Israeli authorities forced to release woman protester from unlawful incarceration in psychiatric facility

Freed Joelle Ben Simon
Marianne Azizi writes:

Israeli Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked got rid of a women who had been protesting for four days in front of her office by arranging for her to be locked in a psychiatric facility.

The woman, Joelle Ben Simon, says the rabbi who sat in her divorce case robbed her by appointing receivers to take her assets. She spent four days at the ministry compound in Jerusalem trying to reach Ms Shaked.

On the fourth day Ms Shaked, surrounded by her assistants, saw her for a few minutes. Joelle was then told to return home, take a shower and prepare to see Ms Shaked in Tel Aviv at 6pm.

But by the time she reached her caravan, a social worker, Hadass Weiss, and an ambulance had turned up to take her to a mental facility. After a 10-minute interview with one Dr Elizabeth Yuven, she was “diagnosed” as psychotic and immediately injected with 3mg of risperdal.1

The next day Joelle was allowed visitors who took a video mocking the minister of justice and “thanking her for her promise to help her”.

The video went viral with 26,000 views within a very short time. Viewers were outraged that Ms Shaked, who seems so pretty and gives the appearance of being civil, actually gets rid of people she deems pests by arranging for them a bed in a psychiatric hospital and a dose of medication.

[The psychiatric] reports alluded that a citizen who thinks she deserves a personal appointment with the minister by holding a vigil until she is seen must be in a psychotic state of mind.

On the day of Joelle’s committal, Friday 5 August, it was not possible to obtain any medical record or paperwork pertaining to her committal which could be used to petition the court for her release, because in Israel when a district psychiatrist signs a decree of committal the patient must wait for whenever a psychiatric committee can consider the case, which in this case was Monday 8 August.

The outrage on Facebook was so intense that reporter Lory Shemtov managed to assemble a team of three lawyers to volunteer for the defence.

On Sunday 7 August one of the lawyers, Zvi Zer, managed to obtain reports from social worker Weiss and Dr Yuven, both of whom clearly stated that the request to hospitalise Joelle had been initiated by the Ministry of Justice, in the person of Yael Kutik, the personal assistant of Ms Shaked. The reports said that Joelle was filled with false thoughts about corruption in the family and rabbinical courts, and that she had put herself in danger by choosing an Arab district for her abode.

Both reports alluded that a citizen who thinks she deserves a personal appointment with the minister by holding a vigil until she is seen must be in a psychotic state of mind.

Meanwhile, attorney Zer managed to obtain an admission from Dr Yuven that no diagnosis specifically for a psychiatric disorder had been determined and that Joelle was receiving 3mg of risperdal as treatment “to eliminate the false thoughts from her mind and stabilise her back to a state of ordinary and normal conduct”.

At the committee meeting Joelle was represented by three lawyers: Zvi Zer, Iris Brand and Inbal bar On. Usually these committee hearings take no more than 10 minutes for an instant evaluation of the patient and to hear factual or legal arguments for why the subject should be released or detained.

As one would expect, 10 minutes are hardly sufficient for a genuine and serious defence. Consequently, such hearings tend to be a façade that results in a quick rubber-stamp decision, usually against the patient.

However, Joelle’s case took 90 minutes and was attended by the chief district psychiatrist of Jerusalem, which was unusual. The hearing began with a mental examination by way of a question-and-answer session posed by the panel to Joelle, who answered that she had no idea why she had been committed; had never seen a psychiatrist before; was not known to the system in any way; had never been diagnosed, seen or treated by any psychiatrist; and had never been give treatment or needed medication.

She said the social worker and doctor had put words in her mouth and she had indeed been mistreated by the divorce and rabbinical courts. Therefore, her thoughts were not false.

Attorney Brand spoke about the right to protest and approach ministers in person, and the right to express criticism of the courts, adding that Joelle’s rights had been violated in this case.

She said that she herself had once approached the Ministry of Justice with a complaint about an official and that it had never occurred to her that such an act might result in her committal to a psychiatric institution.

Next, attorney Zer conducted a cross examination of Dr Yuven, and obtained an admission that there is no need for a committal because the drugs could actually be taken outside the hospital. The only reason she wants Joelle inside a mental facility was to ensure that she actually takes the drug.

Asked how a psychiatrist can determine in 10 minutes whether something that is said to have happened in a divorce to rabbinical court actually happened or was an instance of false memory, Dr Yuven replied that a combination of the patient’s appearance, the stubbornness of requesting to speak to Ms Shaked and the self-imposed risk of sleeping in an Arab district had led her to believe that Joelle was in a psychotic state.

Attorney Zer summarised the cross examination by stating that Joelle’s conduct at the hearing was 100 per cent coherent and that her allegations of being wronged by the family courts were not baseless. He presented several newspaper clips relating to the persons involved with the litigation and stated that there appears to have been behind-the-scenes meddling by powerful people whom the psychiatric personnel were trying to appease. He said it was time to acknowledge that a gave mistake had been made.

Summarising the legal arguments for the release of Joelle, Inbal bar On stated that many necessary documents were missing from the record and that certain procedural steps had been bypassed, and that the entire situation was a fiasco.

After 45 minutes of deliberations, the panel said that Joelle is to be released immediately, and that the respirdal had already worked its miracle. It also ruled that the initial order for the committal had been justified because it was abnormal to approach a minister instead of just sending a letter.

This story will be in the mainstream news in Israel before the weekend.

In Israel, it takes only a word to turn a person’s world upside down. In this case, the word was that of someone in a high position in the Ministry of Justice and it resulted in one of the quickest psychiatric committals of a harmless person.

How many other unfortunate people in Israel do not have the benefit of connections to activists and journalists, and suffer in silence?

It used to be common practice in the Soviet Union to commit dissidents to mental hospitals. It seems the practice continues to be used in Israel.

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