Something is happening inside Israel. In the past five years particularly I have noticed a major shift in attitudes. Not from the whole population of course, but there is a growing discontent. Having spent six months this year interviewing, videoing and meeting people who have been 'affected' by the system, I have seen despair, desperation and frustration unlike anything I've encountered in the 28 years of my connection to the country.
In the past month two major civil lawsuits have been filed from the USA by Israelis against various judges, children's organisations and even the Minister of Welfare. So what is going on that has driven people to such drastic action and why isn't it filling the world newspapers?
Looking behind the published news. The poverty rate is now 36.7%. It is said the figures are mainly due to the religious community or Arabs having a lot of children. As one lawyer said to me in Tel Aviv - 'look around you, this is not a city full of those people, yet poverty is all around'. I see beggars everywhere, and during our coffee we were approached a dozen times in our first half hour. According to OECD reports, Israel has one of the lowest incomes. Many people I met are earning only 8,000 or less. Rent in Tel Aviv barely leaves anything from this income for food.
Calls of a corrupt country ring out every Saturday with the gas protest. The selling of the gas so cheaply has resulted in tens of thousands of citizens marching through Tel Aviv in protest with Bibi Netanyahu.
The most famous whistleblower of the decade - Rafi Rotem - continues to seek justice for the major tax fraud which was exposed 13 years ago. Despite 3 hit and run episodes; two broken arms at the hands of police brutality, and now the support of journalists in Israel, nothing has been done to bring indictments of a long list of public officials.
The conviction rate in criminal courts is now 99.8%, one of the highest rates in the democratic world, and I met and interviewed people who had served time in prison for crimes they didn't commit. There is no jury in court, and police corruption is wide. One leading police chief Malka was recently indicted, and there is more to come.
The most feared ministry in Israel is the Welfare. In previous articles, I have published the requests of the Coalition of Children & Family Israel - a civil society who reports to the UNHRC in Geneva regularly. They report on the horrors of the family and juvenile courts, yet nothing is done. Closed doors in courts mean nothing is publicly available. I interviewed Joseph Zernik - who is considered a world leader in IT fraud in court systems in USA and Israel - who explained how the judges actually lie in protocols.
The number of children who are taken from parents and placed into private institutions and foster care is mentioned on social media almost daily - 10,000 per annum. I videoed a kenes (open meeting) with Esther Herzog and Yosi Silman (former chief of the Welfare), who openly talked of these numbers. It is widely known the institutions receive $5000 per child per month in their care, and foster parents receive up to $1000 per month per child.
There are no remedies. There is no independent ombudsman set up, despite calls for over 20 years under the treaty of the UNCRC - Children's rights Convention. Children are taken from parents at an alarming rate. In my time in Israel, I saw just one child taken, or half the children taken from a family. In one case a mother lost 4 of her children but was left with her youngest. Her children are split between foster care and institutions, and she is told regularly what a great mother she is. She is allowed to have her kids to visit, sometimes for over a week at a time at the discretion of social workers. She is a walking zombie - another term used in the social media and common language of those affected like her.
It is reported that 25% of children in a marriage breakdown visit a parent in a Contact Centre - known in Hebrew as the Merkaz Kesher. I videoed some of them, and talked to parents who experience them. Originally set up as a centre for children who are affected by alienation or violence of a parent, they are now used as the first resort, not the last. Lawyers I videoed talked of the horror for both children and parents as they endure sterile rooms, or in some locations just a dirty unkempt garden. The suicide rate of divorcing men (1 in 72) is widely known in the community of family lawyers.
When interviewing and filming the lawyer heading up the Committee for False Claims in Israel, she explained the current practice. Women simply need to claim her husband is violent with absolutely NO proof, and the man is arrested, often treated brutally, imprisoned and broken. One day he is a father, the next he is nothing. Child support demands can exceed income, and judges order fathers to get more than one job. Moran Simun, the lawyer trying to bring reform, explained how easy it is to turn ordinary men into criminals. Her clients are wealthy to middle class men, so the concept of dead beat dads is a myth. Women's organisations have a grip on the country, and men's rights are non existent. She describes how it is a human rights violation and tens of thousands of children not only suffer but are at even more risk in private institutions.
