Dina and her children stand by the rescue car on the Israeli side of the border
Dina is welcomed by S., the Yad L'Achim social worker who talked her through the rescue
boy in car
One of the children enters the car for the trip to the family's "safe house."
The children are interviewed by Channel 2 news just moments after arriving in Israel
photo credits: Yaakov Lederman
and Moshe Holtzman
She was born 48 years ago to a traditional Jewish family in Lod, a poor city near Tel Aviv where Jews and Arabs mix easily. Severe emotional distress led her to sever ties with her family and, at the age of 20, to make a hasty decision that condemned her to a life of severe abuse and unbearable suffering.
For the past 25 years, Dina bat Leah lived in an Arab village on the outskirts of Tulkarm, a Palestinian city located in northern Samaria. In Israel, she was listed as "missing." At one point, her parents were summoned to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to identify what was believed to be her body. They were of course unable to do so and the mystery surrounding their daughter's whereabouts continued.
Three weeks ago, in a stunning development, Dina contacted a relative in Israel. It was the first sign of life from her in 25 years. The relative called Yad L'Achim's hotline and provided operators with Dina's phone number and whatever information she had gleaned from her conversation with her.
Yad L'Achim wasted no time in setting up a team to plan her rescue. The sense of urgency, and emotion, was particularly strong in light of this poor woman's name: Dina bat Leah, whose biblical namesake had been held captive by Arabs in Shechem (Nablus), and who was ultimately rescued by her two brothers Shimon and Levi.
The team gathered evidence that shook even veteran social workers who had seen it all. Dina was being subjected to horrific abuse, to the point where, recently, her husband tied her to a tree for 13 hours, during which he forbade anyone from offering her even a glass of water.
"Everyone should see what will happen to you if you dare leave again without permission," he spat at her.
Yad L'Achim succeeded in contacting her directly, and heard a desperate plea help. "I can't take it anymore," she cried. "Please rescue me from this place. I beg of you: Return me to my people."
Yad L'Achim completed its rescue plan for Dina and her two young children, an eight-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter. Her older children would have to remain behind, for now. Contact was made with a senior official in the office of the IDF's Coordinator of Government Activities in Yehudah and Shomron, who agreed to issue Dina and her children a special visa to enter Israel. Soldiers at the border crossing were given instructions to open the gates to the rescue car.
The opportunity for rescue came this week, on Monday morning. The night before, Dina received a valuable gift from her Arab husband: NIS 12, to be used to take with her two children by cab to Tulkarm for a doctor's visit (Yad L'Achim had instructed her to use the doctor visit as a pretext for leaving).
Acting according to the plan drawn up by Yad L'Achim, Dina boarded the cab with her children and left the village. Two minutes later, long before she reached Tulkarm, she ordered the cab to stop and got out. After he drove away, she boarded a rescue car driven by a "collaborator" that was waiting for her on the side of the road. The car sped off toward the border crossing, for a trip that seemed to take an eternity.
In keeping with a tradition begun by Yad L'Achim's legendary founder, Hagaon Harav Shalom Dovber Lifschitz, zt"l, the moment Dina called to say she was in the rescue car, all of Yad L'Achim activists stopped what they were doing to recite Tehillim on behalf of Dina bat Leah and her two children, who were in desperate need of a yeshuah (salvation).
When the call came from the soldiers at the border crossing – "We see her with the children!" – a weight was lifted from the shoulders of those manning the command room at Yad L'Achim.
After the car crossed into Israel and came to a stop, Dina emerged with her children. She burst into tears at the realization that her nightmare of 25 years was finally over. She and her children were home and could begin the journey back to their people.
They were welcomed at the checkpoint by social workers from Yad L'Achim, headed by S, who was Dina's liaison in the weeks prior to the rescue. The two maintained ties under the nose of the hostile Arab husband.
Dina related that during their drive in the rescue car, when she revealed to her children that they were on a one-way trip to Israel, the children, who had themselves suffered from their father's abuse, shouted in excitement: "Promise us that we won't ever go back there!"
At the checkpoint, while they sipped from glasses of cold water and calmed down from their stress of recent weeks, Dina removed her jalabiya and scarf and asked a Yad L'Achim staffer to "thrown it in the garbage."
In that moment, she shed her Arab dress and took on the appearance of a Jewish woman taking her first steps back to her people and birthplace. There wasn't a dry eye at the checkpoint; even hardened soldiers cried unashamedly.
Dina was taken to the police to file a complaint against her abusive Arab husband. The Israel Police sent the information to the Tulkarm Police, not in the expectation that the Palestinian police would act on it, but because an official report would make it possible for them to arrest him if he infiltrated into Israel in pursuit of his wife and children.
Dina and her children are now living in a safe house in the center of Israel. "Our professionals have a long way to go before Dina bat Leah and her children are on the road to success," a Yad L'Achim official said this week. "Meanwhile, we are giving them lots of love and providing them with everything they need to live. We're helping them make their way back to Am Yisrael gradually."
Yad L'Achim hailed the efforts of Interior Minister Rabbi Eli Yishai who got involved and cut through the bureaucracy to help facilitate the rescue.
"This week's emotional rescue is a reminder that there are thousands of Jewish girls who are at this very moment being held captive in Arab villages and who are desperate to be rescued," said one Yad L'Achim official. "We will continue to use all the tools at our disposal to redeem them. At the same time, we will continue with our PR campaign to educate the public and uproot the phenomenon."