“Shame on Israel”! Wealthy father bled dry, faces jail for complaining against the system
Marianne Azizi writes about one aspect of the injustice that is deeply ingrained in Israeli society
Avni has not seen his twin daughters for two years. He has had over 150 false complaints made against him to the police. They are proven false then repeated. He says his divorce and custody battle has cost him over 1.5 million shekels (USD 387,522) – money which could have been used to invest in his children and his career.
Here is his story.
Avni’s wife left him while he was working away from Israel. He returned to a completely empty house. Unbeknown to him, his wife was pregnant with twins. They had been trying for some time to have a child and had turned to IVF treatment. He tried to keep his marriage together – In Hebrew the term is shalom beit (meaning peace at home, or reconciliation). It was not to be.
The first sight he had of his daughters was two months after they were born. For two and a half years, he was allowed to see them only at one of the infamous child Contact Centres. After all this time, the social workers allowed him to take his babies outside to visit their grandmother, provided she was there to collect and deliver them.
Was Avni a violent man? On the contrary. He had a high profile career and was dedicated to his family. These things happen randomly. When his daughters were three years old, he learned his ex-wife had cancer, with the added burden of her own parents becoming seriously ill.
“I did what I could to help,” he says. “I was paying 6,000 shekels (USD 1,550), plus the kindergarten and doing everything I could to relieve any pressure. I stopped all the procedures in the court – it wasn’t appropriate at the time. The children were more important.”
In hindsight, Avni wishes he had exerted his custody rights, for his life became a catalogue of disasters. For the past nine years, his life has been a cycle of intermittent shared parenting, being a regular dad and then suddenly thrust into the Contact Centre visitation for only an hour a week. It was never his decision. He shows documentation – thousands of papers – which prove his was pushed around at the whim of his ex-wife, and as he refused to stop complaining he faces the wrath of system which takes no criticism.
Divorce can last forever in Israel. Even beyond the childhood years. Women are neither punished nor face any consequences when making false claims. A genuine claim by a man can often result in him being arrested.
“My girl called and was crying that her mother was hitting them,” Avni recalls. He adds:
I could hear the sounds of slapping and screaming and then the phone disconnected. I was frantic and tried to call every number in the house but there was no answer. I rushed to the police and begged them over and over to go to the house and investigate.
On the tenth attempt and refusal, I told them that I would have to take the law into my own hands and go to the house myself. I was arrested immediately, thrown to the ground, handcuffed and leg-cuffed…
It was Thursday evening, and though the police are allowed to hold a person for only 24 hours without charging them, they obtained an emergency order on Friday and, in total, I was held for over 60 hours. Eventually, I was released into the hands of a parole officer, at which point I was informed that I could no longer speak to my girls by any method. I still can’t believe it.
Avni was issued with a three-month restraining order. During this time he texted a smiley emoticon to his girls, and was promptly arrested. Finally, the order expired, and he called the school to ask if he could drop off a card and a gift for the girls before the New Year celebration. He decided to go before the children arrived. The school agreed. On arrival, his girls saw him and shouted: “Dad, don’t, it’s not allowed. They will hurt you.”
Yet again Avni was arrested and spent five days under house arrest, and a further five days in prison, charged with violation of the restraining order. The evidence showed it had expired.
Avnihad gone to Germany for a visit, and during his absence a social worker placed a claim into the court alleging that she had been harassed and threatened by him. The dates given were when he was outside of Israel, proving it was a false claim.
In total, six claims were made against him, and all proven false. Yet, unbelievably, the files are still open and the judge allegedly told him: “I hope we will find something.” He had made several complaints about the judge, so he was in a no-win situation.
Avni has reams of documents and stacks of videos and recordings, all categorically proving that he had done nothing wrong. But it is all in vain. He is exhausted. As with everyone who speak out, he just wants a normal life. He talks of the lost career opportunities, the failure to carry on his studies for a degree and his inability to save for his children’s future.
What a waste of money, public services, children’s stability and any chance of normality. The system is set up for private vendettas and abuse. If it all goes horribly wrong for both parents, there are always a team of social workers waiting to pick up the broken children.
What possible morality is there in a system which turns on previously loyal citizens whose only “crime” is to divorce or become a single parent!
His last words are: “Shame on Israel.” Despite being deeply traumatised, he decides to make a short video to tell the world how he feels – and to warns others.