Israeli tourists visiting Thailand last summer were surprised when a 12-year-old boy dressed in a saffron Buddhist robe approached them and began speaking fluent Hebrew. The boy, a two-time cancer survivor, was sent by his parents to a monastery in northern Thailand for healing purposes. He’s been living there on his own, though with occasional visits from his parents.
Channel 2 News on Tuesday night broadcast the video the tourists filmed of the boy, prompting Israeli welfare services to step in to try to bring him home.
This story is raising questions about the role of parents versus the role of the state and who can make the best medical and welfare decisions for a child.
The regional social worker visited the parents on Wednesday and asked them to return the child to Israel of their own volition. The Foreign Ministry has also launched an inquiry. According to Channel 2, the divorced parents, who are themselves practicing Buddhists, have refused, leaving authorities with the dilemma if to take the parents to court.
According to Channel 2, the boy was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer when he was three and received conventional medical treatment including a bone-marrow transplant after a recurrence of the disease two years ago.
The parents believe the medical treatment was unsuccessful, though the unnamed hospital told Channel 2 that the transplant saved the boy’s life.
The boy’s parents say they decided to send their son to Thailand, because they believe the spiritual leader there has unique therapeutic powers that have kept their son cancer-free for the past two years. This, after years of living in and out of the pediatric oncology ward.
The mother of the child – who has not been identified since he’s a minor – told Channel 2 in a telephone interview that before criticizing her, viewers and Israeli authorities should understand the immense challenge of childhood cancer.
She said that since he moved to Thailand, her son’s blood tests have improved. “There’s an enlightened man in the monastery, and he is keeping the boy alive,” she said.
“Those who didn’t live in the Oncology Ward for four years, who didn’t see the children who don’t come out, the children twisted from treatment, all the suffering, have no right to judge me when my child is healthy and I’m not willing to take the risk that he’ll live in wonderful Israel and come back to the ward,” she added.
In an Army Radio interview, she responded again to the public backlash she’s facing: “The only ones who can understand me are bereaved parents. This is a traumatic experience, I do not wish it upon anybody,” she said.
Though the tourists insist the boy wants to go home, on the tape he can be heard saying, “I told everyone already, it’s fine, I’m used to it.”
Asked about the tourists’ impression that her son wants to move back to Israel, she said: “When he’s 18 he’ll decide what he wants to do.”
“In the hospital he said he wanted to go home too. As long as they tell him there [at the monastery] that he should stay, he’ll stay,” she added.
Director of the National Council for Child Welfare Dr. Yitzhak Kedman calls the case “extremely severe” and “urgent.” His group is pressing the government to take action to bring the boy back. He called it “unacceptable” that a child should be living on his own in a monastery thousands of miles from him home where he does not even speak the language.
“A child is not the property of his parents in the sense that he can do whatever he wants with him. The child is also a person and one must take into account his opinion, his safety, and his welfare, and that requires all of the authorities to join in a combined action to return him,” Kedman said.
The boy’s mother said “It’s also the boy’s desire to eat chocolate and to play on the computer… but that’s what parents are for, to make the difficult decisions.”
“My boy has been healthy for a year, my boy is learning, my boy is growing, my boy will be a wonderful man and he’ll be alive,” she said.
Looking for another perspective on the parents vs. state debate, TheBlaze spoke to Boaz Arad, who founded Israel’s Freedom Movement, a group that has partnered for events with the American Tea Party.
“The head of the National Council for Child Welfare is correct when he says the boy is not the parents’ property. But it’s important to remember and remind that [the child] is also not the property of the state. The role of the state begins and ends with defending the natural rights of the boy,” Arad said.
Arad said that – without referring to the specific case about which he does not have direct information – he believes that “the first role of the state is to defend the rights of its citizens. If it happens that parents harm this right, even if toward their biological child, there is room for the state to get involved and to help save him.”
“This is not because his parents don’t have more authority over the child in usual circumstances, rather because … in basic human rights the role of the state is to get involved and to stop violence and harm from [impacting] its citizens,” Arad added.
There’s also a religious dimension to the story. Channel 2 spoke to the Jewish Chabad emissary in Bangkok Rabbi Nechemya Wilhelm who is inquring about meeting the child. He says, “I think that the place for a Jewish child is not a Buddhist monastery in Thailand. “From what the tourists filmed, the boy wants to be with his parents and I think that’s the basic right due to every child.”