The first students selected for the Frances Taylor Eizenstat '65 Undergraduate Israel Travel Grant Program are Mirit Gendelman ’15 and Kochava Ayoun ’14.
The following blog posts were submitted by Mirit and Kochava the last week of January, 2014:
Adventures in Jerusalem!
After arriving on Hebrew University campus, I felt excited to meet my new roommates and embark on an exciting adventure in Israel. I met one of my roommates by chance while in line for our student IDs, and we instantly hit it off. After settling in, a bunch of the students and I went on a tour of the campus. It was really special to hear about the history of Hebrew University and its founders, including Einstein, Martin Buber, and Chaim Weizmann, visionaries who are not only acclaimed in Israeli history and society, but also internationally. Walking past the buildings of Jerusalem stone, I was in awe of their beauty. I was truly mesmerized, though, when I saw the remarkable view of Jerusalem from a lookout point on campus. I realized then just how lucky I am to be given this amazing opportunity.
The next day we began Ulpan, an intensive, month-long Hebrew language immersion program. I am still in the midst of Ulpan and am learning an unbelievable amount already. (Fun fact: Natalie Portman was in my level when she came to Hebrew University, and she had my teacher!) The class is challenging but also super fun. We take part in theatre exercises, sing songs, and play lots of games - all in Hebrew of course! It’s a great way to learn the language and get a taste of the culture.
That Friday, I went to the Shuk in Jerusalem with some of my new friends. I’ve traveled to Israel before and have gone to the Shuk, but this time felt like an entirely new sensory experience. The Shuk has so many unique smells, sounds, and tastes. The various venders yell out greetings in Hebrew, trying to entice potential buyers with their cheeses, fruits, nuts, candies, spices, and wines. Freshly baked Marzipan rugalach can be smelled from a mile away, and usually you can hear musicians playing all sorts of music in the midst of all the commotion (see picture!). I love the hustle and bustle of walking through the Shuk. It’s an experience not to be missed while traveling to Israel.
Until next time!
Blog Post 1
This is the beginning of my third week in Israel. I have been here researching my senior honors thesis on the domestication of international treaties pertaining to women and children. While I am using two countries as case studies - Israel and Sierra Leone - Israel is an ideal place to conduct primary research as it is my home country and its casual culture helps to facilitate meetings and interviews with professionals that otherwise would be hard to come by. The majority of the research I’ve conducted here thus far has been speaking to women and children that have been affected by international treaties - specifically The Hague Abduction Convention that the Israel part of my thesis is about. It has been a profoundly eye-opening experience, to say the least. Although I was familiar with the topic and heard many stories about it before I arrived, I was astounded by how much I did not know.
Like all documents meant to encompass and protect a broad range of people, the Convention inevitably leaves some out. In fact, what make it so dangerous are its unintended consequences, often having the exact opposite of the their intended effect. This is also what makes it so interesting to study. Hearing first-hand how peoples’ lives have been altered by an international document – a category seen by many to be meaningless or toothless - has given me a deeper insight into the imperfect aspects of internationalism, legalism, and liberalism. These systems are often glorified by those who see the world’s future as wholly integrated and globalized, but turn a blind eye to the suffering such integration, when not carefully handled, creates in the name of moving forward. It is my hope that by carefully examining the consequences of implementing treaties meant to govern all of humanity, and by sharing the stories of individuals adversely affected, that our idealism will not be squashed but merely refined. From here, a more practical, careful way forward can emerge, leaving the aforementioned ideals intact but providing a better method of implementation. Although this post may seem abstract, I encourage those who are interested to be in touch if they would like to read my final product (to be completed by early May) and to attend my thesis defense around that time. Thanks for reading!
Blog Post 2
This post is meant to give some more tangible details about my research in Israel. During my first week here, I spoke with several woman involved in the Hatikvah Foundation (a foundation for immigrant women in Israel battling international custody or divorce issues). They all had all been through the Israeli family court system and their children had a travel ban, or a “stop order” (tzav ikuv) placed on them soon after their parents’ divorce without notice or prior warning.
I knew the stories of a few of the women before meeting them in person, but the information and details I accumulated that week astonished me as I sat down to transcribe and process what I had heard. Some highlights (or lowlights): one woman had a travel ban placed on both of her children for over nine years and counting. When she went to court to have it temporarily lifted so she could take the children to visit her father in Europe who had just suffered a life-threatening heart attack, the judge would not allow it, saying something to the effect of: “he is 74, he will live a while longer”. Another mind-blowing story was of a woman whose ex-husband sexually abused their young daughter during a visitation, and when she took him to court to have his visitations revoked, rather than punishing him, the judge ordered him to undergo “treatment”, and after four sessions of outpatient “therapy”, his overnight visitation rights were re-invoked.
