Yad B'Yad rescues Jewish girls
by Sarah Katz
August 7, 2003
Imprisoned in the Arab home, subjected to six months of servitude and abuse by her captors, Dorit (names of the women have been changed) anxiously awaits rescue by a veiled woman accompanied by two Arab men. Disguised as a Muslim woman, Rachel Schwartz, founder and director of the Yad B'Yad (Hand in Hand) project, smuggles Dorit out of captivity and returns her home.
Yad B'Yad, which operates under the umbrella non-profit organization Am Echad United, attempts to provide a 'refuge for young Jewish girls manipulated by Arab men,' says the group's Web site.
The group focuses on 12-to-17-year-old girls who are in 'direct high-risk' - defined by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry as homeless, having poor attendance in school, and living at the poverty level - making them 'prime targets for Arab men who know how to take advantage of them,' says the Web site.
According to the Ministry, 10% of Israel's 313,000 Jewish girls between the ages of 12-17 are in 'direct high-risk.' Of the 31,000, between 15,000 and 18,000 are involved in relationships with Arabs.
The organization claims that Arab men often deliberately lead the girls to believe they are Jewish, in order to lure them to Arab villages where many are treated as slaves and housekeepers or even murdered. Schwartz identifies the seduction of these girls as 'another form of terrorism at work.'
'This is a Jewish nation and these are Jewish souls. The fact that this is a non-Jew trying to steal a Jewish girl makes it a Jewish problem. It's easy to report a suicide bombing on a bus - that is tangible evidence. But these are silent terrorists,' explains Schwartz.
At age 11, Yael would buy groceries to bring back to her home in Gilo. She formed a friendship which blossomed into a romantic relationship after four years with an employee of the grocery. He identified himself as Yossi, a blonde observant Jew who 'spoke to me in excellent Hebrew about Shabbat and kiddush and seemed to know more about Jewish learning than I did,' Yael told The Jerusalem Post.
Four months into her pregnancy, at age 18, Yael discovered that her boyfriend was actually an Arab when she read his identification card. Yael spent the remainder of her pregnancy in an Arab village, in close proximity to her home in Gilo, where she was 'treated like a queen.'
During her pregnancy, said Yael, her boyfriend forced her to pray in a mosque, dressed in Arab clothing. 'He threatened, 'you must become Muslim for the baby - there can't be two religions.' '
Two days after she gave birth, Yossi moved Yael into a different home in the same village.
'I saw a woman and her three small children - Yossi's wife and family. They took my child and told me from then on I was to their slave. If I didn't cook using the right amount of salt, they would kick me, hit me, and burn my skin with cigarettes,' said Yael.
Yad B'Yad pays two Arab men $5,000 per victim to conduct surveillance and execute the rescue. Schwartz meets with each girl three to four times in a period of between two to three months before a rescue can be conducted.
Although in January 2003, the Israeli government imposed a ban upon anyone entering an Arab village, including police and soldiers, Schwartz continues to intercede and free girls who request help.
Under close supervision and threats of death and further physical abuse, Yael remained a prisoner in the house for 10 months. After three interrupted attempts to use the telephone, she was able to reach a friend who contacted Schwartz at Yad B'Yad. After three weeks, Schwartz arrived in her disguise at Yael's door, and told her to prepare to leave. Yael escaped with her daughter three days later.
Since the projects's commencement two years ago, Yad B'Yad has rescued 65 girls confined in Arab villages. However, the organization also addresses the prevention and education of girls before this problem can escalate.
Four girls between the ages of 15-and-a-half and 17 live together in a neighbor's home in Gilo. All from homes with divorced parents and extreme poverty, the girls gratefully accepted the attention and gifts of their new neighbor Rafi, who moved in almost four years ago. Rafi, 23, who claimed to be a Sephardi Jew, introduced them to smoking and drugs and presented the girls with stolen cellular phones, clothing, and shoes.
One-and-a-half years after meeting Rafi, one of the girls saw him in a bus station speaking Arabic. The teenagers continue their relationship with the man and his Arab friends out of what they believe to be necessity.
'The situation is very sad that I have to ask the Arab, our enemy, to feed me so that I don't starve,' says Dina, one of the girls.
Rochelle, her roommate, blames the government. 'This country should go to hell!' she exclaims. 'The government doesn't care if our refrigerator is empty, if we don't have a place to sleep at night. The state turned off our electricity because we couldn't pay the bill, so we steal it from a neighbor.'
The girls do fear that the Arabs might 'kidnap us to their villages,' yet feel that they must continue with the men who provide them with food and money. Yad B'Yad attempts to educate and provide these girls with resources in order to eliminate their dependence.
Ultimately, Yad B'Yad is 'looking to create a village of 50 houses with the aim to strengthen the girls' Jewish identity and minds and give them the skills to develop themselves. We have the goal to meet the needs of these girls, train them with a skill, and help them finish school,' says Yad B'Yad staff member Tehila David.
However, the expenses overwhelm the young organization. To maintain a group home for 18 girls would cost $200,000 per year. Recently, the Ministry of Welfare agreed to match any funds raised by Yad B'Yad. Schwartz travels throughout the United States and Israel in order to raise funding and awareness.
'The word must get out, first to the Anglo community. The American people must be aware that this is a very serious problem that must be addressed,' says Schwartz.
In the middle of her interview, Dina asked, 'I want to know if I am wasting my time sitting here and telling you my story or are you going to help us?'
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list