We now have evidence that Meron Estefanos of the International Commission of Eritrean Refugees is either deliberately lying or gravely mistaken in regards to her recent comments on organ trafficking in the Sinai. In an April 9, 2013 International Business Times article, she was interviewed by Gianluca Mezzofiore on the matter. Mezzofiore writes, “Estefanos denied the organ-harvesting claims. ‘Those claims came only from one source,’ she said. ‘I’ve interviewed 3,000 hostages and not one single person can say that. It’s a dead-end investigation. She said that other organizations had interviewed more than 7,500 survivors in Israel with not a single witness of organ harvesting.'”
Really? Is that true? Well, according to a May 2012 article that she co-authored under the title, “From Sawa to the Sinai Desert: The Eritrean Tragedy of Human Trafficking,” she claims that she conducted interviews with human trafficking victims. She writes that “our paper dealing with victims of human trafficking in the Sinai Desert is based to a greater extent on a selected sample of interviews done with more than 100 victims of human trafficking in the Sinai Desert, conducted by one of the current authors (Meron Estefanos).” She then goes on to say that “the data collected by the interviews reveal dreadful stories of atrocities perpetrated against Eritreans by the Bedouin traffickers….in several instances, the organs of victims, such as kidneys, are taken out by traffickers to be sold inside and outside Egypt. In the process the body of victims is left to decompose in the desert or be eaten by wild animals. Some are buried in an undignified manner in the middle of the desert.”  Clearly, she records “several instances” of organ exploitation of supposed victims she personally interviewed, which contradicts her claim that there were no recorded instances. Very interesting.
If she is lying, as is likely the case in the more recent IBT article, why would she lie? Why would she hide or ignore the cases of organ-trafficking while focusing endlessly on the Eritrean Government’s role in driving out the migrants? We must remember that Ms. Meron has an very clear agenda behind her human trafficking claims. In the same 2012 paper, she says that the Eritrean migrants, dubbed “asylum-seekers,” are being driven into exploitation by the Eritrean government’s policies and corruption (via officials like Col. “Manjus”). The paper goes on to make the following conclusion: “Our paper has discussed a number of recommendations that should be adopted by the Eritrean government and others in order to alleviate the suffering of Eritrean victims in the Sinai Desert. One of the most important elements in this regard is democratisation of the current repressive governance structure in Eritrea. This is a principal precondition to tackle the challenge of human trafficking in Eritrea.”
Thus, she is saying that reform of the Eritrean government is the “principal precondition.” In other words, she is focusing primarily and almost exclusively on taking actions against the supply-side of human trafficking. However, what she fails to do in most cases–as anyone who genuinely cares for the plight of Eritrean migrants would do–is to take it further and apply a comprehensive approach to addressing the issue by also taking actions against DEMAND-side factors of human trafficking. When Ms. Meron wrote her article, following a ground-breaking 2011 CNN Freedom Project documentary on Sinai organ harvesting by Frederik Pleitgen,  it was initially thought that–according to Pleitgen, NGOs, and the international media–Hamas and terrorists organizations were the main culprits driving African organ trafficking in the Sinai. [4, 5, 6, 7] Since writing her article, however, there have been reports that suggest that the Sinai organ harvesting trade is linked to Israel rather than terrorist networks.  Over the last few months, more evidence has emerged placing Israelis at the center of a larger international, illegal organ harvesting business:
“Defendant admits illegal organ harvesting in Kosovo,” AFP, 4/5/13 
“Man convicted of organ trade jailed for 3 years,” Ynet News, 4/4/13 
“Organ trafficking: Dutch to lead international inquiry,” BBC, 11/16/12 
“Israeli man gets 2.5 years in US kidneys-for-cash case,” Ynet News, 7/12/12 
With Eritreans eager for any news relating to human trafficking, it wasn’t long before they caught onto these reports. Last week, multiple Eritrean news websites across the entire political spectrum posted a Youtube link to a video of an NBC Nightly News broadcast entitled “Jews Arrested over Organ Trafficking Case.” [13, 14, 15] Even news websites promoting the the so-called “Forto 2013” campaign were forced to share the video with readers.  The video’s caption states, “US agents have arrested 44 elected officials and Jewish rabbis in New Jersey in a huge anti-corruption sweep across the state. Charges of extortion, bribery, money laundering and human organ trafficking were stunning even for a state long notorious for official corruption and organized crime.”  The video quickly went viral across social media, sparking a buzz and leading many Eritreans to question the extent of Israeli involvement in Sinai organ trafficking. In fact, so popular was the video that even Meron herself tweeted a link.  Interestingly, it would be only two days after this shocking revelation to the Eritrean community that she would retract her claims of organ trafficking of Eritreans in the Sinai via the International Business Times article. If Ms. Meron’s primary concern was the plight and exploitation of the Eritrean refugees, then one would reasonably expect her to be vocal on this matter that drives the demand for Eritrean organs. Instead, she myopically focuses on only the Eritrean government’s problems.
