An American “makes aliyah” to hell in Israel

Jon and his children

By Marianne Azizi

Recently, I received a letter from a yet another United States citizen who immigrated to Israel [what the Zionists call “making aliyah” – editor] and lived to regret it.

He begins by explaining that he is still trying to deal with the ordeal he went through. He describes himself as a “prisoner of war returning home after six years in a foreign jail”.

Jon immigrated with his wife and four children in 2009. In the USA, he was a financial broker with his own practice. The family were aided by Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), a body that works in close cooperation with the Jewish Agency and seeks to facilitate the immigration of foreign Jews to Israel, which promised many financial benefits to encourage them to immigrate to Israel. Jon’s wife, an Israeli, was happy to be going to Israel.

The couple were given USD 7,500 for their flights to Israel. Jon knew little Hebrew, so upon arrival took a job as an English teacher. As a condition for the money they were given to encourage them to immigrate to and settle in Israel, the couple had to remain in Israel for three years or repay the money. In the first year, they received over 55,000 shekels [USD 14,035]. But Jon became trapped in Israel in a divorce nightmare which many men in that country will identify with. His lack of Hebrew and naive understanding of Israeli family laws became his downfall.

Here is his story, all of which can be verified (his own words are in blue font):

I’ll never forget our first week in Israel after immigrating. My wife’s father called me into his home-office to talk. He told me, in Hebrew with my wife translating: “My daughter is a very beautiful woman. She can have any man. You’re not good enough.” This, of course, led to an immediate rift between me and him and, of course, caused a considerable amount of tension in our marriage since my wife, who translated his words, agreed with him!

Nefesh B’Nefesh’s poisoned chalice

In hindsight I should have taken the kids and returned to America there and then; however, I made another monumental blunder when I immigrated, and that was accepting the bribes offered by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency to move to Israel. The NBN terms were that we would have to pay back the “incentive” they gave us to immigrate if we returned to America permanently within the first three years after immigrating. In addition, the Jewish Agency was giving us a significant amount of money to get our family settled…

…I made [a] monumental blunder when I immigrated, and that was accepting the bribes offered by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency to move to Israel.

In June 2011 I was served with a subpoena calling me to court. It was in Hebrew, so I couldn’t read it in full, but the gist was clear and I knew what was coming: my wife was divorcing me. But it turned out not to be a divorce request after all. It was a request my wife submitted to the court to block me and our four American-born children from leaving the country. The attorney I consulted to translate the document told me: ”Your wife is about to file for divorce.” Before she did that, though, she made sure to prevent me from leaving the country with or without the kids to return to our country of origin.

Her argument to the judge in the ensuing hearing was that if I left the country I would not pay her child support, which was one of the motivations for her to file divorce in the first place. In Israel, the mother is automatically awarded child support and the father, under Jewish law, is always 100 per cent responsible and must pay the mother whatever the court awards her. There is no such thing as “fault” or motivation for divorce when it comes to Israeli family law and the awarding of child support to the mother. Indeed, the mother could be earning 100,000 shekels [USD 25,518] a month to the father’s 5,000 shekels [USD 1,275] and the court will award her an amount from the father based on how many children they have, largely ignoring what he earns. In other words, mothers have a strong financial incentive to divorce in Israel.

At the time I didn’t fight the travel restriction as I was still in disbelief that my wife of 13 years and the mother of my four children could want to wreck our family, especially after we had just immigrated from the US a year and a half before. At the time, I was totally unaware of the injustice of the Israeli anti-family legal system…

I looked into Israeli family law a little bit and was dismayed by what I learned. She told me at that point – prior to the No Exit Order, in fact – that if I give her 8,000 shekels [USD 2,041] a month in child support we can avoid court and file for divorce using a mediator. Since I was earning a monthly 5,500 shekels net as a high school English teacher and knew I would also have to support myself, I told her that there was no way I could pay her that. She went on the warpath, warning me: “I’ll make your life a living hell if you don’t give me the divorce.” And that she did, for the past four years, starting with the No Exit Order…

Weapon for enslavement

The family court in Israel is split into two separate entities: civil and religious. The civil court does not actually handle divorce, only separation. The religious court has a monopoly on both marriage and divorce. Only Jews can marry Jews, and there are specific rules for Jews in Israel who divorce. The man must give the woman the divorce, but does not have to. If the religious court rules that the man should give the woman the divorce and he doesn’t he can be imprisoned indefinitely for the “crime” of sarvan get – refusal to give the divorce.

