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Child murder claim shocks Israelis

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Netanya

Volunteers search for Rose Pizem, Netanya, Israel
The volunteers say their search will continue for as long as it takes

The sun beats down as pairs of volunteers in four-wheel-drive cars crawl over Netanya's municipal rubbish dump, scouring the scrub-covered waste for any sign of a four-year-old Israeli girl.

Police have been searching for two weeks for the body of Rose, the blue-eyed child who was last seen three months ago in the town.

Her name has become common currency on Israeli lips since Tuesday, when police revealed that Rose's grandfather was suspected of her murder after he told them he killed the little girl accidentally and dumped her body in a suitcase in a river.

"There are no words to describe this type of grandfather, he is not a human being," says one of the volunteers.

Although Ronny Ron, 45, has not been charged, such a reaction is commonplace as Israel comes to terms with one of its most shocking child abuse cases.

"I have tears in my eyes every night when I watch the news," says another searcher, eager to talk, although not officially allowed to speak to the media.

Unconventional affair

The tale that has emerged is hardly short on human drama, but has also raised deeper questions among Israelis.

Rose's story begins in France, where she was born to young parents, Marie Renault and Benjamin Pizem.

Missing girl Rose Pizem (undated picture)
Rose, aged four, was last seen in May

But it took an unconventional turn when the couple travelled to Israel in search of the father Mr Pizem had never met, and Ms Renault fell in love with her newly-encountered father-in-law, Mr Ron.

Ms Renault announced she was staying in Israel with Mr Ron, while Mr Pizem took Rose back to France.

But within two years there were allegations of abuse and neglect and a custody battle ensued.

Marie and Ronny eventually brought Rose to Israel in December 2007, but by this time reports say she had developed behavioural and communication problems, was not toilet trained and would bang her head against a wall.

'Mind-blowing'

Mr Ron's mother is said to have looked after her for much of the following period in Netanya, the Mediterranean coastal town north of Tel Aviv popular with French tourists and immigrants.

But, as she told authorities when she alerted them that Rose was missing, she last saw the four-year-old on 12 May when Mr Ron, who also lived in the town, arrived and took her away with him.

Netanya resident Shimon Sitbon, outside home of Ronny Ron
It doesn't really go with Israelis - we always say that we live like brothers, Jew with fellow Jew
Shimon Sitbon
Netanya resident

Mr Ron says he killed the girl by hitting her as she sat in the back seat of his car because she annoyed him.

But police say he has given other conflicting explanations, ranging from selling Rose to traffickers to sending her to a French convent.

Police investigators quoted in Israeli media have also alleged that the death was premeditated and that Ms Renault had expressed a wish to have Rose out of her life.

"It's shattering, mind-blowing, it gives me goosebumps," says Elad Paravi, 33, who is preparing to move into the building across the road from the apartment building where Mr Ron and Ms Renault lived until they were taken into police custody two weeks ago.

Shimon Sitbon, 66, who for years delivered post to the building, is also shocked: "It doesn't really go with Israelis. We always say that we live like brothers, Jew with fellow Jew - it's like being punched, no-one would have expected it."

Family focus

Hanita Zimrin, the founder and chairperson of the Israeli Association for Child Protection, sees a link between such strong reactions and a commitment to family running deep within Jewish culture.

Ronny Ron in court
Mr Ron has confessed, but police say he has repeatedly changed his story

"It is concentrated around the family, the child is king - we have so many jokes about overprotective mothers," she explains.

"There is child abuse in Israel, like in any society, but the reaction is usually much stronger than in other societies."

But, as someone who faced criticism when she began trying to highlight the problem of child abuse in Israel three decades ago, she says denial is also an issue.

"There is a sense that the Jewish mother doesn't do these kinds of things," she says.

Society 'failure'

The perception that Israeli society is one where communities are close-knit and people know each others' business has also come into question.

Many have been asking why neighbours - who have since told the media the young Rose seemed sad when seen locally - did nothing.

Street in Netanya, showing building where Ronny Ron lives (right)
Mr Ron's home is in Netanya, which has a large French community

"How could it be that a young girl disappears, and for three months nobody looks for her, nobody asks any questions?," lamented a columnist in the daily Yediot Aharonot.

"How could it be that a society that always boasted its involvement, care, and mutual responsibility failed so shamefully?"

Ms Zimrin suggests that immigration may be a factor. Child abuse is more prevalent among the 20% of Israeli society which is made up of immigrants, she says, because of isolation and frustration, and immigrant communities may be less likely to report suspected cases.

But there are no clear answers. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter simply said Israeli society "wasn't there for the girl when she was in need".

However, Ms Zimrin sees hope in the shared shock, sadness and willingness to help - from the volunteers' search of the rubbish tip, to Mr Paravi, who says that he would like to adopt Rose, if by some miracle she were to be found alive.

"She went from being nobody's daughter, to being everybody's little girl," says Ms Zimrin.


SEE ALSO
Israel searches for missing girl
27 Aug 08 |  Middle East

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