Diplomat Parents of Teenage Vandals to Pay for Repairs in Kfar Shmaryahu

The foreign diplomats whose teenage sons vandalized benches, signposts and street lamps in Kfar Shmaryahu are to pay for repairs totaling thousands of shekels.

The foreign diplomats whose teenage sons vandalized benches, signposts and street lamps in Kfar Shmaryahu are to pay for repairs totaling thousands of shekels.

Sons of diplomats at the American and Canadian embassies were among the four youths caught by police two weeks ago after alert citizens, including the local council head, reported several cases of damage to public property along one of the upscale suburb's tree-lined walkways.

Police said the boys, aged 13 and 14, were released without charge on the basis of their diplomatic immunity after showing their identification to police at the scene.

"The [offenders] are expecting to pay and their parents are expecting to pay," said Marsha Aaronson, superintendent of the American International School in Kfar Shmaryahu, where all four boys are enrolled. "We viewed this as very serious and there has been a variety of consequences [for those involved]."

She noted: "They have been very cooperative, as have their parents. They have accepted responsibility for what they did."

Aaronson wrote a letter of apology to local council head Dror Aloni last week, promising "complete cooperation" with the investigation. The school has enjoyed a long and positive relationship with Kfar Shmaryahu, she wrote, adding that she would do all she could "to make up for this blemish."

Aloni told Anglo File this week he understood the vandalism was "systematic" when local residents reported that various signposts had been uprooted and snapped on separate occasions earlier this month. On Friday afternoon two weeks ago, Aloni reports that he went to check out the situation while walking with his dog and his children and discovered destroyed public benches and smashed street lights. He says he spotted boys with "parts of a bench" in their hands who fled into a nearby house. Shortly afterward police apprehended all four boys, two of whom have both Israeli and American citizenship.

"It hurts me personally," said Aloni of the damage. "We've invested a lot in renovating the public walkways in this area."

Aloni said he would soon be sending the school a bill of "a few thousand shekels" for repairing the damage. He added he regretted that students from the school did not join in more with local activities for youth such as scouts and sporting and cultural activities. "The parents don't want them to be active in the local community. It's a big shame," he said.

The incident - and subsequent media coverage - has clearly been a source of embarrassment for the school and embassies involved. According to a Foreign Ministry source, the issue came up in a ministry meeting with the Canadian ambassador. "They were very apologetic and assured us matters would be put right," said the source, who noted the incident was also reported in the Canadian media.

The Canadian embassy will be "following up with the family of the individual concerned," said embassy spokeswoman Signe Katz said this week, adding that "any allegation of inappropriate behavior is taken very seriously."

U.S. Embassy spokesman Stewart Tuttle said the matter was being dealt with on a school and municipal level rather than a diplomatic one. "Some kids did something they shouldn't have done, just as they could do in the United States or any other country. For us, it's not and should not be a diplomatic issue," he said.

School superintendent Aaronson emphasized that she believed the vandalism to be a "one-time" incident and noted that students at the school are involved in community service work throughout the school year.

"We know we're guests in Israel and we try very hard to make a contribution to the society," Aaronson said."We also need to remember this is a first-time offense for a minor. We certainly want reparations to be made, but this is also a learning experience."

The wife of one European diplomat who has children at school expressed frustration at the way the story was "leapt upon" by the Israeli media, which included reports of misbehavior by the school's students dating back 20 years. "There are plenty of kids involved in much worse vandalism and it doesn't make the newspapers. It wasn't that serious. Things got blown up and a big fuss was made because it involved diplomats. Kids at the school felt offended [by the coverage]," she said.

The American International School, which has been based in Kfar Shmaryahu for the last 47 years, is due to move to new 74-dunam premises in Even Yehuda this summer. With over 400 students from preschool to 12th grade, the school is the country's most popular educational facility among diplomatic families.