If the religious court rules that the man should give the woman the divorce and he doesn’t he can be imprisoned indefinitely for the “crime” of sarvan get – refusal to give the divorce.

Two months before she told me she wanted a divorce, my wife stole my and the kids’ passports, both American and Israeli. I discovered that after she delivered the No Exit Order…

My wife launched another stage [in her war]… which was accusing me of abusing our children. She went to the police half a dozen times with this false accusation. After the third time, they told her they would have to interrogate our children, which was fine with her. 

In the meantime, I had equal parenting rights and the kids spent half their time with me at my friends’ apartment. It was actually a pleasant time for me and the kids, away from their mother, and like a vacation as my friends lived in a very nice building with an indoor swimming pool. Of course, I had no intention of taking advantage of my friends’ generosity for too long and respected their privacy, so I found myself an apartment through another good friend in Old Jaffa. Three weeks after the separation I was living there.

Jon and kids in the park

Jon enjoying a day out with his children

The next day she went with her youngest brother to the police and upped the ante on her false charges of child abuse. It was her seventh visit to the police and this time she claimed I had raped her three times during our marriage, once seven years earlier back in America and twice during our year in Israel. I thought the police were joking – the accusations were so absurd. We had four kids! In fact, her stories were that she didn’t want to have sex those three times – apparently the only three times in 14 years of marriage – but didn’t tell me that. I was supposed to know she didn’t want sex because she alleged she was crying. It was totally absurd. 

…[R]ape is a criminal offence with a 10-year maximum sentence, and the minimum the police will do after an accusation is put the accused under five days of house arrest. The police wanted to hold me in jail at the police station that night but my attorney convinced them it was a divorce case, the woman had filed six other dubious charges already, and I had no criminal record. I was thus “let off” with five days of house arrest.

In addition to falsely accusing me of rape, my wife also reiterated her charges of child abuse. At this point the police decided they needed to further interrogate our children and gave me a 21-day restraining order, preventing me from seeing or speaking to my kids! She had full access to them as they remained in her custody during this time. I was in fact under house arrest for five days and blocked from even texting my kids for 21 days! 

Halfway through the 21-days the judge ordered the court counsellor to meet with me and the children together to see if there was any merit to my wife’s accusation of child abuse. Apparently, he didn’t take the police interrogation seriously, thank God. I don’t even know what the police found out through interrogating my kids, and it doesn’t matter… 

Amazingly, my wife sent her brother with the kids, and when the court counsellor called me into the room where she had been meeting with the kids alone, her brother rushed in front of me and argued with her that I should not be allowed in the room with them due to the police restraining order of 21-days! The court counsellor did not take kindly to this absurdity and told him in not a nice way that the judge ordered the meeting of the father and his kids and this takes precedence over the police-issued restraining order. 

Temporary relief

It was a teary-eyed heartfelt reunion. I had an extremely strong relationship with all four of my children back then. The court counsellor could clearly see that ours was a very loving father-children relationship and she immediately sided with me. She didn’t believe my wife’s lies at all. My and my wife’s stories about my relationship with the kids completely contradicted and it was obvious who was lying. The court counsellor recommended to the judge that after the 21 days were up the kids spend the remainder of the summer with me, a full 11 days with only one break, a weekend with their mother, during that period.

For the next four months I enjoyed joint custody with my kids. The kids had to take two buses to and from school when staying with me, as their mother had enrolled them in a quasi-religious school in Rishon Lezion while we lived in Holon…

At the temporary hearing I was awarded joint custody… but also required to pay my wife 4,000 shekels [USD 1,021] a month in child support. My attorney seemed to think this was a win, too, as my wife actually sued for a whopping 16,000 shekels per month, which got the judge to yell at her again, since my earnings were 5,500 shekels net. She claimed I was working two jobs and earning 16,000 and she wanted all of it. In any event, 4,000 out of 5,500 left me with next to nothing to live on. With the help of my parents and brothers, I managed to pay her three months of this amount while moving to a four-room apartment next to the kids’ school in Rishon.