Family lawyers are inundated with work, and as many told me - it's all preventable work. Women are protected in a bizarre clause in the law - 2.5. The original meaning was if they made a false claim and subsequently retracted it, there would be no punishment. Now, the practice is that all claims are accepted, and all men are automatically guilty. The pendulum has swung too far, from the days when women were chained (Agunah) in a marriage, it is now about 50/50. Women, under Jewish Law, are not financially responsible for their children, just the man. According to OECD figures, the child support demand is at least $600 per child. All on the man. So if the marriage generated a joint income from man and wife, in divorce all the payments are incumbent on the father. If he has 3 children, he has to find at least $2000, plus 30% of the running costs of his previous home; plus all the extras such as medical, dental, kindergarten fees, trips etc. If his salary doesn't allow for this, and his ex in some cases earning double or triple his wage, he becomes the criminal, by law. In Israel, this financial demand does not happen to the Christians or Muslims, so religious discrimination is evident.
The No Exit Order - preventing travel abroad - is administered liberally by the Hatza Lapoal - (Bailiff). It is recorded that over 3.5 million files are currently there. It is also recorded unofficially (as it is almost impossible to get government figures despite many lawyers putting in requests) that over 1 million Israelis are not allowed to travel outside Israel, unless placing enormous financial bonds and providing guarantors. Lawyers on the videos talk about the prison of Israel, and how freedom of movement is a Basic right, yet denied. It is mentioned that children of divorce are also automatically given the No Exit Order until the age of 21. The opportunity for adults to go abroad and earn more money is curtailed.
Foreign nationals are also held arbitrarily. If they have a connection to Israel, it is high risk for them to visit if involved in domestic disputes. The US government travel page even issues a warning that their citizens can be held involuntarily for long periods of time. I videoed a Stanford Professor who has been in Israel against his will for over 15 years!
Israelis were literally queuing up to tell stories and be videoed. One horror story after another, all with the same theme. Activists and bloggers who try to get stories out are regularly arrested by the police. News stories about family laws and the Welfare are gagged resulting in the population not yet affected by the system only learning when they are themselves caught into it. Parents who lose children haven't enough money to fight. Those who do have battled courts for decades with no remedies.
So, finally in desperation, Israelis are turning outside. It's breaking their hearts to have to expose the corruption of the State. Most are loyal and love their country. I never thought I would see a time when Israelis want to go the the UN for their own human rights.
I have videoed and spoken to people who have broken. People who are tormented by the decision to speak up. People who say there is no other way. People who have turned from love to hate of the State, yet love their land. I have hundreds of testimonies, dozens of lawyers who want to verify these facts, and teams of legal professionals who are either preparing efforts in the Supreme Court, gathering people for class actions; helping clients who want to go to the UN or Hague Convention; sue from the USA and fight daily battles to return children to good parents.
Social media is packed in Israel. If people complain about a public official, such as a judge or Social Worker, it is a criminal offence - 'insulting a public official'. Men and women report of police brutality, and children have been videoed talking of their experiences in institutions. In a recent report by the Jerusalem Post, it is said 70% of children in private hands are being abused.
The UNCRC expresses concern at the lack of independent ombudsman, the increase in foster care and the worry that institutions are nearly all privatised. Nothing has been done.
Families in despair are turning against their country. Last month a mother killed her own children, and a father killed his two children - 'in revenge to the mother'. It takes a lot to systematically break a person to commit such acts, or commit suicide.
Lawyers made the same statements - who will help the people of Israel? Who will finally listen? It has taken courage for the people to speak. Will anyone listen and help? Funding is desperately required to save lives.