RUTH EGLASH – 2008
Published : Jerusalem Post
Under a Supreme Court decision reached this week, an eight-year-old boy who has been living in Israel for the past two years and is being raised by his mother in an ultra-Orthodox community must return to live with his estranged non-Jewish father in Belgium.
“I’m in total shock,” a tearful Ronite Biton, who has been fighting for the past six years to retain custody of her son and stands accused of abducting him from his country of origin, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “I don’t know what I will do yet. Either I stay here and never see him again, or I go back [to Belgium] and go to jail.”
“It is so easy for the court to talk about the importance of parental relations, but then they go and kick the mother out of his life,” she said, adding that with no course of action left for her in Israel, she plans to take her case to both the United Nations and the European Union.
The boy’s father, Vincent Georis, told the Post that he was very happy with the court’s decision and that finally his son would find some “peace and stability” in his care.
“It has been two-and-a-half years since my son first disappeared [with his mother],” he said. “I did not know where he was for the first year, and after I found him, I started the procedure [to bring him back to Belgium], even though I knew it would take a long time.”
Georis, who is Christian, said he had no problem allowing his son to continue his Jewish practices and also said his ex-wife should be part of the arrangement.
“I hope his mother comes back with him, too,” he concluded. “A child needs both parents.”
Biton lost her battle Tuesday when three Supreme Court judges – Ayala Procaccia, Edna Arbel and Salim Jubran – ruled that while sending the boy back to his father would be a complete change from the lifestyle to which he had become accustomed and that such a change could be damaging, if he stayed in Israel all connection with his father would definitely be cut. He is scheduled to leave Israel on June 1.
The decision follows at least 18 months of deliberations and three rounds of court hearings that focused on various arguments, such as how the change in religion and culture would affect the child’s psyche or whether the mother had “kidnapped” her child under the terms of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction and caused a degree of parental alienation from the father.
In their final ruling, the Supreme Court judges agreed to uphold the terms of the international convention, which has been signed by 77 countries, including Israel.
“This is not a custody case,” explained Edwin Freedman, Georis’s lawyer. “The decision is based on which court will make the final decision on the custody. In terms of legal proceedings, this decision was correct.”
However, Freedman criticized the lengthy court battle – which included two hearings in the family court, three in the district court and three in the Supreme Court, as well as the testimonies of three child psychologists and one social worker – as making the emotional aspect of the boy’s return much harder.
“Had this child been returned last year, it would have been totally different,” he said. “In the beginning [when the child was first reunited with his father], he was hesitant but happy to see him, but now there has been a deterioration, and he refuses to meet with his father.”
“This has been an inhumane procedure lasting one-and- a-half years,” said Biton, adding that it had also been emotionally and financially draining. “And after all that, after I have nothing left, they want to take my child, too. I really had hope until the end.”
Biton told the Post that her son was also feeling traumatized by the prospect of returning to Belgium.
While the fine details of the ruling cannot be published because the case involves a minor, the judges ordered that the boy receive counseling over the next two months to prepare him psychologically for the return, and they urged Biton to return together with him to Belgium.
Freedman said that one of the terms of the boy’s return was that his client would deliver a commitment from the Belgian prosecutor-general that Biton would not be brought up on criminal charges for originally leaving the country without forewarning.
“It is highly unusual for there to be criminal proceedings against parents in [abduction] cases,” he said.
Credit: RUTH EGLASH