…[A]fter her false rape accusation (which was still not closed at the time), my attorney and I thought she would be going for the ketuba. The ketuba is a contract you sign in a Jewish marriage. I thought back in 1998 that it was just a tradition, a gesture, and not an actual contract, so when I found out it could be legally binding I was kind of shocked. At the time of our wedding I had the strong belief we’d be married forever and I wrote on the ketuba my net worth at the time, which wasn’t that much but converted to shekels at a 5.5 rate back then it came out to about 750,000 shekels [USD 191,388]. There are four things out of which a woman must prove at least one to have taken place to be awarded the ketuba: (1) the husband is having an affair; (2) the husband frequents prostitutes; (3) the husband physically abuses her; and (4) the husband sexually abuses her. Thus, the false rape accusation had me and my attorney thinking she was going for the ketuba. Note, she never accused me of being physically abusive, though she did accuse me of being dangerous and capable of physical abuse…

I hired a special rabbinical attorney and we had a strong case relating to her promiscuity and her affair, though no direct evidence. But she surprised us by showing up alone, without an attorney, not denying she had an affair and telling the court all she wants is the divorce, not the ketuba. She basically came in waving a white flag. That was a relief to me and it saved her the embarrassment of what I had on her in terms of pictures and other aspects of her private life while we were married. The rabbinical judges, after hearing my attorneys opening argument, basically told me I had to give her the divorce since I was accusing her of having an affair. I couldn’t sue for marital reconciliation (shalom bayit) after that. To me she was haram, forbidden. I agreed to give her the divorce and the ceremony was scheduled for the following week…

Jon’s parents get No Exit Order on visiting him from USA

In June 2012 Jon’s eldest son had his coming of age ritual, known as bar mitzvah. Jon’s parents flew in from the USA for the occasion. After two weeks, his parents prepared to fly back to America. However, an hour before leaving for the airport, two court summons were handed to Jon’s parents.Jon’s ex-wife had sued his parents on the day they had landed, yet delayed the summons delivery to the moment of their departure. She was suing them for USD 50,000 – a claim stating that, as they had supported Jon, they were also responsible for child support. It was unclear if the No Exit Order had been ratified.

Jon’s parents tried to board their plane but got only as far as the second border control when they were turned back (as with Hana Gan). His former wife had indeed got a warrant preventing his parents from leaving Israel. They were led off to a small room with no windows, and forced to wait three hours until their luggage was retrieved from the plane. They returned to Jon’s apartment after 3:00 am with an 8:30 am court appearance scheduled the next morning.

If Jon’s ex-wife had won the case his parents would have been prevented from leaving Israel unless or until they paid her USD 50,000. Luckily, Jon’s parents flew out the next day, having to pay an extra USD 800 to change the flight date. They will never return to Israel as long as they live.

Next step: prison

Unable to pay the child support without his parents’ help, Jon’s lawyer filed a request for the support to be reduced to an affordable amount. Jon’s ex-wife was financially solvent and had financial support herself from her father who is said to be paying her 5,000 shekels [USD 1,276] a month as an incentive to divorce him, and she had the income from her own well paid job. Alone, with no family support and on a meagre teacher’s salary, Jon was struggling.

I was taken to prison with basically the clothes on my body and nothing else. I had one pair of underwear, one shirt and one pair of pants, one pair of socks and my running shoes. I had no toothbrush for two weeks and brushed my teeth with rolled up toilet paper…

Jon lost his attempt to reduce child support; it was raised to an amount equal to his net income which he managed to maintain for three months, but only with family help. He had no money to treat his children on visits, nor maintain his one-roomed apartment or buy food.

