Update: An article in Tablet Magazine concludes that there is little evidence of a pedophile ring: Panic in Jerusalem
Yisrael Hayom published this article about the children of Nachlaot. The residents of Nachlaot are anxious for it to be translated into English and published, and I have done so below.
See the previous article from Jerusalem Net: Nachlaot Pedophile Crisis: At Least 100 Victims
When I published the first article last week, a few readers felt that the parents should be taking better care of their children. While there may have been neglect—the article mentions parents who left smaller children alone—there is simply no way for parents to prevent sexual abuse completely.
Also see Chana Jenny’s guest post: Were the Parents of Nachalaot Negligent?
We wish much strength to all of the Jerusalem families who are suffering through this crisis, may it end soon.
By Yehuda Shelzinger and Naama Lansky. Translated by Hannah Katsman (amotherinisrael.com)
Dozens of children in the neighborhood of Nachlaot in Jerusalem have fallen victim in recent years to a cruel pedophile ring–the largest in the country’s history. The rapists would catch the children, attack them, and threaten them that they would kill them if they told. Victims included one-year-old babies. Three shocking indictments have been served, and three additional suspects were arrested this week. Yet some of the suspects are still walking free in the streets of Jerusalem: According to the police, it’s difficult to arrest them after the parents “tainted” the testimony by showing the children photographs of the suspects. In conversations with “Shishabat,” the parents tell of the moment when they discovered the horror, the terrible trauma, and how lives of complete families have been destroyed.
For years, the children of Oren (a pseudonym as are all names of parents in the article) would chew their clothes. Constant chewing, uncontrolled, of their shirt sleeves, collars, every piece of cloth that they can use to assuage their fears. Their fingernails were also chewed to the quick, with the skin underneath exposed. The children would burst into tears uncontrollably and without explanation, they lost control of their bladders and developed complete dependence on their parents—who for their part stood helpless against these extreme behaviors. Only last year did Oren realize that for three years, a regular visitor to his home sexually abused his children harshly. “For three years, apparently daily, my children did not know any other reality,” Oren recalls. “My wife recalled later that the abuser offered one of the boys a candy when he was 2.5. My son recoiled, his face went sour, and afterward he said to my wife, ‘Mother, I don’t want anything from this crazy person.’ According to what we now understand, at 2.5 he had already become a victim of these acts.”
And he wasn’t the only one. Dozens of other children, aged one year through elementary school age, were abused by this man and many others who cooperated with him. The police and welfare authorities say that it is the largest pedophile ring ever exposed in Israel. The details of the case are frightening and impossible to grasp; paper cannot bear most of them. The testimonies described below are only the tip of the iceberg of what has happened in one of the most pleasant areas of Jerusalem. And worse, the families claim that at least ten of the men who brutally abused their children are still free.
Most of the events took place within the neighborhood of Nachalaot. The neighborhood includes haredim alongside “traditionally” observant Jews, young students alongside old-time city residents. At the end of 2010 a young couple found bite marks on their toddler son. The parents in the neighborhood relate to this shocking discovery as if it were a miracle–the first physical evidence that could help explain the parade of complaints and symptoms among the boys and girls of the neighborhood: Urinary tract and other infections, incontinence, and especially terror, fear and introversion. The residents began to understand that someone walking among them was harming their children. They didn’t guess that they were talking about a much larger and intertwined group of pedophiles.
The parents of the toddler turned to the police and issued a complaint of sodomy against B., a resident of the neighborhood. B. was arrested and ordered held until the end of his legal proceedings, but the court decided to release him to house arrest. Six months later, in July 2011, the police received a complaint that B was involved in further acts, including against the children of Oren. Five additional suspects were arrested. Three of them, including B., were indicted for rape, sodomy, and indecent and violent acts against minors. The three others were released. In parallel, a special investigative committee of the police was formed. Seventy children were sent to the police center for child investigations in Givat Shaul (a Jerusalem neighborhood), and the center almost shut down from the overload. The children had to undergo questioning that often lasted for several hours, and sometimes repeatedly.
