A harrowing tale of abuse

Portrait forms of dysfunctional family whose alleged abuse of Rose transcended international borders.

police search for rose 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
police search for rose 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As the sad story of four-year-old Rose Pizem's short life unfolded Tuesday, a portrait began to form of a dysfunctional family whose alleged abuse of the small girl transcended international borders and even family squabbles - in fact, as the picture became increasingly clear, it seemed that perhaps the only constant in Rose's short and tragic life was abuse. Although the writing may have been on the wall for years, it is ultimately her paternal grandfather Ronnie Ron and her mother Marie Pizem - who are the lead suspects in the investigation into Rose's disappearance and likely murder. Ron and Pizem have been living together for years now, and Ron is the father of Rose's two half-sisters, who are two years old and nine months old. Rose's father, Benjamin, lives in a Parisian suburb and has not seen his daughter since late 2007. But the sad story began over two decades ago, when Ronnie Ron met a non-Jewish French tourist named Elizabeth with whom he fathered a son, Benjamin. Elizabeth and Benjamin remained in France, and it was only after 19-year-old Benjamin himself became a father that Elizabeth told Benjamin and his teenaged wife Marie about Benjamin's Israeli father. In 2004, the Absorption Ministry confirmed Tuesday, Benjamin and his wife Marie made aliya, immigrating to Israel together with their baby daughter Rose. The very young couple settled in Netanya, the coastal city where Ron's family lived and which boasts a sizeable French-speaking community. But in a very short time, the situation went terribly wrong. Marie and Ron, Benjamin's father, began having an affair. A horrified Benjamin returned to France, taking Rose with him. In the meantime, Marie and her father-in-law, over twenty years her senior, set up house together in Ron's Modi'in home, where the couple had two daughters. In 2007, Marie launched a legal battle to recover custody of Rose. Marie argued that she had heard that Rose was a victim of severe abuse and neglect in France, being passed between her father and her two grandmothers and undergoing physical abuse that, according to Marie's attorney Revital Sueid, had resulted in the toddler's hospitalization. In December of last year, Marie won her battle, and the High Court in Versailles returned the girl to her mother and grandfather in Israel. Shortly after Rose's return to Israel, Ron defaulted on his mortgage payments, and the couple moved to Netanya. In retrospect, neighbors in Modi'in said Tuesday that they had noticed violent behavior on the part of Ron, and there were reports that the local Tipat Halav health clinic in Modi'in had noticed irregular behavior in the family. In the early months of 2008, Rose spent - according to witnesses - a large part of her time under the watchful eyes of Ron's mother, Vivianne, who is now also a suspect in the girl's disappearance. Vivianne said that from March until May 12, Rose lived with Vivianne and - says Vivianne - told her that she had been physically abused when she was staying with her mother and grandfather. Vivianne now claims that she told Ron that she thought that Rose should be sent to preschool rather than being under the exclusive care of her great-grandmother. On May 12, the small girl, who never had a chance to learn Hebrew or to go to preschool, was allegedly picked up from Vivianne's house by Ron, and no witnesses have been located who saw the girl after that date. Viviane later told reporters that she had not been alarmed when Ron came to take the girl, adding that "since Rose arrived in Israel, they took good care of her," a statement in sharp contrast with her earlier statements that she believed that Rose was the victim of abuse. In the meantime, the family's dramas continued. Ron's estranged sister, Sigalit Kirschner, was murdered in what police believe was an unrelated incident near the Galilee town of Kadita, and family members reported that Ron was conspicuously absent at his sister's funeral. Since Ron and Marie's arrests, Rose's two younger half-sisters - who are also her aunts - are now in custody of Netanya social services. But despite the tragic drama of recent months, a stoic Vivianne insisted in a Tuesday evening press conference that "we're a family just like everyone else."