the rise of Israeli involvement in sex tourism in Morocco. "Unfortunately, Morocco is competing with Thailand for the top spot in the world in sex tourism," Yasmin said.
"Since the diplomatic agreement signed between Israel and Morocco, tourism between the countries has expanded significantly, including the participation of some Israeli tourists in the sex tourism industry that’s been present here for years. We have testimonies from women we aid regarding Israeli tourists' demand for prostitution. Furthermore, criminal organizations have also found a hotbed here,” she added.
How do Israelis reach women in prostitution in Morocco? "Some Israelis reach them through word of mouth, while others have a discreet presence on social networks," Yasmin explained. "Some come through local intermediaries, and the rest find them in well-known tourist areas."
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העיר העתיקה של מרקש
העיר העתיקה של מרקש
Marrakesh's Old City
(Photo: Shutterstock)
There’s also another method: "Women have reported meeting Israeli men, and from there, some of them passed on their WhatsApp numbers to friends who passed them on to other friends."
Amir (assumed name), a 32-year-old man from central Israel, is one of the Israelis who have turned the city into their preferred destination for sex tourism. "I've been to Marrakesh more than five times," he said. "I was even there during the COVID-19 pandemic. I heard about the prostitutes from friends, but it wasn’t until I got there that I realized what they meant."
"I was even there during the COVID-19 pandemic. I heard about the prostitutes from friends, but it wasn’t until I got there that I realized what they meant."
How did you find these women? "I met them in clubs and on the streets. You can see prostitutes in all the tourist areas, in clubs, some restaurants, and cafes. Now I have a regular hotel in the city center that I always go to. Lately, I've been in a relationship with a Moroccan woman. We meet regularly and enjoy each other's company."

