Expat's body held in Ichilov Hospital

Cannot be buried until his children in Netherlands give approval.

October 17, 2006 00:26
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In life, Johan Joseph "Hans" Geurts was a gentile in self-imposed exile in the Land of Israel. He belonged to that seedy mass of humanity - an ingathering of the nations never mentioned by the Hebrew prophets - that frequents the noisy pubs, shabby kiosks and rundown discotheques of Tel Aviv's waterfront district. In death, Geurts's tattooed body has laid in limbo for two weeks, chilled to 1 Celsius in the basement of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov Hospital). Geurts died on September 28 at the age of 46 of complications caused by chronic thrombosis. He is survived by three or four children - depending who you ask - some legitimate and some not, from three mothers. Two of his children, aged 18 and 25, and possibly a third, live in his native Netherlands. The third mother of his children, Limor Cohen, lives in Tel Aviv. She is the older sister of Dana International, the transsexual pop star who won the 1998 EuroVision contest. Geurts fell in love with Cohen in Holland and followed her back to Israel to help raise their daughter, Eliya. They later separated and Cohen's mother raised Eliya, now 14. Geurts stayed in Israel. He had little to do with Eliya's upbringing, or with that of any of his other children, friends say, though he had a tattoo of a Star of David in her honor. It was one of nine tattoos, including a naked woman holding a fiery torch. Geurts's apparent unwillingness to take responsibility for his children put him at odds with his family in the Netherlands. As a result, his seven brothers and sisters and mother have refused to help Dutch authorities locate his children, who are his legal heirs. Geurts cannot be buried without his children's permission, said Dutch Embassy Consul John Lubbers. "We are doing our best to locate them," he said. "We've sent the siblings a detailed letter explaining exactly what they need to do to get Hans buried. But so far they have refused to cooperate." Lubbers said he did not know what would happen if the family didn't help. However Will Geurts, Hans's younger brother, speaking from Holland, rejected Lubbers's assertion that he and his siblings were not cooperating. "How can we be expected to make a decision without first getting official documents from the authorities?" he asked. "Hans lived his own life," Will Geurts said. "He did his own thing. He made his own choices, many of them not so good. He may have thought about his children but he never showed it." In the good days, before the thrombosis in his legs slowed him down, Geurts made good money as a construction worker. He spent it on beer and vodka for himself and his friends at the Buzz Stop, a pub with a beautiful view of the south Tel Aviv shore that caters mainly to tourists and foreign residents. Geurts's generous nature earned him a group of drinking buddies. "Hans was a very brave man," said Max Ohana, as he sipped a pint of draft beer at the Buzz Stop. "The doctor told him that the only chance he had was to cut off his legs, and even then it wasn't sure he would live. He came by and said good-bye to all his friends. He talked about his children. He never got any of us involved in his problems.... "It's a shame that he hasn't been buried yet. Maybe I'll call the hospital and find out what's going on," added Max, who said he worked in "time sharing." According to Rabbi Ya'acov Ruzah of the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, Jews have an halachic obligation to ensure the speedy burial of non-Jews. "Burying gentiles quickly is part of a general commandment to maintain peaceful relations with the nations," he said. Ruzah, who was surprised to learn the body had remained at the hospital for so long, said according to Halacha, leaving a body unburied is a desecration of God's name since all mankind was created in His image. "Also, according to some rabbinic opinions, a gentile's body, like a Jew's, emanates tumah [impurity] in a closed room like a hospital," he said. Ruzah said he thought there were health issues that precluded keeping a body in a hospital for so long. However, a representative of Ichilov said the corpse was isolated and double-wrapped in nylon, adding: "We can keep him for months if we need to." In contrast to Judaism, Catholicism, which was Geurts's family's faith, does not require the immediate burial of the dead, according to a theologian at the Vatican's Tantur Ecumenical Institute, between the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo and Bethlehem. Chemi Ben-Sasson met Geurts at a Tel Aviv discotheque more than a decade ago through her sister, who is married to a Dutch citizen. She said Geurts was very lonely in the months before he died, "but he loved life and he loved to sit with friends and drink and laugh and talk." Ben-Sasson said Geurts's situation deteriorated after his girlfriend, Marlene, an illegal foreign worker from South Africa, was deported. Geurts's friends placed a flower vase at the Buzz Stop with notes addressed to him and a picture of him and friends. "We all miss you," one friend wrote. "We are drinking beer in the Buzz Stop. When we say 'cheers' we say your name." Eliya, Hans's Israeli daughter, also wrote a note. "First, I want you to know that I love you and I will come to visit you no matter how hard it is. I will never ever forget you. I hope that in the next world you will feel better. I hope you will watch over me from heaven. This page is too small to contain all I feel for you. I love you more than anything else in the entire world." Although Geurts was not Israeli, his story is part of an Israeli narrative of assimilation and cosmopolitanism, of love and disappointment. People named Cohen and Ben-Sasson and Ohana are also part of this narrative, which continues to be told on humid, bear-bleary Tel Aviv nights. As the sun set, a waiter peeled the notes off the flower vase and placed them in a picture frame. "We're gonna' hang them on the wall so Hans is remembered forever," he said.

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