Human Trafficking for Organ Removal in Israel

 
Israel faces various challenges when combating human trafficking for the purpose of organ removal. There is a genuine difficulty in distinguishing violations of the law which regulates organ transplantation, and trafficking in humans for the purpose of organ removal; the lines between the two may easily become blurred (for in-depth discussion of the legal framework regarding organ transplant, see this document on Israel's efforts to counter trafficking for organ removal, written by The Legal Counseling and Legislation Department (International Law)).
 
 
In addition, there is an added complexity in aiding victims, since victims are often citizens, as opposed to other in forms of human trafficking where most victims are migrants. Thus, the usual mechanisms for victim identification are often irrelevant.

Israel has dealt with a mere handful of cases involving the crime of human trafficking for organ removal, and has only one conviction of the crime. This conviction is precedential, and has attracted worldwide attention and interest.
 
The conviction was handed down in 2007 by the District Court of Haifa (The State of Israel v. John Allen and Hassan Zachalkeh, detailed summary available at the UNODC case law database). The defendants published ads in Arabic seeking kidney donors, and promising monetary remuneration all throughout the recovery period. They took advantage of the poor, uneducated and vulnerable sectors, convincing them to undergo surgery in the Ukraine for kidney removal in exchange for a measly $7,000.
 
One of the accused posed as a doctor, and deceived victims of the quality of the surgery and its side effects, insisting that the procedure was quite simple, with a quick recovery process and no lasting physical or psychological damage. If any of the victims tried to withdraw from the agreement, they were met with forceful psychological pressure preventing them from doing so.
 
 In addition, the victims were deceived regarding the monetary payment, and the promised amount was never paid. In some cases it was only partially paid (between $500 and $3,500), in other cases it was not paid at all. Meanwhile, those who received the organs paid high sums ranging between $125,000 and $135,000. The defendants thus reaped enormous profits, amounting to tens of thousands of Israeli Shekels.

Some of the victims accumulated debts and were forced to pay the defendants tremendous sums of money for living expenses, medical treatment, food, and clothing. Furthermore, a number of the victims had their freedom restricted and could only move around if escorted. Some of the victims lived in one of the defendant's house up to their departure to the Ukraine, so as to wield control over them and disconnect them from all external support. In the majority of the cases, the accused threatened the victims to not speak or complain of the agreement, lest they be arrested by the police. In one case, a victim who demanded his payment was physically abused. The victims usually did not receive medical attention upon returning back home. In addition, their passports were often confiscated by the defendants.

The two defendants were convicted of human trafficking for the purpose of organ removal and other criminal offenses - causing injury, exploitation, and attainment by means of deception. One of the defendants was additionally convicted of impersonating a doctor and using a medical license. The principal defendant received a 4 year prison sentence.