Unable to pay the child support, nor have it reduced, Jon was sentenced to 14 days in prison. He was taken at 4:00 am to the police and cuffed by his hands and ankles and chained to another divorced father. He says:

Neither of us was going to run off, but I guessed this was standard procedure in Israel. I’d never felt like a criminal before that in my life, including when I was arrested and interrogated for the false rape charges and put under house arrest. This was the first time I had been handcuffed in my life, and ankle cuffs were something completely strange to me

Unfortunately for me, I had neither family nor friends close enough to pay for me, nor sufficient money of my own. The judge told me to pay 7,500 shekels [USD 1,914] or go to prison for 14 days, and I had no choice.

Jon was driven to Shichma, a large prison in Ashkelon, near Gaza. He was thrown into a holding cell, with convicts of many nationalities.

My cuffs at least were taken off while I stood in the holding cell waiting for the crowded room to be emptied as the prison guards slowly checked us in. I was put in the one room where they imprison fathers (the only prisoners in there for civil offences), while the other 19 cells were full of guys who were in for various criminal offences but on good behaviour or first offences. 

I was taken to prison with basically the clothes on my body and nothing else. I had one pair of underwear, one shirt and one pair of pants, one pair of socks and my running shoes. I had no toothbrush for two weeks and brushed my teeth with rolled up toilet paper that was the texture of a tough paper towel.

Jon was experiencing a similar fate to many Israeli fathers who are unable to pay child support and risk homelessness. In his words:

There was one other father there when I arrived and he had only a couple of days left out of a five-day sentence. During my two weeks there I met six or seven fathers, some who came and went on shorter sentences, a few who were given two weeks like me and one, an African guy, who had only 1,800 shekels [USD 459] a month to pay and didn’t, so was given the full 21 days. He was the only African father there and it seemed strange and racist to me that he owed less than all of us but was given the longest sentence. 

I talked to all the fathers during those two weeks. Many were going through the same experience as I was. There was an Orthodox Haredi father who came in towards the end of my stay. He was sentenced to two weeks, having been caught after six years in hiding. He owed a staggering 2 million shekels [USD 510,367] as he had eight kids and his wife was awarded a lot of money which he could never pay. 

He had been on the run by hiding in yeshivas (religious schools). He told me and the other fathers who would listen: “Never get married in Israel!” He told me that divorce is endemic in the Haredi community because the mothers are awarded child support automatically based on the number of children they have and their husband’s income or lack of income doesn’t matter. If the husband can’t pay, the government will, so they are cashing in. I imagined in the religious community the women would be more virtuous than my ex-wife was. The anti-family law in Israel gives mothers an incentive to divorce. If they stay married the country gives the family 400 shekels [USD 102] per child. If they divorce they can receive 2,000 shekels [USD 510] per child from the father, and if he can’t pay he does periodic prison time. 

I also learned from some of the fathers in prison that some religious couples actually faked divorce to collect the child support from the government, with the father doing periodic time, like a sort of vacation…

“I completely lost all sense of my Zionism”

The two weeks finally came to an end. I had learned to appreciate my freedom after my first stint in prison, even after only two weeks. It was a strange feeling walking through the prison courtyard with the Zionist flag waving in the breeze. I think it must have been at that point that I completely lost all sense of my Zionism. It could have been earlier, but definitely by this point I no longer looked at the Israeli flag with either pride or even sentiment.

Many divorced men are unable to build a new life or remarry due to the constant harassment and false charges from non-amicable divorces. One in 72 divorcing men commit suicide in Israel every year.

Jon continues:

This wasn’t the end of my encounters with the Israeli police, unfortunately. My ex-wife was not done with her false accusations. She filed 11 false complaints in total. I remember one night four police officers came to arrest me on my weekend with the children. My ex-wife claimed it wasn’t my “turn” to have the children. It was relentless. On a visit to collect my children, four policemen turned up to arrest me for being a “dangerous man”. I was accused of a criminal offence. To my horror, I was immediately put in prison without any court hearing.

I was taken to the Abu-Kabir detention centre in Tel Aviv, accused of a criminal offence, and it was a much worse ordeal than previously. First, they kept me overnight in the jail in Bat Yam, which is at the Bat Yam police station, serving Holon and Bat Yam. I was in custody there from 1:00 pm until the next morning. No blanket or pillow, just a cold rubber mattress and a plain concrete room with the standard six bunks – made of concrete. It was a long day and a long night. 