Women up for sale

The next morning, Emil, my local friend, suggested it would be a good idea for us to talk to the henna tattoo artist in Jemaa el-Fnaa. "They control a part of the square, and no one dares deal with them," he said.
We returned to the square, this time in daylight, and approached the henna tattoo booth. It's quite a large area where henna tattoo artists, a traditional profession in Morocco, sit on small chairs under umbrellas. Sitting close by, a man was playing the kamanja, a traditional Moroccan musical instrument resembling a violin.
I sat down in front of one of the women, a friendly and talkative lady in her 40s, and pointed to a compass tattoo presented on the board set next to the stand.
Emil tried to steer the conversation towards the topic at hand. "He's in love with Morocco," he told the henna artists while recording the event on video. "It's great to hear," they replied. "I’m here for the first time, and I’ll be back for sure," I said. "My mom keeps insisting that I find a wife and have kids. If I do, it would have to be a Moroccan woman," I added.
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מרוקו מרקש
מרוקו מרקש
(Photo: Shutterstock)
The henna artist’s face suddenly turned serious. She lowered her voice, looked me in the eyes, and said, "You can choose any woman you want at any age and I can arrange her for you, for a price." I asked her gently if she had experience with this or if she was joking. "Not at all," she replied. "I've arranged it many times, especially for tourists like you."
It turned out she had a wide network of connections, and she was deeply involved in “matchmaking.” She was very serious about her offer. If I wanted to proceed, she explained, she would show me pictures of women I could choose.
This was not just about prostitution anymore; but honest human trafficking. "Tell us what you want," another henna artist chimed in, wearing sunglasses and presenting herself as the other artist’s younger sister. "Do you want a young woman? Older? A girl? I could match you with someone today.”
Are you serious? What type of tourists ask for this? "French, Spanish, those from the Gulf states, and even Israelis," she replied.
We left the square as it was getting dark, we walked a few minutes to another focal point of sex tourism in the area, close to the Grand Hotel Tazi. The Tazi Hotel itself isn’t one of the fanciest in the city but aims to provide an authentic Moroccan experience.
When night falls, a constant stream of taxis pours hordes of tourists into the streets around the hotel. At the same time, the streets are also filled with women in the city’s prostitution ring. Some of them will end up in one of the hotel rooms or in the cheap hotels nearby, along with one or more of the tourists. Here too, spoken Hebrew is hard to miss among the bustle.
Some Israeli sex tourists who come to Morocco arrive from the Israeli-Arab sector, and some Israeli-Arab travel agents have made the country their specialty. "The clients I work with want to arrive with everything prepared for them in advance,” says an Israeli travel agent who organizes trips to Morocco in the Israeli-Arab sector.
"They want a board comfortable flight, have accommodations in a good location, and sometimes even an aid. I don't deal with prostitution, but they find it through people who accompany them."
"They want a board comfortable flight, have accommodations in a good location, and sometimes even an aid. I don't deal with prostitution, but they find it through people who accompany them. I know Arab-Israelis who head to Morocco for that reason specifically. There are some who even bought vacation homes here, and a few who moved to live here."
Why Morocco specifically? “Unlike Thailand, a flight to Morocco is shorter and has a semi-modern Arab culture. The Arabic language, alongside the mentality, is also beneficial. Morocco is very alluring for Arab Israelis."
Tarek, a 27-year-old Israeli-Arab, recently returned from his third trip to Marrakesh with his friends. "We stayed in a hotel then also rented a villa," he says. "In Marrakesh, your money has value, and you can get whatever you want. It doesn’t compare to any other country we’ve been to. What you can get in Marrakesh what you can’t in Israel."
What do you mean? "Marrakesh has amazingly beautiful Arab girls you won’t find anywhere else, everything is more open and easygoing. We pay $200 for a beautiful girl."
Some Israeli sex tourists choose not to stay in the hotels and prefer to rent one of the luxury villas in the city. Ilan (assumed name) is an Israeli who lives in Morocco and owns several rental villas in Marrakesh.
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(Photo: Shutterstock)
His renters include normal Israeli families but groups of Israelis in their 20s and 30s who arrive for bachelor parties or to take advantage of the local sex industry.
"We’re a group of friends considering celebrating a bachelor party in the city," I tell him. "We heard about Marrakesh, and we're still unsure where we should go," I say. "The question is, what are you coming for, day trips or to enjoy the nightlife?” he asks.
What can you tell us about the nightlife? "It’s amazing. You get a villa that caters to all your needs, a nice pool to sit by, good music, masseuses by the pool, and more,” he explains.
I see. Some of the guys are into the women as well. "This isn’t something to talk about on the phone, but you should know that we can take care of everything you need. The helpers in the villas have extensive experience in taking care of anything you may want, and will accompany you wherever you need.”
I spoke with one of the Israelis who rented a villa in Marrakesh and then invited several prostitutes for a party. “I was there with two other friends, and we rented a villa that’s relatively far from the city,” he explained.
“We had everything we wanted, alcohol, drugs, and women, and we celebrated until morning came. The day after the party, we went out with the girls to a club, then got tired of them, and met other girls before we returned to the villa."
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(Photo: Shutterstock)
And how did you meet them? "Someone brought them to us after we talked to someone about it and arranged a deal."
These are young women who are doing what they must to survive. Did you ever think about it or discuss it with them? "Yes, we talked to them, but I don’t tend to think about what you're referring to."

The Starbucks in Marakkesh

We’re nearing the end of our journey in Morocco, and Emil decides to show me the other part of Marrakesh: the city’s new area called Gueliz, which, unlike the old city, looks much more Western European. He recommends that we stop at a local Starbucks shop at a local shopping mall. I didn't understand what he meant. "You’ll see when we get there.”
As soon as we arrived, I understood why locals call this area Marrakesh’s Red Light District. There’s a significant difference between this branch and the chain's other branches in Europe. Throughout the day, alongside regular customers, prostitutes also visit the branch, some of them dressed in provocative attire, and attempting to solicit tourists.
Some of them sit inside, sending subtle glances, and if they make eye contact, they move to sit next to their potential client. Others simply stand on the street, facing the café's glass windows, trying to find the men inside who might be interested.
An Israeli man in his 50s sitting inside traded looks with several of the women while telling of his exploits to a friend via WhatsApp voice messages. At one point two women stopped outside of the shop and blew kisses at him, and he waved his hand signaling them to come inside.
After asking for their ages, to which one of them replied “I’m 23, and my friend is 21,” the man said he wanted to spend the evening with them. The older woman gave him her number, telling him they could set up a meeting later, before the two left.
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