The content of the indictment is impossible to digest. B. was accused, among other things, of showing the children pornographic movies, hitting them with sticks, touching their private parts and sodomizing them “until they cried in pain.” According to the indictment, two other men were present, and B showed them how to film the naked children during the sodomy. He threatened to murder the children if they told anyone.
Another suspect, BP, is accused of simultaneously abusing groups of boys and girls in his apartment, some of them siblings. He would warn them not to move even if it hurt. Afterward he would hit them and warn them that if they made noise he would hit them harder. He even wielded a knife and threatened to cut them if they talked. Z, the third suspect, was also present during one of the incidents, watching the events “for sexual satisfaction or humiliation” . In another incident, Z was present at BP’s home as well as “others”, all of whom ordered the children to perform sexual acts with each other in front of a camera. Afterward the children were threatened with a toy pistol, not to tell a thing. These are the easier details to read.
“I defended the crazy man”
Oren describes how he used to bring B into his home, because he pitied him. “He seemed helpless to us, weak, and said he had no one in the world to talk to. I would listen to him for hours. My wife worried that the sweets he gave the children would hurt their teeth. And I said not to worry, it gives [B] a moment of satisfaction. We unintentionally provided shelter to the children’s attacker. When my child said that B was crazy, I defended this crazy man and told [my son] it’s not nice to speak that way, because God didn’t give him what he gave us. Thus we confused the children even more, because they realized that their parents are defending the monster who attacked them each day. We thought he was a lazy bum, because he stood on [his] porch each day and watched what was going on. It turned out that during this time he studied our movements and schedules. When we once came home early, he asked my wife, ‘What, aren’t you working today?’ He always checked what was happening with us, and apparently made note of it all. He planned the big parties when we weren’t home. He wasn’t as limited as we thought.”
How did you discover that the children had been harmed?
“My neighbor told me that his son was bitten on part of his body. He came over to question me about whether there was something suspicious about B., who lived near us. I said that it didn’t seem to me that he was interested in children, and besides, he gave them sweets and played checkers with them. But we started questioning the children, and the stories began to come out gradually. For example, my child admitted that during the quarter-hour between stepping off the school bus and getting home—the distance of a couple of hundred meters—he would stop at the attacker’s home. My wife noticed that some of the children were still in a state of fear: for example, one of the children would start to tell us something, then his brother shouted at him trying to shut him up. He was afraid that B. would come and kill the whole family as he had threatened.”
As of now, the vast majority of the victims known to the police are children and toddlers from haredi families, but not all. This week the police arrested three additional men, some of them from the margins of society. According to the families, there are other men who are still walking free, some are not Jewish, and it’s actually among those men that the most frightening and violent acts were committed. And if that isn’t enough–the parents note that women also took part in the abuse.
The children who became victims, according to claims, were forced to drag their neighborhood friends, and their siblings, into the horror. A woman connected to the case relates: “They threatened a sweet 12-year-old girl who babysat for children in the neighborhood. They told her she needed to bring children each day to the attackers’ homes, or they would kill her whole family. She was deathly afraid, so she approached families of her own accord and offered to play with and watch their children—thus procuring them for the attackers. One day her parents found her under her bed, shaking in fear. It turns out that she wasn’t able to get any children to come that day. Thus her parents learned the story, and they feel terribly guilty, even though [their daughter] was also a victim.”
The Nachalaot neighborhood was quiet and desolate this week, especially the haredi section. During the noon hours, when children used to run and play in the enclosed yards, hardly a living soul could be found in the injured neighborhood. Colored go-carts hung from porch railings and small rusty bicycles leaned on gray tree trunks. Every few moments, faces peeked out from the windows: Men, women and children looked suspicious of every movement and of every voice, which are heard well in the close-down that the residents have imposed upon themselves. “The neighborhood is under house arrest, instead of the perpetrators being in jail,” said Gila, two of whose children, aged 3 and 5, were attacked. She walks along the lonely alleys and points to the houses: Here lives a family where four children were abused, here lived a family that was severely abused and abandoned the neighborhood after the story came out. At least three other families have left. “This mother,” Gila whispered about a woman she sees exiting her home, “all of her children were abused. All of them. Almost no family was skipped over. And here,” she says and stops in her place. “here lives a man who hurt my children and additional children, who told their parents that they were harmed by him in a terrible way. From what I understand, he was one of the leaders of the pedophiles. They arrested him but released him relatively quickly, because there is not enough reliable testimony against him.”
