NOTE: Please read my latest article on the Duma murders published at Mint Press News, State Department’s Silence Deafening After U.S. Citizens Engage In Israeli Settler Violence.
A few months ago, I wrote about a shocking Israeli Supreme Court decision which ratified the officially-sanctioned theft of children from a mixed Jewish-Palestinian couple and their adoption by an Orthodox Jewish couple who planned to raise the children with no access to their birth identity. The decision was flagrantly racist and defied many Israeli child welfare regulations. But it was the decision of the highest court in the land. One which foreign observers continue to mistakenly credit with being a beacon of western democratic values. No longer.
Tonight brings a new saga of judicially-sanctioned racism and woe perpetrated again by the Israeli Welfare Ministry (run by Minister Haim Katz) and its child services agency.
Over a decade ago, Daniella Vaknin was a troubled teenager living in an Orthodox home in the settlement of Avney Heifetz. Daniella was labelled as rebellious, violent, aggressive, and sent to an institution for troubled youth. She was abused at this facility and ran away. She stayed away till she became an adult and could make her own decisions. At that time, she met a Palestinian man, Ala’a Suliman, whose family lived in the West Bank village of Zetta. They fell in love. Against her parents wishes, she moved to his village, married him, and became pregnant. They had a daughter they named Adel.
Daniella’s mother continued to pressure her to abandon her marriage and return to live with her parents among Jews. She warned her daughter that the Israeli social welfare system would frown on her decision and might take her child away. Even then, despite living among Palestinians in the West Bank, child welfare officials summoned her to a meeting where they pummeled her with questions about her baby, the care she was providing, etc. Among the first questions they asked was why she wore a hijab to meet with them. Daniella responded that she did this out of respect to her husband’s family. The social workers clearly disapproved of this and saw it as a rejection of her Jewish roots.
Eventually, Daniella understood the immense pain she was causing her mother and decided to return home. But that is when the trouble really began. A neighbor of her parents reported falsely that Ala’a had threatened Daniela. That permitted them to further question her. She denied that her husband had ever threatened her. But it didn’t help matters.
Her parents and the child welfare officials persuaded her to place Adel in a pre-school program. This enabled Daniella to work. She got two jobs and commuted many hours to work each day. Luckily, her mother’s best friend agreed to provide care to the child and the arrangement seemed to suit everyone. Except child welfare. They argued that her long hours of work meant she had abandoned her baby, another false claim.
One day, the authorities came to Adel’s pre-school and took her into custody. Daniella had not been provided any warning of their intent. And they had obtained no judicial order approving the removal as is required by child welfare regulations (they obtained an order ex post facto). They justified taking Adel away from Daniela by dredging up her wayward childhood. They claimed she was an unfit mother because she had not changed her ways. That she abandoned her daughter. That her biological father was a threat to mother and daughter.
Adel was not taken into emergency protective services as would be normal in such cases. She was given directly into the hands of her foster parents, Yehuda and Shoshana Damri. This raises serious questions of a conspiracy between the Damris and child services. In effect, this is child trafficking. How can a government agency assign a child to another family before it even has legal custody of the child? It’s the worst violation of the rights of the mother.
Ala’a also tried to intervene in the legal process to assert his paternal rights. But when the case came before an Israeli Palestinian judge in Nazareth, he astonishingly ruled that no Palestinian father could have any parental rights when the adopted child was to raised by as a Jew. The ruling had little or no basis in law. But that hardly mattered. If you ask why a Palestinian judge would rule against a Palestinian father remember, just as with security cases, judges are tightly bound to those who appear before them regularly: government officials. They tend to rule in favor of authority and against individual citizens who have little or no power. People just like Daniella and Ala’a. This a perfect example of a Palestinian Muslim judge ruling against a Palestinian father in order to curry favor with the Jewish judicial power structure. Divide and conquer.
In a separate ruling, the authorities found that Ala’a had “abandoned” Adel because he had not visited her. In truth, no Palestinian may enter Israel legally without a permit. Permits are given exceedingly sparingly and Ala’a could not get one to visit his daughter. To official Israel, this didn’t matter. The fact that he did not visit his daughter, regardless of the reason, permitted them to steal his parental rights from him.
System Rigged Against Kids, Parents
None of the accusations against either parent is true. But it hardly matters in the Israeli welfare system. Social workers have absolute power. Their actions are unchecked. Parents have no recourse. And judges always go along with the child welfare authorities. They rarely side with parents, even biological parents. They often make decisions that directly contravene official regulations. But no one takes notice.
The entire process of foster care is hugely rewarding for the many agencies involved in it. One of the largest is Orr Shalom. It supervised Adel’s own foster care arrangement with the family which fostered her after she was removed from her mother’s care. In fact, child welfare authorities would have consulted with Orr Shalom even before taking Adel away from Daniella. The agency also would’ve identified prospective foster parents.
Orr Shalom and other such agencies receive more than $4,000 per month from the Welfare Ministry for every child who enters their custody. If you multiply this by the hundreds of children in foster care, it becomes a lucrative business. Nor is it beneficial for them to return foster children to the biological parents care. As such, you’ve created a system which works diametrically opposite to what should be the societal interest in having children raised by their natural parents.
This may explain why they targeted Adel. Not to mention that foster parents as well earn up to $500 per month for their role. So social workers working for these child welfare agencies are always on the look-out for vulnerable young mothers from whom they may wrest a child. In short, it’s a racket and the children trafficked and their biological parents are often the victims.
Of course, there are myriad justifications authorities and social workers offer for separating children from their mothers. Think about the Christian missionaries who forcibly removed Native American and Aboriginal children from their parents in order to “civilize” the children and introduce them to “modern ways.” Israeli social workers believe they are doing a social good by removing children from ‘troubled homes’ and finding more stable homes for them. There are, of course, hundreds of Jewish couples who cannot conceive and desperately seek to adopt a baby. They are often willing to pay handsomely for the privilege.
