Walk4Kids September 2015 – highlighting the lack of children’s rights in Israel
Moti Leybel writes:
Three hours after Moti Leybel and Marianne Azizi wrote this article, Mr Leybel’s phone and computer and Ms Azizi’s netbook were seized by Israeli police, and Mr Leybel was taken in for questioning. This is a common experience for independent writers who speak up for reform in Israel.
In September, Moti Leybel and Marianne Azizi, both independent journalists, will start a 12-day, 50-mile walk to bring to the world awareness of the plight of children who are removed from their parents by the Israeli Ministry of Welfare and Social Services.
Currently, 330,000 children are declared at risk in Israel. Some 10,000 have been taken from their parents, with 70 per cent placed into private institutions. There are concerns about the levels of abuse inside these institutions and the Welfare Ministry has been urged to look into these. A special page on Facebook called Walk4kids September 2015 has been set up in English and Hebrew to give the public a window on to real life stories in Israel
I am a human rights defender for the children in Israel. We have huge social and civil rights issues here. A few years ago, when the economic situation was good, I had a new car, a nice apartment and a boat, and I was content with my life. As the cost of fuel, housing and food started to soar without incomes growing, matters changed for the worse. I could barely afford to feed my family, and started to attend demonstrations against the high cost of living.
Almost two years ago I met a young woman at a protest who was claiming that the Welfare Ministry had taken her son for no reason. I was wary and thought this can’t be so and that she must have done something wrong. Surely, kids wouldn’t be taken from home as she said. She sent me her documentation and, on thorough inspection, I saw she was right, and helped her.
I have seen the tears and screams of children and the despair of parents who have been separated from each other.
Since that time I have been approached by a huge number of people with similar problems, and I set up a Facebook group to help. I linked up with others who have been fighting the system for many years, and during this time I saw children as young as three years old who have been sexually and physically abused and taken by the Welfare Ministry to be medicated with psychiatric drugs. I have seen the tears and screams of children and the despair of parents who have been separated from each other. I couldn’t remain indifferent, and the problems drew me in and took more and more of my time.
Today I am penniless. I have no home, no money and no job, but I am devoted entirely to this struggle. I learned that as all social services were have been privatised since 2001, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry was paying over 17,000 shekels [USD 4,386] per child per month to the institutions. I got proof of social workers lying to the courts, and I found that the courts do not do dispense justice here.And I discovered that the police glossed over complaints related in any way to social workers.
Last year I made contact with Marianne Azizi. She had been campaigning for nearly 10 years against No Exit orders in Israel – trying to help people who were trapped here. She had written a book and was going to Geneva to ask for help. We connected in order to write stories for the world to see, and she visited Israel this year to accompany me and witness real events. She had written dozens of articles and witness stories of people, as I have, but we decided to write the stories in English to try to give the people in Israel a voice. We underestimated the impact that our writing and videoing would have on both of us.
When we started publishing I started to receive serious abuse from the Israeli state. I began to have almost daily police investigations and arrests, and I was put jail. The videos which Marianne filmed live are now my defence and to date have both kept me out of prison and saved my life. We have a team of top attorneys who give their time for free to help families and also to protect my freedom. I know the Welfare Ministry will do anything to silence me, However, the government is unable to stop my activities because I have always acted within the law. However, here in Israel freedom of speech and freedom of protest are stopped by the courts.
I hope someone out there will hear my cry for help before they kill me. We know of people who have stood up to the system like me who have been killed or put in jail for trying to expose the corruption here in Israel, so it can continue without interruption.
The attorney-general has established an internal commission to “take care” of me. He has also admitted that the Prosecutor’s Office is currently pursuing two cases against me, in order to imprison me. I received a document, through my lawyers in which he confirms that he had written to the court regarding my complaint to the UN about what is happening here. Marianne Azizi, who represents the UN civil society Coalition for Children and Families in Israel (CCF), has requested my protection, but it will be me who pays the price for asking for help.
I hope someone out there will hear my cry for help before they kill me. We know of people who have stood up to the system like me who have been killed or put in jail for trying to expose the corruption here in Israel, so it can continue without interruption. People here are afraid to demonstrate for they know they will be arrested and beaten up by the police. Those of us who try to challenge the systems live here in a state of fear. I am afraid, but not intimidated. I will continue to shout, expose, talk and fight for human rights and the rights of parents to be parents and children’s rights.
Just recently, the minister of justice set up a committee to silence dissent against public officials on social networks, which is a sad time for our people and for democracy.
I would move my activity outside of Israel. But there is no way for me to leave the country because there is a No Exit Order against me because of my financial obligations, most of which have arisen as a result of the illegal lawsuits that I have been bombarded with.
As an Israeli Jew, I would like a fairer country, with real investment in families. I see no funds for the people I help. We want a crisis centre set up for legal advice and counselling, and an independent ombudsman to look into the thousands of complaints and to help.
Our Walk4kids September 2015 is intended to start an awareness campaign. I want the world to see how life really is inside Israel.
Please help us.