Gila pulls out pictures of two of her children, smiling from ear to ear. Under the picture of her small son it says, Who needs honey when you have me? “One Friday afternoon the children went outside alone, which was unusual.” she recalls. Sabbath and holiday eves, it should be noted, are days of danger, because during those times the mothers are busy with preparations. “The children told me that he waited for them outside, pulled down their underpants, and touched them. They returned home and said, ‘Someone did something immodest to us.’ I ran outside and saw him. I asked him. ‘Did you see someone or something?’ He shook his head no. And there it ended. For months, they never said it was him. Until he was arrested. Only then did they tell.”
Did they testify against him?
“I hope my daughter will testify, but in the meantime the psychologist doesn’t recommend that she go through this process. My son will testify, but his testimony is problematic—the things happened when he was 3, and now, at 4, his communication skills are limited. And in general he is not a big talker. He isn’t able to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end. It’s a vicious cycle. A man rapes a child of 3, and because a child of that age cannot testify properly—the perpetrator continues to walk freely around our home. By now we are very careful. We have lost our innocence. But what about the rest of the city? I know specifically that he walks around other places in Jerusalem, for instance Sacher Park. He doesn’t look suspicious, he works with children, and he also uses force when necessary. He offered my daughter a candy. She refused, and then he dragged her to the shed forcefully. He threatened her and others that he would come to their bedrooms at night and kill them if they say anything. Children are afraid of things like that. I am afraid of things like that.”
Gila’s words join harsh criticism by parents directed at the welfare authorities and the police. According to them, the investigators of the children from the welfare ministry waited too long to begin collecting the testimony, and are still dragging their feet in dealing with the case. The police too, according to them, took a long time before starting to act. “Everyone turned to the police. And you must understand: We are talking about people who never cooperated with the authorities, and who feared the police.” says Althea Steinherz, a therapist who is voluntarily helping the families. “We all went and cooperated. But I do not believe the police acted as they should have. They delayed, allowing those close to the suspects to clear evidence from their homes, and there are still people walking around among us that many children testify have committed terrible crimes against them.
The claims against the police ignore one significant fact: When the case was exposed in the haredi community, elements from within tried to solve the problem themselves, without involving the enforcement authorities. They activated the “Committee for the Purity of the Camp”, and a number of people were authorized to function as a “Modesty Patrol” and tried to fight the plague of pedophiles: They photographed the suspects and distributed lists with their names. The police had difficulty relying on the testimonies of the children, since in the professional jargon of the profession they were “tainted.” This complicated both the presentation of the evidence and the handing down of indictments.
“The attempt to solve the problem in their own way harmed our work,” say authorities involved in the investigation. “80% of the testimonies of the 70 children were destroyed.” Most of the complaints, claim the authorities, were filed at a late stage, after the community understood that they could not contain the phenomenon on their own. Thus dozens of complaints were issued simultaneously. As of now, the residents have been promised that security and surveillance in the neighborhood will be increased with both plainclothes and uniformed officers, and the municipality has added more lighting in the area. As mentioned above, the parents insist that those who harmed their children are found not only within Nachalaot, but that they work and live in other areas in Jerusalem.
Oren is appalled by these statements. “They blame us for ‘tainting’ the investigations? Instead of guiding us in how not to harm the investigation, they simply left the story alone and allowed these events to continue. A man who seriously harmed my children and many others is free to do as he likes. He and his partners would organize groups of children and threaten them until they would bring their brothers and sisters. He threatened my children that if they talked, he would cut them into small pieces and throw them to the fish. He told other children that a girl who talked is buried under the floor tiles. He told the children that at night he turns into a dog and can get in anywhere and kill them.”
