(photo credit: COURTESY THE FAMILY)
The case of a Scottish woman who died of unknown circumstances in Eilat in late November reached new prominence when it was brought to the attention of David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions at the House of Commons in London.
Hannah Bardell, an MP from Livingston, told Cameron on Wednesday that the family of Julie Pearson is “struggling to get answers from the Israeli government and authorities; in particular, they are struggling to get her autopsy report.
Will the prime minister meet me to discuss putting pressure on the Israeli government and authorities to look into Julie’s death, so that her family can get the answers that they want and ultimately get justice for Julie?” Cameron responded that while he wasn’t familiar with the case, he would take it up with Israeli authorities.
“Perhaps I could arrange for her [Bardell] to have a meeting with Foreign Office ministers so that they can discuss this. We have good relations with Israel, and we should use those good relations to make sure that when people need answers, they get them,” the British prime minister said.
The case of the 38-year-old Kinross native has received coverage in the British press in recent weeks, largely due to allegations by her family that police either botched or covered up the case, and that Israeli authorities have not been forthcoming with them about the details of the investigation.
According to Pearson’s aunt Deborah Pearson, Julie arrived in Eilat in September 2014, and stayed long after her three-month visa expired.
She has a Jewish father and he and Julie’s grandmother were born in Jerusalem. Julie tried to make aliya but the Interior Ministry told her it needed more paperwork, according to the aunt.
In Eilat, Julie dated an Arab man from east Jerusalem named in reports in the UK as Amjad Hatib, who is suspected of having beaten her a day or two before she collapsed in a guest house in the Red Sea resort city. She was pronounced dead the next day at Joseftal Hospital. Various media reports have stated that a number of people in Eilat’s Alef neighborhood witnessed the beating, but did not intervene.
In an interview with the Eilat local newspaper Erev Erev in mid-December, a friend of Julie’s named Shelly said that Julie didn’t want to go to the hospital because of her expired visa. She also said Julie met the boyfriend because he was her neighbor, and that he frequently beat her and that he and his friends would at times put drugs in her drinks.
In the same article, Population, Immigration and Borders Authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad is quoted as saying that Julie visited a PIBA office in December 2014 to receive an immigrant visa and that in February she was arrested for being in Israel illegally, but that the authority decided not to deport her because she was in the process of receiving immigrant status. Haddad is quoted saying that Pearson was told repeatedly that all she had to do was produce a psychiatric evaluation and criminal background check from the UK and she would receive status, but she told them she was unable to do so. She also said that Pearson was not in danger of arrest or deportation regardless of her expired visa.
Deborah Pearson said that no one from the Israel Police or the Israeli government contacted her family and they only learned about Julie’s death when she was contacted three days later by a friend of Julie in Eilat. Deborah said she informed the British Embassy in Tel Aviv of her niece’s death on November 30, contrary to the assertion of the Israel Police that they contacted authorities and the family after Julie died.
When Julie finally arrived in Scotland for burial on December 8, her face was badly bruised and the undertaker told the family that her body was covered in bruises, Deborah said.
As of now, nearly two months after Julie’s death, the autopsy has yet to be completed and the cause of death has not been determined.
Deborah says the family believes Eilat Police are incompetent, unprofessional, and also covered up the case, because Julie was in the country long after her visa ran out and they were looking to whitewash their failure to deport her.
“They treated the case like someone stole sweets and not that of a beloved niece that was attacked and killed,” Pearson said.
Contacted for comment this week, Eilat Police spokesman Itzik Elfasi said that the investigation into Pearson’s death is still open and that regardless of a person’s status in Israel, “police examine the cause of death using all tools and means at our disposal, and do everything possible in order to uncover the truth and the identity [or legal status] of the victim does not and would not diminish the means we would use in order to determine the truth.”
Elfasi said police have reason to believe that Pearson was beaten by her partner a day before she died, and also a few days earlier by a different person. Elfasi said that there was no connection between these incidents and Pearson’s death, and that the initial autopsy report “includes no basis to suspect murder.”
He added that the family has not been handed the results of the autopsy yet because it is still not complete.
In the meantime, Deborah said Julie’s family feels helpless and left in the dark, and that the only person who has helped them try to find answers is Omer Carmon, the reporter for Erev Erev who has covered the case.
“Without his help we would be sitting here in Scotland not knowing anything,” she said. “Julie was really close to me and I treated her like my daughter and I will not stop fighting for justice for her.”