The next morning they drove me all around in a big van with the windows covered up by slats. There were three seats for prisoners on either side of the van with more room for the armed guards and police. Of course, I was in handcuffs again. They drove around filling up the van with other prisoners. I couldn’t help but feel like a criminal this time around. I had no idea how much time I was facing, where they were taking me or what was going to happen.

They marched us down dark winding hallways through the basement of a building I was totally unfamiliar with. I didn’t know if it was a prison or a courthouse. It turned out to be a courthouse, possibly even the main law court I was at before when I was sentenced to two weeks on child support charges. I was given a public defender five minutes before being ushered into the court for sentencing. A police prosecutor was telling the judge about the terrible crimes I was accused of committing. I was sentenced to four days in prison. I was shocked as I didn’t know what I was supposed to have done.

I was stuck in a holding pen with about eight to 10 convicts for five hours. Despite my fear, when I was put in a cell, I fell asleep to be woken up an hour later at 1:00 am. I was taken to an office and told to sign some papers, then suddenly released. I walked for nearly two hours to the police station to collect my personal possessions. Someone had bailed me out…

A difficult departure

In November 2014 I was informed there would be an emigration case on 2 February 2015. I’d been prevented from leaving since June 2011. I had tried one attempt to sneak out of the country through Jordan, using my new American passport. My ex-wife had stolen the previous one. Sadly, the border control connected me to my Israeli ID. I was questioned for over an hour, and allowed back into Israeli territory. I was ready to die in order to get out and had struggled with suicidal issues during my six years in Israel. I reasoned it was better to die trying to escape…

I was ready to die in order to get out and had struggled with suicidal issues during my six years in Israel. I reasoned it was better to die trying to escape.

Before my hearing on 2 February, I received another order for the criminal court on 18 February. The same false claim had been filed again, I was to learn, though it wasn’t written on the paperwork.

Luckily, 2 February arrived before the 18th and, to my attorney’s amazement, the judge let me go without guarantee. My ex-wife said she was happy to see me go, but she wanted a guarantee before she would agree to remove the No Exit Order. With the judgment, I went to various offices to try and lift the warrant. I had no bank account. My ex-wife had placed an order to prevent me having one.

With no goodbyes allowed, I went to Ben Gurion Airport but was again prevented from leaving, despite having no warrants on me. I was given no reason why.

The next day I learned my ex-wife had a court order preventing me from renewing the Israeli passport she had stolen too. No one had told me. I paid a small fortune for an emergency passport, and my brother had bought me an expensive air ticket which had flexible dates.

The next day, I was finally on my way out. I have never felt so happy on a 17-hour flight in my life. Hearing English was a joy.

My children are still prevented from visiting me. I will try and fight for them once I recover. 

“Never again when it comes to Israel”

Well, I made it out and I am home now and all I can say is thank God. I can definitely say never again when it comes to Israel.

During my own experience of seven years trying to get my former husband out of Israel – detailed in my book Sour Milk and Stolen Honey – we also endured over three hours of questioning when trying to cross the border into Taba. If a person tries to leave with knowledge of a No Exit Order it can entail a prison sentence. Mt former husband also said many times he would rather die trying to escape than exist in an open prison culture.

Jon is now recovering in the USA, just a few months after leaving Israel. He is not the only one to have endured such a humiliating experience. With no Hebrew and no previous knowledge of Israeli law, he “made aliyah” with complete naivety. His story is very similar to Rick Myers – another American citizen who has lost his children to Israel. The pitfalls for foreign nationals immigrating to Israel in good faith are becoming clearer.

None of the people who have sent their stories to me know each other, yet the core of their experience is frighteningly similar. The main thing to remember is that, aside from the stories of dual nationals, this experience is happening every single day to Israeli citizens.

While Israel has a right to exist, at what point will existence move on to a more humane life for the people of Israel – and those visiting it? It has been said by many Israelis that, until the country finds peace for its own people, the chance for peace with its neighbours will only be a remote possibility.

To contact Jon, visit Marianne Azizi’s website.

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