“The children told how he would hit them, push them against the wall with their hands up, and do as he did. They forced children to do things to each other. They forced children to watch sexual intercourse between men and women to demonstrate that see, it doesn’t hurt, no need to cry. My son gave detailed testimony against this man for two full hours. One must understand the price of these inquiries: Full days in which children become crazy. And in the end [the suspect] is released. Why? Because [the child] was asked in the investigation if he had eaten that morning and he said no. It seems that he drank [straight] from the bottle and knew that wasn’t allowed. His mother said that he did eat and drink, so his testimony was thrown out.”
The complaints reached MK (Knesset member) Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism). Parents complained of “inappropriate treatment, indifference, and ignoring sexual attacks on dozens of children in Jerusalem, when this meant mainly abuse of members of the haredi population.” In light of this, MK Zevelun Orlev, head of the Knesset committee for children’s rights, called an emergency session or the committee last week. “There is no doubt that children paid a heavy price for the fact that the authorities did not act immediately with determination, and failed by not identifying this widespread and organized pedophile ring in time ,” said Orlev this week. “It pains me, especially since the haredi population in the neighborhood showed rare civil courage and exposed itself much more than expected. They cooperated, complained to the police, made contact with the welfare authorities. It pains me that the authorities failed. There aren’t enough child investigators. Dozens of children have not been questioned, and the families have not received enough guidance.”
On the issue of “tainted” testimony Orlev says: “We must consider changing [the law] regarding the reliability of investigations of children. It shouldn’t happen that parents who encourage their children to give testimony, or who learn in advance from the children what happened, harm the reliability of the investigation. This case exposed problems surrounding the questioning of children. And we are checking into this in the legal department.”
“I want to say that in this case there was no delay in the questioning of the children,” said Chana Slotzky, chief social worker for youth in the ministry of welfare and social services, to the committee for the rights of children. “Every investigation that needed to be done, was performed. Several investigations were done regarding each of the children.”
Attorney Eitan Lehman, who is representing some of the children’s families, says that “there is a built-in paradox. On the one hand, we are talking about a population that generally doesn’t cooperate with the police, doesn’t expose things, especially sexual things that have a very clear taboo. On the other hand, as soon as these families truly show bravery—expose what happened, come to the authorities, speak with the children—they are criticized: ‘You contaminated the investigation. We could have brought the perpetrators to justice, but you spoke with the children.’ There is hardly a file with more than one attacker and one victim, that is not tainted. There is no such thing. They always speak to each other, they always speak with their parents.”
Lieutenant commissioner Moti Levi, officer of the department of investigations and intelligence in the office of internal security, said at the session that “as far as the police are concerned, even if the investigation of the child was determined not to have been reliable, the story does not end there. The role of the police, its obligation, is to continue to investigate and to try to collect more testimonies, and to strengthen the ones taken by the child investigators.
Many parents of abused children appeared before the committee on the rights of children. One after another, they painfully laid out what had occurred under their noses. “I am a mother of four abused children, some of them severely abused”, said Orly. “At the beginning we thought the neighborhood panic was exaggerated, until we heard from our own children the harsh descriptions that they are now letting out and letting out. From the moment they opened up they haven’t stopped talking, and for us it is hard to hear. We have lived in this neighborhood for five years, and during that time period all four of our children have been abused. They told us how they fell into a different trap each time: By the time they learned to beware of a particular house, the things occurred somewhere else. The stories are very difficult, by any measure. Immediately upon discovering the abuse, we filed a complaint with the police, and the children were called in for questioning. We also began watching our children very carefully. But we learned that our protection was not enough. I am talking about four children whom I accompany each morning and afternoon. Each child at a different time. For four months since the beginning of the school year I twice missed getting to them in time—and both times they were abused. It’s simply crazy.”
Shabtai Markovich, a man known in the community, to whom some of the families turned, noted in the committee session that keeping children at home and constantly accompanying them when they go out, is not enough. “The layout of the housing allows a stranger to grab a child from the house. I’m talking about things that happened. A mother goes out to bring a child from kindergarten or school, or to accompany one of the children. She comes home–and the [other] child is not there. Someone grabbed him and abused him.”
