Israeli police and social workers refuse to help father find his missing son

Ariel with photo of his son Avraham
Marianne Azizi writes:

Ariel Formanovski, 42, is in a new reality. On 1 July his son disappeared. Since then he has had no help from any Israeli authority – because the child was snatched by his mother.

It is 45 days since Ariel last saw his three-year-old son, Avraham. His contract for shared custody is worthless. The mother of Avraham moved house and took the boy with her, without notifying anyone – in essence an abduction of Ariel’s son.

Start of the nightmare

One day, Ariel went to collect his son as usual but there was no sign of him. The landlord of the mother’s house said she’d moved, with no forwarding address. Ariel went to the police immediately and filed complaints. This was to become a daily activity. He filed requests in the courts to demand to know his son’s whereabouts. Finally, he was informed that his son had moved to Nili, a small settlement near Modi’in. No address was given. The events of the day on which he searched for his son are detailed in the story of his arrest and also my own arrest.

An Israeli TV cameraman and international filmmaker turned up for the court case, as well as many supporters. After only 10 minutes it was judged that Ariel could be released – unless the police decided to pursue further investigations, but they had no grounds for doing so.

The events from that evening until his release were filmed. The videos also taken on the day proved that Ariel was acting within the law and very calm in his search for his son. However, he was not to know that the settlement where he was searching for his son was full of serving and former Mossad and Shabak (also known as Shin Bet) officers who made no secret of it when he visited, nor that the police station where he was abused was also full of Shabak investigators.

It was like being thrown into another world. I was handcuffed and squashed into a tiny room, the temperature was over 50 degrees. I had three cops interrogating me – one screaming in my ear, one spitting on me, and the other physically hurting me.

The commanding officer told me: “You are not in Petach Tikvah [a town east of Tel Aviv] now boy. This is Shabak. We are going to fuck you and teach you a lesson.”

Another told me to sign a statement that I wouldn’t see my son; yet another told me to sign that I was guilty of trespassing. I refused. I didn’t get my phone call [to a lawyer] – they wrote in the report I had refused a lawyer. It was like a scene from Midnight Express. I was prepared to stay there forever, if that is what it would take, for the sake of my son.

Freedom and secret files

After Ariel has now been released – see the video below. A fuller version of the video can be seen here.

He has filed many complaints – against the police for false arrest and for the return of his phones and money, and has been in the court daily to request a case to establish the whereabouts of Avraham. The courts in Israel are now in recess, which means nothing can be done until September, unless it is urgent. The court secretaries are on strike, and hundreds of people pile into the court offices trying to submit claims. Parental alienation will peak during the summer.

Ariel’s lawyer has demanded to see the secret file on him. Everyone in Israel has one. Once a citizen has served in the Israeli army a secret file is opened on him or her. There is a secret file on every individual which grows according to how many phone calls are recorded by the authorities, posts published on social media, or anything which may show dissent against the police, judiciary or welfare authorities. Lawyers are not allowed to see the file, which is usually presented in court by the police who could demand further investigations on the basis of the “secret file” which only a judge can see.

Time is not on Ariel’s side. After 90 days, it is usually assumed that parental alienation has taken place, and he will be allowed to see his son only in a contact centre. In the meantime, Ariel is filing daily requests to the court and the police. He has asked the police to accompany him to the house in which he believes Avraham was last seen. They ignore his requests. No one has seen Avraham nor heard from him. His mother has changed her phone number.

Mossad and Shabak

This week, at the appointed day and time Ariel returned to the settlement where his former wife was believed to be living to collect his son for the routine visit. Meylet Gordo, the landlord of the rented accommodation, offered him a drink of water and said he could go into the house so that he could see that the mother and child had gone. Neighbours came out to the street to tell him they were all working either for Mossad or Shabak, and Ariel declined to enter the premises, fully aware that the last time he had merely stood on the street he’d endured physical abuse and prison.

