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An Israeli mother charged with kidnapping her two young children from their non-Jewish, Swedish father has denounced the Israeli court system.
While Sarit Kassin told The Jerusalem Post last week that she believes Israel is eager to deport her children in order to appease the Europeans, the children's father, who requested his name not be published, claims the mother set up an elaborate trap to get rid of him and keep the children for herself.
Both the family court and the district court have ordered the mother to return the children to Sweden, where the father now lives, as required by the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. She is now appealing to the Supreme Court, hoping that it will overturn the decision.
"For some reason the state has a clear agenda of deporting the children as swiftly as possible. They want to sacrifice them in order to mend their relationship with Sweden," said Ezra Kassin, the children's uncle.
"The same thing that happened in the Holocaust is happening today in Israel of 2009. Two Israeli courts ruled that the Jewish children should be removed from their Jewish mother and be kicked out of the country, left to meet their fate," he said.
What differentiates this kidnapping case from many others is the circumstances under which the alleged kidnapping took place. As opposed to most other cases, where a parent secretly removes the child from his or her country of residence, in this case the family moved from Sweden to Israel together and the abduction allegedly took place when the mother refused to return to Sweden with the two children, ages five and seven.
The Hague Convention, to which Israel is a signatory, stipulates that children must be returned to the country of origin if they were unlawfully removed from it and that a custody trial must take place in the country of permanent residence. The dispute in this case is whether the family moved to Israel in order to immigrate, as the mother claims, or for a prolonged vacation, as the father argues.
The mother's version, as presented in court by attorneys Shmuel Moran and Judith Meisels, states that after living in Sweden for many years, the family decided to immigrate to Israel, in August 2008, to gain a fresh start in a place with better weather and to be closer to the mother's family.
Meanwhile, the father, represented by Varda Efrat, claims the move was only temporary, for the duration of his seven-month parental leave and that they planned to return to Sweden immediately afterwards.
At the end of his leave the father returned to their home in Gothenburg. Several weeks later, when the rest of the family failed to return, he filed charges against the mother for kidnapping.
The overall picture that arises from the court documents is of a family, which in the past has known ups and downs, torn between two opposing versions of the truth.
The father's version paints the mother as manipulative and deceptive. He claims the mother had planned all along for the move to Israel to be a means of removing him from her life and gaining sole custody of the children.
"The knowledge that the mother was not intending to return to Sweden caught my client completely by surprise," said Efrat. "He had agreed for the children to remain in Israel an extra few weeks so that the son could complete first grade, but was completely unprepared for the announcement that the mother was planning on staying for good."
In the trials, the prosecution presented evidence that the family had every intention of returning to Sweden after the parental leave. The prosecution showed that the children were registered for school in Sweden the following year, that the family's landlord was told that they would be returning and that their apartment was left fully furnished, that the father had made no attempts to learn Hebrew or find a job in Israel, and that the mother had retained ownership of her car in Sweden and told her place of work that she was taking a year's leave of absence.
The prosecution argued that the mother had tricked the father into agreeing to live in Israel for the duration of his parental leave and that she had made plans behind his back to immigrate with her children to Israel, pointing to correspondence between the mother and an Israeli legal expert in the area of child law and the fact that she had filled out returning resident forms claiming she was single as proof that it was premeditated.
"She acted as if the father didn't even exist, as if the children were a result of a sperm donor," said Efrat.
The defense presented a completely different picture - of the father as a vindictive bully and the mother as a victim of his whims. The mother argued that all the arrangements in place in Sweden were only a precaution in case things didn't work out in Israel, claiming she wanted to leave behind a "safety net."
The defense also brought witnesses, from both Sweden and Israel, including the mother's family members, who testified that the family had planned a permanent move to Israel.
"We knew we were coming to stay. We came to Israel under the auspices of the Israel@60 events," said the mother.
On November 5, Family Court Judge Varda Ben-Sachar ruled in favor of the father. The judge said she was unconvinced that the father had known about the mother's intentions to remain in Israel after the leave and ruled that the mother had unlawfully removed the children from their regular place of residence.
After an attempted appeal, the district court backed the lower court's ruling and gave the mother two weeks to return the children to Sweden and ordered her to pay the father NIS 20,000 for legal expenses.
The mother's family is outraged, not only by the ruling, which they are appealing to the Supreme Court, but by the way the mother was treated in court and the way the state handled the case.
"We are rapidly losing our faith in the legal system," said Ezra Kassin. "It was not my sister who kidnapped her children; if the court rules against her, it will be the courts that have kidnapped these children from their mother.
"Incredibly, the father's legal proceedings are being paid for by the Israeli government, which has hired an Israeli lawyer to represent him," he said. "In contrast, the legal bills my family has incurred in our attempt to keep these children here with their mother are nearing 300,000 shekels, money we do not have.
"Even more shocking has been the speed with which the authorities have taken action and the position of the Israeli courts."
He said that the mother, upon notice that the charge had been filed, was given only four days in which to hire a lawyer and present a defense before appearing in court. He also said that the court had done everything in its power to expedite the trial, including scheduling the hearings during the High Holidays recess.
"Even criminal extradition cases take longer. What's the great urgency? Who died?" said the children's grandmother, Aliza Kassin, expressing anger at the prosecution lawyer, who, she claims ,committed character assassination against her daughter.
"They took a good woman, a women who takes care of children and does good deeds and turned her into an abhorrent criminal," she said.
While the mother's side of the family is convinced that the courts are only interested in deporting the children, the mother said she is unable to even ponder the thought of returning to Sweden. She said she is too traumatized by the ordeal to ever go back.
When asked what she would do if the Supreme Court rejected her appeal, she could only shake her head.
"What they did to me here is like Solomon's trial. Sending me back to Sweden is like sending an abuse victim back to her attacker."