Batya, another mother, addressed the questioning of the children: “I went to the child investigators with my daughter every day. She testified exceptionally well. In the end they said her testimony was ‘tainted’ like those of other children. They claimed that what tainted the questioning was giving the child a present, since perhaps he testified only because of the gift. But if I hadn’t given her a present she wouldn’t have gone to testify at all. You can understand why a child would be embarrassed to tell an investigator, whom she doesn’t know, that someone took off her clothes in front of 20 people. If we hadn’t given gifts to the children, there was no chance of any questioning. I gave her ice cream and gifts and money, so that she would go to testify. I didn’t interfere with the content. I didn’t say, “I will give you a present if you say such and such.'”
“They also brought [the children] pictures of suspects, to confuse them completely: One who had black hair, suddenly had white hair. A fat one became thin. One has hair that was in a ponytail—in the picture his hair was loose. At a meeting arranged for us by the police, they explained that they have no control over the pictures of the suspects as the defense lawyers bring them. And it’s clear to us that all of the investigators are convinced that the events occurred.”
“We brought pictures to the children to ask them, ‘Is this the man who hurt you?’ testified Gittit, 4 of whose 8 children were abused. “Without pictures we had no way of lodging a complaint. Against whom could we complain? There were dozens of figures: one named ‘black ponytail,’ another named ‘brown with glands’ and another called ‘white ponytail’ or ‘bald man.’ The police, unfortunately, did not do anything in order to identify those people, and we did not photograph them. We don’t know what to do. Photograph them? Yes or no? Search for them? Don’t search? Ask our children? Don’t ask? And meanwhile nothing was done. The children experienced all kinds of rape, and we’re not talking about things that one normally imagines. We are talking about objects, about terrible violence toward tiny children. A girl of 7 or 9 tells how, before her eyes, they raped a girl of two in the most violent way. The boy describes gang rape.”
Gittit describes the methods of frightening the children. ” A little girl cried ‘dog, dog’ for a whole year. So they said, ‘People in Jerusalem are often afraid of dogs.’ And what turned out in the end? They had brought dogs there, the size of people, taller than the children, and said, ‘Do you see this dog? He ate more than one child. Woe unto you if you tell.’ Or they lit a fire, burned a few small objects, and said, ‘Do you see this fire? We will throw every child who tells into the fire.’ Then we expect the children to share with us what is happening in the neighborhood? They lived, and continue to live, under these threats.”
“One of my sons won’t let me light a candle at home,” Oren says. “He didn’t participate in lighting the Chanukah candles, and begs his mother not to light Shabbat candles.”
“One man told the children that he walks between the buildings with a transmitter, so whenever a child tells, he immediately knows about it,” testified Dora. “Or they tied a child’s hands and legs, and the abuser took a knife, brought it to the child’s neck and said, ‘If you tell, one tchak and you’re finished’. One of the suspects spread powder on the floor, and my daughter developed a rash all over her body. I didn’t know what it was. “I said to her: ‘What did you eat that gave you this rash? Did you go near some plants? Why do you have this rash? ‘ And she of course couldn’t tell me. It turned out that the abuser said to her that this powder will help him know if she told someone, and then he will make a hole in the ceiling, insert a fuse, and kill her.”
From some of the parents’ testimonies, it’s suspected that the abusers used chemical agents to influence the children. Gila’s 5-year-old daughter came home from preschool groggy and confused . . . She dropped off to sleep and when she eventually woke up she had behavioral problems that she hadn’t had before: She wet her bed and burst into tears at every little thing, almost without stopping. She became fearful and very dependent on her parents.” I thought that they gave her something to drug her that day. I asked, ‘Did they give you something to drink?’ At first she laughed confusedly. As if she had a secret that she was embarrassed about. Then she admitted that they offered her ice cream, she turned it down, and then they gave her something to drink.”
