Sun, Jul 19, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Mother accused of starving her child released by court

THE GUARDIAN , TEL AVIV, ISRAEL

Calm was expected to return to the streets of Jerusalem yesterday after a court decision attempted to defuse clashes between police and ultra-Orthodox protesters.

Violent riots racked the city last week as thousands of ultra-胝rthodox ?or Haredi ?residents protested against the arrest of a woman accused of nearly starving her three-year-old son to death.

Jerusalem courts released the woman to house arrest.

The violence escalated last week, with 50 arrests and 18 police injuries on Thursday night as protesters threw bottles and rocks at police, who responded with water-cannons.

Extreme sections of Jerusalem? ultra-Orthodox community were angered by police intervention in the case of a Haredi woman suspected of starving her son over a period of two years.

The toddler was hospitalized last week, weighing 7kg. His mother is thought to be suffering from the psychiatric condition Munchausen? syndrome by proxy, whereby individuals attempt to draw attention to themselves by deliberately making someone else ill, typically a child.

But rumors over religious persecution have reportedly raged through Haredi neighborhoods and one rabbi described the case as a blood libel.

A Jerusalem Post editorial last week said that such rumors include claims that the emaciated toddler had cancer and that doctors were conducting experiments on the child. The article slates these as the ?onspiracy theories?of extremists and religious fanatics and reports that the doctor treating the child confirms that he does not have cancer and has gained weight in hospital

The woman, who is five months pregnant and has two other children, will now undergo psychiatric evaluation by a professional approved by social services and the Haredi community.

David Zilbershlag, media representative for the accused, said: ?he best outcome of the court? decision is that it has restored some faith in the system amongst the Orthodox community.?br />

Members of this community say the Haredi mother? imprisonment shattered the trust and good relations that had developed with social services, previously viewed with hatred and suspicion by a deeply insular, 赴ltra-conservative sector with rigid codes of conduct.

The Haredi custom of raising large families and abstaining from work on religious grounds results in high levels of poverty, and regularly attracts stigmatization and accusations of child neglect. Last summer, Israeli media reported that a four-year-old Haredi child was abandoned at Ben Gurion airport while her eight-member family boarded a flight to Paris.

?he stress is immense in those families where there is no money, no work and lots of children,?said professor Tamar El-Or, who lectures in sociology and anthropology at Jerusalem? Hebrew university. ?ragile people, like this woman, can collapse. But in this immense effort to protect the community and its ideological beliefs, a story is created about children being kidnapped ... and the religious leadership does not take any responsibility for thinking of solutions.

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