How Israel Treats its Own: Jewish Mother flees Israel to give birth in Palestinian-run Bethlehem*
By Marianne Azizi
The infamous Israeli welfare services – the Revaha – have struck again, but this time with tragic consequences.
Brigitte is Hungarian. Her family immigrated to Israel when she was just 15 years old.
She has worked with children for most of her adult life. But as many Israelis know, if you have been a target of the Revaha at any point, it is unlikely you will ever be forgiven.
Brigitte’s story started when she had her second child. Her eldest son was four years old. Brigitte was very sick, and had just broken up with her partner.
Knowing that in Israel hearsay is enough to prompt the social workers to remove children from their parents, her former partner made a complaint against her.
This is common practice in Israel, and no proof is required by the Rehava to take children away.
Brigitte agreed for her former partner to have her daughter as she was ill, but immediately her son was also taken from her as well.
Seven years later, Brigitte was pregnant with twins. Her life had moved on, but she had no idea that the Rehava had issued a warning to all hospitals that if she ever again had more children, the hospitals would inform them so they could immediately take her babies.
At 31 weeks pregnant, she went to the hospital for a check up. She was told she needed a caesarian section because, they claimed, she was 37 weeks pregnant and it was not safe to continue the pregnancy.
Despite insisting that she was not 37 weeks pregnant, she acquiesced to the doctor’s demands, fearing there may indeed be something wrong.
After the first baby was removed by caesarian section, the doctor told her that she had in fact been correct after all and that the pregnancy was indeed only 31 weeks.
The baby, a girl, had cerebral palsy, but Brigitte was not told. The second baby, a boy, also had medical problems. For two months Brigitte sat by the incubator, expressing milk for her children.
She was then moved to a mother-and-baby unit in Shabtay Levi in Haifa. There she stayed for another two months nursing her children, but still had no medical records on her twins.
Brigitte was asked to undergo psychiatric assessments before taking the babies, which is not unusual in Israel. All was well. But her children were taken away from her while she was visiting the courts.
Brigitte was heartbroken. She knew from that moment that the chance of her ever keeping a child was very slim.
Years later, Brigitte became pregnant again and was desperate to keep her baby, so she decided to give birth unaided. She bought all the necessary equipment and went into labour alone. She was not to know the baby weighed 5 kilograms.
Having previously had a couple of caesarian sections, she also knew a natural birth would be dangerous. She got into major difficulties, her stomach ripped and she was in peril.
In great pain, she called an ambulance and was taken to hospital. Her baby, Amy, was born and taken away from her. This time she was allowed to visit the her, supervised of course. Brigitte was settled with her new partner, and told the social workers of her impending marriage plans. But the visits to Amy were stopped when she informed them she was expecting another baby.
Escape to Bethlehem
Brigitte, a children’s worker with an unblemished record, wanted to save this unborn child. She already had a No Exit Order on her Israeli identity card (as do over 1.5 million Israelis and foreign nationals), and so she turned to the Palestinian territory to give birth. Her daughter was born in Bethlehem. She could not register the baby as Jewish because that would mean the child would be turned over to the Israeli authorities. Therefore, she registered herself and the child as Christian.
Brigitte is now trapped. Her Hungarian passport would allow her to leave, but the baby is not registered on her passport. Her only way out is through the Israeli border and she cannot enter Israel under these circumstances because she would face arrest for her desperate act.
Brigitte is terrified. She and her husband are Israeli Jews; her daughter is nominally Palestinian but in reality is a Jewish child. But the escape to Bethlehem was a life saving decision for mother and daughter.
Brigitte turned to the Hungarian consulate, which informed her that it would take at least six months for her to get an individual passport for her daughter. She is not sure she can continue living in such precarious circumstances for this long.
Fleeing from the grasp of the Rehava, which doesn’t allow a parent to start again, she finds herself in an impossible situation.
There are many cases of young mothers who cannot start afresh, and have child after child removed from them at the point of birth.
Fathers also fall prey to the system – and are declared unfit or dangerous, typically following a false claim to the police.
Testimonies are piling up from fathers who have endured arrest and prison for such claims.
Stories continually come in from mothers who have been urged by social workers to make such false claims.
Parents (mainly fathers) have to see their children in contact centres, 64 of which are spread across the country and where a generation of children are forced into small, sterile rooms or playgrounds to spend time with a parent. Five per cent of children in Israel are not living with their parents, compared to an average of 0.48 per cent in the developed countries.
Israel has not yet fully met the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). There are many concerns about human rights abuse, children’s rights abuse and the rubber stamping by judges who take the reports of social workers as a given.
Social workers have assumed the right to remove children from their parents without checking the parents, the home circumstances or carrying out any assessments. When done, assessments tend to be fabricated or ignored if conducted independently. The Welfare and Social Services Ministry operates without independent checks and balances, despite over 15 years of urging by the UN for independent oversight.
Perhaps the payment to private institutions of USD 5,000 per child per month is a sufficient carrot to fill empty beds.
Who can Brigitte turn to?
The civil society group, Coalition for Children and Families in Israel (CCF Israel), continues to protest and to raise world awareness of the problem of child trafficking by the authorities, and to fight for the human rights of families who have been devastated by the ruthless system.
Countless stories continue to pour in with one major theme: the Revaha is feared and cannot be challenged; it works in conjunction with the police and the judges accept its word unquestioningly.
Parents and children cannot speak out, nor question the social workers. All family courts are held behind closed doors. Appeals can last years, while children grow up fed with psychotropic drugs they don’t need and face a huge risk of institutional abuse.
It is an offence to criticise a public official in the Rehava – it can result in court appearances and financial penalties.
Who can Brigitte turn to for her own safety and the safety of her daughter? She already knows she cannot be with her husband and live a normal life. Thanks to the almighty Revaha, she will never have the chance to live peacefully and raise her children.
Brigitte hopes the Hungarian president will intervene and rescue her and her daughter from Israel.
She is risking her life by tell her story.
You can see a video of Brigitte’s interview with Marianne Azizi here.
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