Orthodox Settlers Foster Palestinian Child
Such a couple were Yehuda and Shoshana Demry (his Facebook page). They were Orthodox Jews who lived in the West Bank settlement of Elkanah. Once Adel was taken from her mother, she was placed in foster care with the Damris. Daniella of course objected strenuously to all of this, but to no avail. She created a Facebook page vowing to fight for her rights to Adel. She plastered hundreds of flyers seeking information about where her baby had been taken.
The Demrys wanted to adopt because Yehuda was sterile and could not produce a child. This is particularly traumatic for an Orthodox family because one of the most important Biblical commandments is: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Under halacha, infertility of either spouse is grounds for divorce. The couple would’ve been highly motivated, since they couldn’t have their own child, to find one to adopt.
Adel was a beautiful child with black hair and piercing dark eyes. Their prayers seemed to be answered when the social workers gave her to them. But later, Shoshana decided she wanted her own child and not to raise the child of a stranger. She and her husband could not work out their fundamental differences. Eventually, they divorced.
That raised problems with the adoption agency. By regulation, single parents may not be foster parents nor may they adopt. By rights, they should have returned Adel to her mother for that reason alone. But naturally that didn’t happen. Officials winked and nodded at regulations and Adel remained in Yehuda’s care. To return Adel to her mother would’ve ended Orr Shalom’s gravy train. So he had to find a wife to marry as quickly as possible in order to retain custody of Adel. It took him nearly two years. But he finally did marry his second wife, Yifat Demry, and now he is ‘kosher l’mehadrin.’
In the meantime, Daniella had no idea where her daughter lived. Though regulations permitted short twice monthly meetings with Adel, they never happened. So she did some detective work and discovered where her daughter lived and which pre-school she attended. She brought along her smart phone and took a few blurry pictures of Adel in her classroom. For her troubles, the teachers swarmed all over her and sent her packing. She left the premises without raising a fuss.
But the next day, Damri sicced the police on Daniella. They accused her of attempting to kidnap her daughter. Though this never happened, it’s precisely the sort of accusation that officials can use to bolster a fabricated case against a mother to justify stealing her daughter.
Daniella is further concerned about her daughter’s well-being when she discovered the medication record for Adel at her local medical clinic. You can see from the prescription form that she’s being pumped full of Ritalin (20mg per day), a commonly over-prescribed drug for young children. Adel’s emotional state is terrible and the instability of her circumstances weighs heavily on her. She was uprooted from her biological mother and grandmother; inserted into a family she didn’t know with a foster-mother who rejected her and decided to divorce her foster-father. Then, after he remarried she was forced to come to know yet another maternal figure, the third in only a few year’s time. Adel has endured far more than her share of emotional upheaval. All thanks to a system designed to benefit the bureaucracy and the foster agencies, rather than her.
The Demry family is quite well-connected among the settler movement. A relative, Yochai Damri, was recently elected the official leader of the Mt. Hebron settler community council. He had the support of Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi Party. Though I don’t know the political or ideological leanings of the Demrys, it’s almost goes without saying that, given their Orthodox religious beliefs and living in Elkanah, that they are ultra-nationalists.
This raises another problem under child welfare regulations. When children are adopted, officials must respect the religious and ethnic traditions of the child’s biological parents. The idea of having a child with a Palestinian Muslim father adopted by an Orthodox Jewish couple living in a West Bank settlement is a serious violation of adoption regulations.
There can be only one explanation for the adoption agency’s decision to place Adel with the Demrys. They object to miscegenation. They further object to a child of a Jewish parent who might be raised as a Palestinian; or even by a mother who was once married to a Palestinian. When offered a choice between having Adel raised by a single mother who had rejected her own Orthodox upbringing; or an Orthodox Jewish couple living in a settlement, there was no question which was preferable.
Just as the Supreme Court decision I referred to above displayed Israeli racism resplendent, Adel’s theft from Daniela confirms that Israel is a State in which religious identity trumps individual or democratic rights. It further confirms that Israel is not a democracy, but a theocracy in which Jews reign supreme.
The trampling of the rights of parents in the social welfare system is but one symptom of a disease ravaging the Israeli body politic. That the system can kidnap children and wrench them from the arms of loving parents merely because it disapproves of a lifestyle or marital choice, is part of the sickness afflicting Israel. In a society respecting the rule of law such grave violations of human rights would never be tolerated. In Israel, they are de rigueur.
I called the Welfare Ministry press office, the government child welfare agency (Sherut LaYeled), and several social workers assigned to Adel’s case for comment. I reached one of the social workers twice and each time she hung up on me without uttering a word. I also sent them an e mail requesting comment. No one has yet responded.
Banning Books and Miscegenation, Israel-Style
On a related note, an Israeli novelist published a young adult book recently called Borderline. It deals with an Israeli Jewish woman who meets a Palestinian man and falls in love with him. The book was recommended for inclusion in the national high school reading curriculum. However, the education ministry under the ‘able’ direction of Naftali Bennett, decided that it must protect the tender, confused identities of Israeli teenagers. The pedagogic specialists determined that reading such literature would confuse them about their own Jewish identity and give them the mistaken impression that miscegenation was a desirable phenomenon.
This is only a slightly more elegant approach than that of the thugs of Lehava, who prefer to beat Palestinian men who dare to dream they may soil the purity of Jewish maidens. So you see that the evils of this system permeate all: from child adoptions to the public schools. It is riddled with the concept of Jewish racialism and superiority. These are values derived directly from the ideology of Meir Kahane, who is, to my chagrin, the patron saint of the contemporary Israeli State.