The Rose Case: Searching for her body... and our soul

Even police have called the case the most horrific they have encountered for years.

police search for rose 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
police search for rose 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Why are we Israelis so shocked by the story of Rose, the four-year-old girl allegedly slain three months ago by her grandfather? The details of the complex case revealed this week to the media are certainly gruesome, but it's worth repeating the bottom line, according to police, for the sake of clarity. Ronnie Ron, 45, who lived in Netanya with his son's former wife, French immigrant Marie Pizem, 23, confessed to striking and "accidentally" killing his granddaughter in his car after she had angered him, then stuffed her body into a suitcase and threw it into the Yarkon River. (Police have not ruled out premeditated murder, nor have they ruled out that the mother was an accomplice.) Although a court-issued publication ban was in effect until Tuesday morning, the rumor mill and Hebrew blogs on the Internet churned out the gory details, and after the story was published in the French newspaper, Le Parisien, police decided to give their version of events. The story got huge play when the gag order was lifted, with radio and television stations interrupting regular programming to report all they could, and the Hebrew papers devoting most of their news sections to the terrible tale. Yediot Aharonot, the country's best-selling daily, filled its first 17 pages on Wednesday with the story of Rose. Its front page featured a huge photograph of the cherubic child in a frilly pink dress, with the tabloid headline: "The girl who no one wanted." The case was also covered extensively by the international media, which gave it more prominence than a coinciding visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The British Sky News said the story had "shocked the nation," and quoted detectives calling it "Israel's worst case of domestic violence in history." A Sky reporter noted that the case had led The Jerusalem Post to ask: "Is Rose Israel's Madeleine?" The as-yet unsolved mystery of Madeleine McCann has constantly occupied the British media since her disappearance in May last year from the Portuguese resort of Praia da Luz, just before her fourth birthday, while on holiday with her family. There are definitely stark differences between the two cases, but several of the details are eerily similar: Rose and Maddy were about the same age; both had two siblings; both went missing in May; and both are presumed dead. Although it was Maddy's parents who maintained an ongoing publicity campaign to keep her name in the news, there has been widespread criticism in the UK of "excessive media coverage." WAS THIS week's reportage on Rose in the local press over the top? Perhaps. But even the police called it the most horrific case they had encountered for years. The Netanya district commander told Israel Radio, for example, that while he and his force had handled many investigations, he could not recall one that had "turned our stomachs" or "caused our eyes to tear up" like this case. Publication of a family history of alleged abuse triggered questions about why it had taken so long to report Rose's disappearance to the police. (The police were informed only two weeks ago that she was missing, after her great-grandmother, Ron's mother, turned to welfare authorities.) Why did no one - relatives, friends, neighbors - notice the girl's absence? And if they did, why didn't they say or do something? It seems so unlike Israelis, who at best are known for caring about one another, and at worst for poking their noses into everyone else's affairs. Perhaps this, though, is at the heart of why the case shocked us to our very foundations. Yes, it's brutal when bad things like this happen in Britain or Belgium, awful when we hear about abuse cases in America or Austria, but here in Israel? Oy va voy! There's an expression in Hebrew, Lo be'veiteinu - not in our home, not here. And that's how our image of ourselves has been over the six decades since the establishment of the Jewish state which we would like to believe is still "a light unto the nations." Except that over the years, this noble self-image has slowly been eroded, as we have become increasingly exposed to reports of child abuse, domestic murders and even mobster crime. It was just this week we learned that the infamous Abergil brothers had been arrested by police, at the request of the US, on a slew of charges ranging from murder and drug trafficking to embezzlement and extortion. The allegations against the crime kingpins seemed to fit an Italian Mafia family out of The Godfather, and not a nice Jewish family in Israel. IT'S THE same with the case of Rose. The shock, really, is that such an abomination could happen here. Remember the last words of Kurtz in The Heart of Darkness? "The horror! The horror!" That's really how we feel as a nation. What can be done with this feeling? Surely it should be harnessed collectively, to make sure that suspected child abuse is reported swiftly, and that another child doesn't go missing for months without being reported. As Vered Swid, the prime minister's adviser on social affairs, succinctly put it in an Israel Radio interview: "As a society, we shouldn't care only about what happens in our homes, but also about what happens around us." The police have dubbed their search for the girl, "Operation Name of the Rose," after Umberto Eco's Italian medieval murder mystery that was later made into a marvelous movie. Do you remember the film's poster, a large picture of Sean Connery as a Franciscan friar under the words, "Who, in the name of God, is getting away with murder?" Which brings us back to the Yarkon River. No one "murdered" the four Australians who died as a result of the shocking Maccabiah Games bridge collapse over the river 11 years ago. But the heavy pollution in the river played a part in their deaths, and in the infections contracted by several others, including 15-year-old Sasha Elterman, who was lucky to survive. Yet, it appears, the muddy waters of the Yarkon remain as polluted today as they were then, despite promises by the authorities to clean it up, making the work of police divers scouring it for Rose's body even more difficult and dangerous. In the final analysis, in the case of Rose, maybe we shouldn't just be casting blame in every direction - on the little girl's family and friends, police and the welfare authorities, or even the media (for blowing the case up out of all proportion). This sad story should give us all cause to stop and reflect - and take a closer look at our society, and at ourselves.