“I escaped from Israel and lost my children”
By Marianne Azizi*
On 5 September I received news of another senseless and preventable suicide in Israel – the total this year is more than double the number of Israeli casualties in the recent conflict in Gaza.
The brutality of domestic family laws in Israel has taken more lives than armed conflict. But among the living there is still a sense of despair and desperation as people continue to battle with poverty, parental alienation and a system so corrupted by greed it takes one’s breath away.
Where are the headlines? Where is the indignation of a society which doesn’t even blink when another person is found hanging or has jumped from a building, no longer able to cope with a system which must be exposed for what it really is? It is a money making machine.
Below is an interview with an American citizen, Rick Myers of the state of Oregon, who fell foul of Israeli extortion and has suffered every single day for almost eight years. He is not the only one: there are many foreigners with similar stories, and many thousands of Israelis trapped against their will in the country. He is also in my book, which gives a detailed account of the disintegration of one man, one representing many thousands.
[Marianne Azizi] Give us a little bit of background into your situation.
[Rick Myers] From 1996 until January 2000 I worked in Israel as an expatriate managing a construction project for Intel. My company is based out of Portland Oregon. During my time in Israel, I met Ranya and we eventually married in 1998. Our first son, Dean, was born in September 1999 and then we relocated back to the USA for another project in Arizona.
In 2002, we moved back to Portland, Oregon, and later that year Ranya became pregnant with our second son, Adi.
In February 2003 she asked to go back to Israel to be with her family and deliver our son there, and I said OK. Our son was born in July 2003. I flew there several times to be with them and the more I discussed plans on her return, the more she seemed to resist and wanted to stay longer. After two and a half years of this, she simply refused to return even for a visit.
I am convinced this was the plan all along and that she was coached by an attorney. She didn’t seem to care whether I moved back or not, but what was most important was that the support cheques kept coming and I frequently got requests for increases to the point where I could not afford it.
I finally filed for divorce in Israel, as I was told categorically that was where I had to file if I wanted custody rights to my sons. This is what I did and the story turns sideways from there. I did get an Israeli court order that provided me with parental rights to my sons in Israel and America, but that became worthless once her lawyers petitioned a judge to slap me with a No Exit Order.
[Question] What exactly is a No Exit Order?
[Answer] It is a court order preventing someone from leaving Israel. They are easy to obtain but almost impossible to lift. Israeli law is specific with respect to No exit Orders on foreigners. They must not be used on foreigners to secure support but that’s exactly what happened to me and I was stuck in the country for over five weeks and my job in America was in jeopardy.
At this point her lawyers began taunting me and threatening that I would not be allowed to leave Israel unless I agreed to pay whatever amount they demanded, if I ever wanted to get out. At the time, they told my they would accept USD 300,000 lump sum to be paid out immediately and then USD 6,000 per month support until my sons were 18.
They knew I didn’t have the money and also knew my monthly income wouldn’t support these payments, but demanded I get it from my parents who were retired. They even had the balls to suggest my parents sell their Motorhome to get the money!
I had two hearings regarding the No Exit Order and the judge eventually ruled I had to pay a security deposit of USD 100,000 before they would allow me to leave. Not having the money and not being able to support myself in Israel, I found a way out illegally and now cannot go back until I am legally allowed freedom of travel in and out of that country.
An Oregon Judge later ruled that Israel’s treatment of me may have violated my constitutional rights.
[Q] Why didn’t you go to the US Embassy for help at the time?
[A] I did get some help from the US government after I left, but it botched a welfare visit and two embassy officials were arrested. Needless to say, they decided they could no longer help me. They wouldn’t do anything for me when I was trapped as they claimed they couldn’t get involved in “domestic issues”. I have since learned the government travel warnings indicate that, for US citizens travelling to Israel, they are at potential risk of being involuntarily held against their will. Obviously, those warnings absolve the US from helping its own people to be freed.
[Q] How much money have you spent trying to get your justice?
[A] So far I’ve spent over USD 150,000 and also gave my USD 250,000 Penthouse which I owned in Israel, but I still cannot reach my children.
[Q] Can you describe your life and your emotions about the situation which you have endured for eight years?
[A] I’m not great at expressing emotions, but I’ll give it my best shot.
I will start by telling you that I love my sons Dean and Adi very much and not a minute goes by where I am not thinking about them. This is simply the hardest thing I have ever had to go through in my life. Nothing compares to it and what makes it more unbearable is that I cannot be there for my sons and they are being told I have abandoned them for a better lifestyle. That is heart breaking for me.
What I realised… was that being truthful isn’t how you do things in Israeli courts. I needed to play hardball and do whatever it takes, including lie, to win.
What’s worse is that my ex-wife, Ranya, with the help of her Israeli lawyers and a completely incompetent judge, have done everything possible to keep my sons from their father. Why? Money, pure and simple. Money! I have emails from her lawyer telling me that my sons very much want to be with me, but that this will not happen unless I agree to pay the amount they are still demanding. It’s extortion.
Throughout this whole ordeal I have experienced emotions, from sadness to outright anger.
