Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that an eight-year-old boy being raised here by his mother as an Orthodox Jew must be returned to his estranged non-Jewish father, under the terms of the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.
French-born Ronite Biton, who has been fighting for custody of her son for the past six years, was ordered to return the boy to Belgium, where a local court will determine whether she or her ex-husband, Vincent Georis, will raise him.
Following the hearing, Ms Biton said that she had held out hope of a positive ruling from Israel’s highest court until the end.
“I don’t know what I will do yet,” she said through her tears. “Either I stay here and never see him again, or go back and go to jail.”
Ms Biton is concerned that if she returns to Belgium she will be brought up on criminal charges for leaving the country illegally with her son two years ago.
Mr Georis, however, urged his ex-wife to come with their son to Belgium in order to ease the transition into his new life. He also said that he had no problem allowing his son to continue his Jewish practices.
The three Supreme Court judges —Ayala Procaccia, Edna Arbel and Salim Jubran — ruled that while sending the boy back to his father would most certainly be a complete change in lifestyle and could be damaging emotionally, 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. The issue was also raised whether the mother had “kidnapped” her child according to the Hague Convention 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.