Murder of the Helpless

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aspiration to protect children from violence is an empty statement since a democratic country can hardly ever keep a parent away from his children.

One of the most shocking features of crime in Israel last year was the murder of infants and children. As if to drive home this chilling fact, the last day of 2009 saw the murder of 7-year-old Leon Kalantarov of Moshav Bnei Ayish. State and local authorities were unable to prevent this crime, so the key question is how to stop the next one.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's aspiration to "protect the children" is an empty statement when crimes within the family are concerned. In a democratic country, a restraining order may not be issued against a parent unless there are compelling signs of danger to the child. Such signs were not evident in the case of 8-month-old Fruma Anshin, whose father is suspected of murdering her.

In the case of the murder in Bnei Ayish, the problem is complex because of other aspects, both legal and practical. The police are not authorized to question children under the age of 14. They are also not authorized to question people with mental or emotional disabilities, like the Sudmi brothers, who are suspected of murdering Kalantarov. The authority to question children rests with the Social Affairs Ministry, which then gives the transcripts to the police to evaluate it as evidence, as is the case with suspects with mental or emotional disabilities.

As far as is known, the police took an interest in the Sudmi brothers following a complaint by a 15-year-old boy that the two had beaten him up after he accused them of being pedophiles. Police questioned the boy and gave the ministry the names of the children mentioned in the complaint as victims of indecent acts that are not considered sexual assault. The children's families were not eager to cooperate with the authorities, and the suspicions against the brothers did not justify arrest or a restraining order.

As with other issues, Israeli society seeks the right balance between the rights of victims, especially the helpless, and the rights of suspects. No magic formula has been found, but the government must at the very least increase cooperation among the various authorities. Just as the fight against organized crime required the police, the legal system and the economic authorities to work together, fighting family violence and child abuse requires that ties be strengthened between the police and welfare authorities.