- Most nights I wake up around 2-3 a.m. with various emotions and thoughts going through my head. Most of the time I awake angry, re-enacting the court hearings I went through in the Family Court in Ashdod, Israel. I remember what I was thinking at the time of the hearings. How I thought at the time: “Why is this judge visibly upset with me and treating me with total disrespect? She doesn’t even know me, yet she started the hearing by telling me sternly that I cannot speak and that I will get kicked out of the courtroom if I do speak.” The way I was treated in Israel was horrible. Given this, I really thought that all I had to do is tell the truth and everything would fall into place. What I realised, and my lawyer confirmed this, was that being truthful isn’t how you do things in Israeli courts. I needed to play hardball and do whatever it takes, including lie, to win. I was told that there is Israeli law and what’s practiced in court and the two do not necessarily align. My ex-wife and her lawyer played dirty and it worked for them.
- I think about the time the US Embassy botched a “Welfare and Whereabouts” visit at my son Dean’s school. How its incompetence made my case for access to my sons more difficult. Worse yet, it completely tried to cover up its mistakes and have dropped it.
- I hate it when people tell me that at least I’ll see my sons when they are 18 years old. Frankly, I don’t want to hear that and it pisses me off when I am told that.
- I simply cannot believe that Israel revoked my passport during the time of the hearings. Israeli law doesn’t even allow for a foreigner to be issued a “No Exit Order” to secure support, but the judge did it anyway. She allowed this with the knowledge that I always paid support and she knew I was not legally allowed to work. I can see her reaction right now when my lawyer argued this and she simply shrugged her shoulders and said this was not her problem. She couldn’t have cared less. I am pretty sure the judge and Ranya’s lawyer were friends.It’s how the system seems to work.
- I can handle the poor treatment by the Israelis and the incompetence by the US government, but what angers me the most is the lack of empathy for my sons. Both governments should make this a top priority and it simply doesn’t happen. Nobody cares and it is the most maddening thing that I cannot get past!
- The constitutional rights of my sons are being violated by the Israeli and US governments. This is unforgivable!
- Dean and Adi don’t have their father. How can this happen?
- Dean (14) was my best friend! We were always together. For Christmas, it was just me and him as his mother refused to celebrate Christmas with her son. I’ve seen recent pictures of Dean and I can see he is sad, confused and that he misses me. Two years ago he told me all he wanted was for me to come to Israel to be with him. His mother keeps telling him that I don’t want to be with him.
- Adi (10) was three the last time we were together and we were tied at the hip. Nobody could believe it as he’s a momma’s boy. He wouldn’t leave me and it was the best time of my life.
- I go into a depression during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s not easy pretending to be happy.
- I miss all of my sons’ birthdays. Every year I send gifts, but Ranya doesn’t allow me to talk to them so I don’t know if they liked them or not. She probably tells them they are from her.
- I don’t get to see my sons surf, play soccer, basketball, tennis and other sports. I’ve been cut off from everything and, worse yet, they don’t have their dad there to support them.
- I am proud of both of my sons and I can’t tell them.
- I cannot hug my sons.
- Many nights I wake up from a dream where we are together and we are having the best time. I’m sad that I actually woke up and I try to go to sleep as fast as possible so I can continue the dream
- People tell me I have to move on with my life, but I can’t. Not being able to be a father to my sons consumes me and is the reason for my depression. I internalise for the most part so this is my own battle from within. It will not change until I am with my sons.
- Do they hate me?
- I don’t know if they’ll try to seek me out. I pray every day they do.
- If something happens, I won’t be there for them.
- When will this nightmare end so we can be together and repair the damage that’s been done.
- If I am ever allowed to go back to Israel to see my sons, Ranya will most definitely have someone there to greet me. I will need protection by the Israeli government or police and I’m sure I will either be arrested or issued with another No Exit Order.
- I have been on the news in the USA four times, but it doesn’t seem to have helped.
- No politician that I have written to has reached out to help. I need this in order to put pressure on both governments.
- I cannot go to Israel for fear of being held in the country.
- Ranya has done pretty much whatever she wants and I can’t do anything about it.
- I don’t go into my story much with new people that I meet as I fear they will not give me the benefit of the doubt. Will they assume there is a reason for keeping my sons from me? After all, why would my ex-wife keep my sons from me if I was a good dad? I am sure it goes through people’s minds so I don’t talk much about it. I actually had a friend whose friend was good friends with the Israeli ambassador to the US. He reached out to the Israeli ambassador and he was told by him that this case was messy and to “back off”! When my friend told me this, he couldn’t look at me in the eye and all I could think of was that he was questioning my integrity.
- The US government doesn’t seem to have the balls to push Israel to do the right thing by allowing me access and freedom of travel in and out of Israel.
As far as my family and friends are concerned, they are all very supportive and also angry at Ranya and her family. For the most part, however, it’s feelings I go through by myself. I do not talk much about it anymore with anyone unless I am asked. My entire story is on David and Sean Goldman’s website in the “Left behind” parent section. Israel caused my destruction and the US won’t do anything about it.
It’s time to talk about Israel, not just in the context of the conflicts and human rights issues with the Palestinians, but to ask why are you allowing continual suicides, despair and desperation to perforate through a silent society and no one questions you?
Perhaps some home truths might bring about change.
*Marianne Azizi is author of the book Sour Milk and Stolen Honey.