Grandmother, 69, faces jail for aiding in her granddaughter's 'kidnapping'

Isabella Belfer had only come back to Israel from Russia to take care of her own mother, aged 94.

lilach 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
lilach 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"The Israeli authorities are holding my mother ransom and setting an ugly precedent for the future against mothers who try to help their grown-up daughters out of dangerous situations," claims Dr. Inna Belfer. Belfer's mother, 69-year-old Isabella Belfer, was sentenced on December 24 by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa District Court to six years in prison for aiding and abetting her other daughter, Marina Belfer-Rotem, a Russian-Israeli doctor accused of kidnapping her daughter, Lilach, and taking her to live in Russia six years ago during a custody battle. Isabella had returned to Israel earlier in the month to care for her own 94-year-old mother and was shocked at being arrested because of Marina's actions. "I came back to help my mother because she's sick and blind, and now I find myself under house arrest and about to go to jail because of the actions of my daughter," Isabella Belfer told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. "I am only the grandmother and had no control over my daughter's actions," she said. However, the verdict - passed down by residing Judge Dr. Oded Mudrick - claimed that Isabella and Marina had conspired together to take Lilach away from her father, Yaron Rotem, and that they had carefully planned their "escape" on July 26, 2001, when the three flew to the US via Holland to visit Inna. In early August, the three changed their return tickets to Israel and instead flew to Russia, which is not party to the International Hague Convention on Child Abduction. Isabella, Belfer-Rotem and Lilach have been living in Moscow ever since and Rotem has had no contact with his daughter for six years. "The plaintiff [Isabella Belfer] is responsible for causing fatal [emotional] injuries by not allowing Yaron the right to be a parent to Lilach," wrote Mudrick in his judgment. "Even with the difficulties of the divorce between him and Marina, there is a right to establish relations between father and daughter." "My mother was only trying to help my sister," Inna, who lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, said in a telephone interview. "This ruling is setting a precedent against women who try to help their daughters." She added: "My mother never wanted to leave Israel. She had a job there and even a boyfriend. She never wanted to return to Russia and start all over again there, but my sister gave her no choice." Isabella's lawyer, Michael Ironi, told the Post that he believed the judgment was extreme and that the legal system had not taken into consideration that his client is "an elderly woman, a Holocaust survivor, who recently had a stroke and will most likely die if put in prison." Ironi also said: "Never before has a grandmother been blamed for the kidnapping of her grandchild. She is basically being held to ransom by the Israeli authorities based on the actions of her daughter." The six-year prison term, which is set to begin on January 27, is also extreme, continued Ironi. In similar cases, where parents have been accused of kidnapping children but bringing them into Israel, punishments have been much lighter, usually just a few months of community service, he said. "The court believes that [Isabella] gave her daughter too much help, but what mother would not help her daughter and granddaughter if they had to?" he observed, adding that the case was currently going through a process of appeals in the Supreme Court. However, Rotem, the father and ex-husband at the center of this ongoing battle, believes that justice is finally being done. "Of course I don't want to see [Isabella] go to jail," he told the Post. "But this judgment might give me the chance to get my daughter back. The keys to her jail cell are in Marina's hands. If Isabella tells her daughter to come back, she'll be able to go free, I will get my daughter back and things will return to what they once were." "I would never ask my daughter to come back here and take my place in jail. I am a mother, and like any mother don't want to be responsible for sending my daughter to prison," responded Isabella, when asked whether she'd called on Marina to return Lilach to Israel. "Lilach is happy there. She goes to a good school and has a life there, why would I ask her to come back?" But Inna Belfer has a different take on the situation. "My mother loves Israel and was always a Zionist, but my sister has put her in a very difficult position... We are all suffering the consequences," she said, adding, "I wish I could just focus on my life for once instead of being worried about my mom because of my sister's actions." "I doubt my sister will ever come back," finished Inna. "She [Marina] has never told me what caused her to run away like this, but I believe she had a very good reason."