The question still remains: how significant is Israel in driving human trafficking and organ harvesting? It must first be understood that human trafficking into Israel through the Sinai is an issue that long predates the recent exploitation of Eritrean and African migrants. Back in 2001, Israel was black listed by the U.S. State Dept. for human trafficking.  According to the Knesset, “3,000 women are trafficked annually in Israel for work in the sex industry…the sex industry in Israel has an annual turnover of some billion dollars.”  Yes, that’s billions with a “B.” It should be noted that prior to African migrants becoming the subjects of trafficking into the country, white Eastern European women preceded them in what was known as the “white slave trade.” Nothing was done to stop the illegal trade because the “state also earns a tidy profit from the white slave trade.”  After failures to reverse the trend, 2004 headlines began to read “Israel a Human Trafficking Haven” and reports started to emerge about the Russian mafia’s long standing involvement in the criminal affair. [22, 23] It was then found that many of the migrants were being exploited for their organs, with Israel at the center of the huge global black market. As a 2004 NYT article indicates:
“Tracing the journey of Mr. da Silva’s kidney through that chain, which spanned four continents and ended in a one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, reveals the inner workings of a network that human rights groups say is by no means unique. Rather, they say, it is representative of a global black market for organs, including livers, kidneys and lungs, that touches dozens of countries and generates many millions of dollars a year.
…To those who monitor organ trafficking, it was no surprise that Israel should emerge as the focal point of a syndicate. Organ donation rates in Israel are among the lowest in the developed world, about one-third the rate in Western Europe, in large part because of what Health Ministry officials and doctors describe as a widespread impression that Jewish religious law prohibits transplants as a ‘desecration of the body.’
…To meet Israeli’s growing demand for organs, middlemen calling themselves brokers, from prominent doctors to a former spokesman for a health maintenance organization, have rushed into the market to set prices for a scarce product that can reach $150,000 for a kidney. Some advertise openly in Israeli newspapers and on radio stations, soliciting recipients and donors.
…’As of today, there is no law in Israel that forbids trafficking in human organs,’ Meir Broder, a legal adviser to the Health Ministry, explained in an interview in Jerusalem. ‘There is no criminal aspect at all.'” 
The initial victims were predominantly Easter European women for the first half of the 2000’s (and decades before). Israel soon implemented “a number of reforms to curtail the activity of human smugglers, including tightening immigration controls at Ben-Gurion International Airport and the Haifa and Ashdod seaports” and “since Israeli officials have made it more difficult to transfer women into Israel through more conventional routes, the Russian mafia has turned to Bedouin tribesmen to accomplish the task.”  To address the issue, the social activism organization Atzum and the law firm Kabri-Nevo-Kaidar teamed up to form the Task Force on Human Trafficking (TFHT), organizing demonstrations mainly aimed at ending the white slave trade.  By 2008, there was a sharp drop off the trade due to new legislation and aggressive enforcement against traffickers of these women.  However, in January of that same year, Eritreans under the protection of UNHCR were offered B1 visas to work in Israel, which renewed and preserved the illegal migration of peoples across the Bedouin Sinai. These Eritreans, most of which are actually non-Eritreans,  replaced the Eastern European labor as the new victims of human trafficking. As the projects coordinator for the TFHT explained that “’the more typical victim of human trafficking and Israel knows it from the 1990s is the Eastern European woman who was brought from abroad and put into brothels. Then there is the example of externally trafficked people, for instance, what is going on in the Sinai today for African migrants. They end up coming into Israel and as the most vulnerable population they are coerced into the prostitution industry,’ she said.” 
While sex trafficking of Eastern Europeans had dropped off, demand for organ trafficking continued to skyrocket with no new legislation to curtail the illegal industry. The Huffington Post explains that “according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the search for organs has intensified around the world because of an increase in kidney diseases and not enough available kidneys. Only 10 percent of the estimated need was met in 2005. As a result, the illegal kidney trade has increased tremendously over the past couple of years with the extent of illegal kidney transplants unknown even to the WHO.”  Meanwhile, no country has had more of it’s nationals caught for international organ trafficking than Israel:
“Israeli suspected of organ trafficking,” Jerusalem Post, 5/1/07 
“Two Haifa men sentenced to jail for organ trafficking,” Ha’aretz, 12/17/07 
“Sting rocks U.S. transplant industry,” Toronto Star, 7/25/09 
“Top Sweden newspaper says IDF kills Palestinians for their organs,” Ha’aretz, 8/18/09 
“Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent” The Guardian, 12/21/2009 
Thus, how it is possible for Ms. Meron to ignore these obvious facts? If human trafficking is truly an issue in the Sinai and if it has been shown that 42% of the estimated 15,000 illegally trafficked organs come from human trafficking, [36, 37] then how is it that she couldn’t find just one–Just One!–account among the 10,500 trafficking survivors that she and other organizations supposedly interviewed. Why is it that she retracted her initial claims of organ harvesting? Is she lying or is she mistaken? Furthermore, why does she focus solely on prosecuting the Eritrean government while turning a near complete blind eye to organ trafficking in the Sinai with its possible links to Israel? As one of Israel’s leading human trafficking experts, Rabbi Levi Lauer of Atzum and the TFHT, indicates, “the great challenge continues to be the demand!”  He says this with great emphasis for a reason; a reason, which Ms. Meron may now be trying to quietly sweep under the rug. Therefore, the Eritrean community and friends of Eritreans around the world should pressure Ms. Meron to be comprehensive in her approach to dealing with human trafficking by concurrently addressing the demand for organs harvested from Eritrean migrants, whether it stems from Israel, Hamas, or any other entity. The causes of human trafficking do not originate from Eritrea alone. If she calls for international action and sanctions on Eritrea vis-a-vis human trafficking then she should also be prepared to do the same against the Israeli government, if found responsible. Is she ready to do that? Does she have the sincerity and courage to do that?
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