“The teacher of one of my sons said he is the saddest boy in the class,” says Oren with sad eyes. “He doesn’t participate, he doesn’t speak. In the meantime he does not control his bowels. We are tired of all this and just throw his dirty and soiled clothes into the garbage each day. Because I didn’t realize what was happening with my children in time, I am trying to think how to help other parents learn what happened to their children They need to notice attention or concentration problems that occur suddenly, with no obvious reason. Our children suddenly stopped paying attention to their surroundings, and one of them exhibited a delay in development. Another child’s hands started shaking; he was frightened and responded by defensive body language to every small shout or comment. As if he went into defensive mode. Bedwetting and loss of bowel control occurred in many children. The father of one of the children who was abused said that he never cried as much in his whole life as he did this past year. Myself as well. Small children, who could have gone far in their lives, must deal with traumas and difficulties. And there is no end in sight.”
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Police: “The complaints were received long after the attacks”
Police spokesperson: “The police department completely rejects these claims. Immediately upon receiving complaints from several parents about the sexual assaults against their children in the neighborhood the police opened an investigation in cooperation with the child investigators of the labor and welfare ministry, and six suspects were arrested. Three of them were held until the end of the judicial processes, and were served indictments by the prosecution. The police are sorry that the complaints were filed so long after the sexual assaults, after the residents of the neighborhood tried to solve the problems on their own and caused serious difficulties in the police investigation and in the questioning of the children by the welfare ministry workers. Despite this, the police have continued the investigation and have arrested three additional suspects in recent days, who have been remanded, and the police will recommend that they be tried. In addition, Lieutenant Commissioner Nissim Edri, the commander of the Zion precinct, met with the welfare authorities from the municipality and the welfare ministry and the residents and updated them on the details of the case. Undercover and open surveillance of the neighborhood has been increased, to increase the feeling of security among the residents.”
Justice department: “The prosecution presented 3 indictments against those accused of involvement in the case. We are talking about a large and complex file that is being handled by the court at this time. Therefore, we cannot address the claims themselves. The prosecutor’s office acts in a professional and relevant way, with full understanding of the seriousness of the crimes in this case, and with full cooperation of the investigative and welfare authorities. The claims of apathy in handling the file have no basis in reality.”
Jerusalem municipality: “Immediately upon receiving the information, the social workers in the welfare department began to treat the families and to take action to treat the children. Expert therapists and private therapists accompanied the children and families closely. A plan was put in place with the education administration, the psychological services and the community administration, in order to protect the children.
Attorney Roi Politi, who represents the suspect B.: This is a Kafkaesque story, a witch hunt, that proves how little we have changed as a society since the middle ages. All of the suspects are down on their luck, lonely people that were an easy target. The parents generated indescribably damage. My client denies the allegations completely. He was friendly with children—this type of person does not make mature and intelligent friends—but never touched any child. If we are talking about 50-100 children, whom, according to the claim, were raped almost constantly, and had horrifying things done to them over the course of years—how can it be that no one heard cries or saw any sign? They have not presented any medical records. Fifty children were questioned, and only four were found suitable to approach the judge. A pedophile chain, it is said, but in fact, except for two—they did not know each other. The police is acting in the interest of calming parents, the public pressure does the rest. My client’s innocence will be proved in court.”[Translators: According to a Nachlaot resident the medical records do show that children were raped.]
Attorney Eitan Arnon, who represents the suspect BP: “My client denies the accusations attributed to him. The picture that arises from this is that the weak people in the neighborhood were fingered and had terrible accusations made against them. In court we will show the chain of events that led to these false accusations against my client.
Attorney Gali Gilad, who represents the suspect Z.: “The indictment is an “unripe fruit” of circumstances in which suspicions of sexual abuse of minors were uncovered in Nachalaot. In the hysterical atmosphere, partly justified, the testimony was tainted, after the parents took the law into their own hands and tried to coordinate testimonies, pressured parents to bring their children in for testifying, and mentioned names of individuals in the meeting. The name of my client was involved as a result of a mixing up a number of reasons for wanting to blacken his name. The indictment is the product of slander, and my words are backed up by objective evidence.
Links on the Nachlaot crisis (JewishMom.com)
Will ‘Sex Abuse Ring’ Yield Vigilante Justice? (Forward’s Allison Kaplan Summer)
What you can do: Terrorists Destroy Nachlaot (Ima2Seven)