A drama has been created, which is turning into a major crisis. There is a young boy who has been wrenched from his father, his kindergarten and all he has known. He is hidden and must be very confused or even afraid.

He then witnessed Avraham’s maternal grandparents going into the house with pots of food; the window blinds were closed. According to the landlord’s wife, they had gone to clear out the last of their possessions, which seemed unlikely given that food was being taken into the house surreptitiously.

A drama has been created, which is turning into a major crisis. There is a young boy who has been wrenched from his father, his kindergarten and all he has known. He is hidden and must be very confused or even afraid. Ariel shouted loudly: “I love you Avraham, your dad loves you,” and was then told that this was a damaging action towards his son, and might confuse him.

Forty five days and hundreds of files since his son was snatched, Ariel continues to ask the police just for a photo of his son or a video to show that he is safe. He has gone from a normal life of work and keeping joint custody to a life where he doesn’t know even what day it is any more as he works around the clock in his search.

Go home. Your child is not dead

As I was following this story closely, I visited the police this week with Ariel to file a missing person’s report. They refused, repeatedly. I asked two of the commanders at the police station why they wouldn’t. The answers I received were that as Ariel had “handed over” the child to his mother, it meant he had given up his child and rights. They ignored the joint custody orders and told Ariel to get new ones, even though the existing order was still valid.

The officer also told me that the police had to act within the law, which stipulates that a father has no right to search for his child if the mother is still involved and that whether the mother was fit for the task was irrelevant. I asked what if the mother was a dangerous woman; the office shrugged and said this was not in the equation. However, after pressing further, and perhaps fearing adverse publicity, they relented and made some phone calls. After a few hours they told Ariel to go home as his child was not dead. No more information was given.

What of the child? His rights? His need for his father? On 18 August, Avraham will be three years old. His father had already bought tickets for a trip to Legoland to celebrate the child’s birthday.

In order to appeal yet again to the court, because he is a man, he needs to find GBP 4,000 just for a bond.

Last week his former wife didn’t turn up to the court, and is obliged to pay GBP 1,000 expenses. She dropped (for now) the false claims against him. She will never have to pay it herself. She is supported by the Women’s International Zionist Organisation (WIZO) and, as a woman, will be protected despite proof that she is lying to get legal aid, lying about her son, in order to do what she always wanted: to move closer to her work and break the custody order. She was warned last year in a previous attempt that she would face sanctions if she repeated her efforts to abduct Avraham. This year, almost to the day, in a repeat exercise she upped the stakes by making false claims.

“This is what gender discrimination looks like in Israel”

With all this, Ariel is dying inside, his soul starting to have the wound of many other estranged fathers. He keeps up the momentum by filing appeals daily in the court and with the police. He is worried about the wellbeing of his son. But the police refuse to check on the whereabouts of the child, and will not reassure the father about his safety.

In a previous case another mother hid for eight months and surrendered only when the father, a lawyer, had piled enough pressure to force the newspapers to report his child missing. This is what gender discrimination looks like in Israel. And the child who cries for his father? His life is at risk of being damaged forever.

Ariel had custody of his son for four days a week. Giving a turn to the mother to have him means she has all the rights to kidnap him.

Ariel searches house to house for Avraham, in locations he thinks his son might be, and from tips he receives. What madness is this that a citizen cannot turn to the authorities for support, and the same authorities are criminalising the man. In Israel, the only solution is hope and prayer. What a return for the loyalty and army service of Israeli men who are now ashamed of their state!

The Coalition for Children and Families in Israel (CCF) is giving all the support it can to Ariel. Without funding, it work for free and give as much legal help as possible, for the public good.

The problem is that there are thousands of fathers in similar situations, decent loving men thrust into a nightmare with possibly no return to normal life. Ariel has a Facebook page (in Hebrew) where he shares his daily search for Avraham and appeals to anyone who has information on the whereabouts of his son.

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