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Child abuse worries in Israel

A 4-year-old's death and other incidents raise questions about failure of authorities and of the community.

September 13, 2008|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

JERUSALEM — When divers finally pulled the red leather bag from the murky water of the Yarkon River, it provided closure and a sad sense of relief for many Israelis.

At least now they know. At least now, 4-year-old Rose Pizem could be laid to rest with more care and protection than she got during her short life.

The disappearance and death of the girl, whose body was found Thursday and identified Friday, have transfixed Israeli society for more than a month. And along with other recent instances of violence against children, her case has ignited a debate about gaps in the social service network and the reluctance of some people to report abuse or instability in a family.

In Rose's case, the obvious question is: How could a child disappear for months without anyone noticing?

The girl hadn't been seen since May. Authorities say they were unaware of this until late July, when Rose's great-grandmother informed social services. The story that has emerged since is lurid: Rose's mother left her French husband for his Israeli father -- the girl's grandfather -- Roni Ron.

Authorities say Ron confessed that he killed the girl in a fit of anger, stuffed her body into a red bag and threw it into the Yarkon River in central Israel. Ron, 45, has since said the confession was coerced, but his description of the location of the body was accurate.

Ron and the girl's mother, Marie-Charlotte Renault, 23, are in custody.

Other cases in the last month include those of two mothers accused of drowning their young children.

During hearings sponsored by parliament, child welfare specialists proposed a nationwide program to promote child abuse awareness and prevention, including a 24-hour hotline, as well as guidance and support services for overwhelmed parents.

"Unfortunately, children do not come with an operating manual," said Yitzhak Kadman, head of the National Council for the Child.

It's impossible to know whether such a program would have made a difference for Rose Pizem.

Renault traveled with her husband, Benjamin Pizem, and Rose to Israel so they could meet his father, news reports say, but she left Pizem for Ron, settling here and having two children with him.

Pizem returned to France with Rose. Renault later won a custody battle to bring Rose to Israel, but found that the girl had behavioral and emotional problems, according to Ha- aretz newspaper; her mother was overwhelmed.

Ron's mother, the girl's great-grandmother, took the child in for several months, but then insisted that Rose be enrolled in a school or institution. Finally, Ron angrily took the child back in May, his mother says. That's when Rose disappeared.

Critics point to multiple opportunities for either the state or the community to have intervened.

"Neighbors who knew the family must have seen the little girl's situation. Why didn't they report it to the authorities?" wrote columnist Margot Dudkevitch of the Israeli news website infolive.tv. "Municipal welfare department workers were aware of the family's plight but appear to have done very little to intervene or assist the little girl."

Dudkevitch and others are calling for a legal overhaul to give child welfare services more authority, funding and staffing to investigate and intervene in children's interest.

In the meantime, a shrine has sprung up on the riverbank.

And at the very least, Rose's case has raised awareness. Calls to a nationwide hotline for battered women and children have increased sharply since mid-August, the hotline's director said.

--

ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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