The last story that amazed me was of two German women, both not Jewish, with strikingly similar stories. Both came to work on kibbutzim in Israel in their early twenties, met and married Bedouin men, and had three children each. Several years later, they found out that their husbands had other wives and children, and both filed for divorce. In Israel, family matters are adjudicated in either religious courts (separate for Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze) or state family courts. Because both women’s cases were heard in a Muslim Sha’aria court, their children were promptly taken from them, and their husbands were awarded sole custody with no possibility of visitation for the mothers. One of the women was able to hide her youngest child, and they remain in hiding from the courts to this day. Neither are able to see their children now living with their Bedouin families, and neither are Israeli citizens nor do they have work permits, so day-to-day living is both financially and emotionally fraught, to say the least.
After hearing stories like these from the women involved with the Hatikvah Foundation, I wanted to hear what Israel’s Central Authority (the domestic “administrative branch” of the Hague Convention) had to say. Generally speaking, its function is to return children wrongfully removed from their countries of habitual residence. I called to set up a meeting with a CA representative, and, before I realized what was happening, I was put on the phone with someone who said he would answer all my questions over the phone, right then and there. Somewhat unprepared, I asked the most pressing- and most important question- I could think of: how does the Central Authority deal with an Article 13(b) exception (i.e. when the claim is made that returning a child to their country of habitual residence will put them at risk for grave physical or psychological harm).
The man on the line went to go look up what Article 13b was, which caused me to wonder how well the department was versed in the Convention, considering the fact that 13(b) is the most controversial and common article discussed. In any event, I was eventually given the name of the Central Authority attorney to whom it was suggested I contact instead. The number turned out to no longer be in service. After calling the main line again to no avail, I visited the Central Authority’s office in Jerusalem in person. I again came up short, being told to call back to make an appointment. Without quite realizing it, I had run up against notorious Israeli bureaucracy.
After this unfortunate chain of events, I doubled my efforts to get in touch with scholars of the Convention, mostly professors at various Israeli universities. In a stroke of sheer luck, one professor who was no longer in the country alerted me to the International Society of Family Law (ISFL) regional conference at Sha’arei Mishpat in early January. It turned out to be just the boost I needed in terms of my research. It was organized by Dr. Rhona Schuz, the foremost expert on The Hague Convention and the head of the Center for the Rights of the Child and the Family at Sha’arei Mishpat. I had read several of her articles before, and the conference was just in time to celebrate the release of her biggest work to date, the most comprehensive text on The Hague Convention (http://www.hartpub.co.uk/BookDetails.aspx?ISBN=9781849460170).
I found out about the conference only days before it began, and I scrambled to register for it and read up as much as I could on the topic. It began on a Wednesday night and went until Friday afternoon, and was attended by professionals and scholars in the international family law field, hailing from as far as Australia and South Africa. Most of the lectures were split into parallel panels, and I chose ones most pertinent to my thesis, such as “Custody Rights Under the Child Abduction Convention: State Law or Hague Law?”, “Adapting the Hague Convention to the Paradigm of Parental Responsibilities” and “The Welfare of the Child and Return Under the Hague Abduction Convention- A Mental Health Practitioner’s Perspective”.
In total, I attended 6 sessions with 23 speakers. Some notable speakers included Professor Amos Shapira of Tel Aviv University, Lady Brenda Hale, the Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, as well as two Israeli Supreme Court Justices. I was particularly impressed by the balance of the talks, with information presented from both sides of the debate (especially when Parental Alienation Syndrome was discussed), and it made me wonder if perhaps a group of people of such varied nationalities - much like the UN and other international bodies - is the ideal model of governance as all participants exhibited but attenuated their cultural differences so as to make the conference comfortable and relatable for everyone. All in all, the information I gathered from the conference was invaluable and I still cannot quite believe how lucky I was to have heard about it.
From my time in Israel, it became clear to me that primary research of this sort is equal parts legwork and luck. My best discoveries often came about unexpectedly. My concentrated efforts on some fronts (like trying to get a meeting with a judge) proved fruitless, while my efforts to contact one professor with an expertise slightly aside from what I was interested in, turned out to be extremely useful. Although this was the first time I have conducted independent first-hand research, I feel like I have gained a great deal of valuable information in how to be the right amount of persistent, flexible, and resourceful. I only hope that these characteristics will not run out before my thesis is completed!
For more information on the Central Authority visit it’s website: http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php?act=authorities.details&aid=260
For information on the ISFL Regional Conference in Israel, visit it’s website: http://www.isflhome.org/
Mirit Gendelman is double majoring in International & Global Studies and Business. She is using her award to study at Hebrew University, Spring 2014, in the Jerusalem Honors Program at the Rothberg International School. Gendelman looks forward to immersing herself in Israeli society, and furthering her understanding of Israeli economic and business practices.
Kochava Ayoun is double majoring in Psychology and International & Global Studies, with a minor in Film. The grant is funding her senior thesis research on the gap between the intentions and implementations of international treaties pertaining to women and children, focusing on Israel and Sierra Leone. While in Israel she will interview women, their children, judges, lawyers and social workers to gain insight into the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction as applied in Israeli courts.