UK authorities detain Israeli 12-year-old girl for a month

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 24, 2008

Israeli officials expressed astonishment this week that a 12-year-old girl who entered Britain unaccompanied had apparently been kept under British welfare supervision for more than a month before contact was made with the Tel Aviv authorities. The girl — and earlier her nine-year-old brother — had been sent to Britain by her mother, a 38-year-old Russian-born Israeli.

Social services in Tel Aviv began investigating the absence of two children two weeks ago, when social workers found them missing from home during a routine visit. They had classified the children (along with a four-year-old brother) as “in distress” months ago, but had not removed them from their home as they were not known to be suffering from abuse.

But Israeli authorities only understood that something was seriously wrong on Tuesday when the Home Office notified the Israeli embassy in London that they were holding a 12-year-old Israeli girl who had been detained upon entering Britain on June 22.

When an Israeli official asked why it had taken an entire month for the embassy to be notified, she was told that there was no legal obligation for the authorities to do so and that attempts had been made through other channels to locate the girl’s guardians.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman told the JC that the British authorities had indicated that they were trying to resolve the situation by themselves — “contacting the embassy was viewed as a last resort”. The spokesman added: “We could have helped the girl immediately and prevented any more harm to her two brothers if they would have done the sensible thing and let us know straight away.”

The embassy immediately informed Tel Aviv police, who alerted social services. On Tuesday night, the mother was arrested and the four-year-old was placed in foster care. It became clear that the woman’s two elder children had been sent to Britain. Some reports speculated that she had “sold” the children.

The nine-year-old boy had arrived a year ago and, through information given by the woman, was located in the home of a “friend” of hers in Leeds. The boy was taken into care and Leeds police were requested by their Israeli counterparts to investigate the circumstances of the boy’s stay there, although on Wednesday West Yorkshire Police would not confirm this. However, a Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “We have ensured the safety of two children who are in the UK.”

It is understood that the 12-year-old was detained at Heathrow and has been held in a children’s facility in the London area. On Tuesday, Israel’s consul in London, Liora Givon, spoke to the girl, and was due to visit her yesterday. A court in Tel Aviv has asked for both children to be repatriated but it is unclear to whose custody they would be returned.

Under questioning in court on Wednesday, the mother, facing potential neglect charges, said she had sent her children to live in Britain with friends as the social services were planning to take them from her. A Tel Aviv Peace Court judge ordered her time in custody to be extended and that she should undergo a psychiatric examination.

According to her lawyer, British-born Neil Simon, she became hysterical in court. “It was very hard for me to understand her either in Russian or in Hebrew, so I told the court that they must provide a Russian-speaking solicitor,” said Mr Simon. She was due to return to court yesterday.

Mr Simon added that the question of whether she had sold the children was being checked by police. “When I cross-examined the officer who wanted her arrested, he said there was no knowledge or confirmation of that.” The woman had lived apart from her husband for about six years.

The UK Home Office said it did not comment on individual cases. “We don’t automatically alert foreign governments when children arrive in Britain. Our priority is to ensure that they are safe and cared for in Britain.”

    Last updated: 11:11am, July 24 2008