What happens when a 13-year-old Jewish girl in Belgium is savagely attacked by five of her Moroccan Muslim schoolmates? Police try to keep it quiet, while school administrators and politicians turn a blind eye. This is rest of the story about Oceane Sluijzer, the victim, that most of the media tried to bury.
YNET NEWS Her blue eyes still look empty, her blond hair hides the heavy strokes she received. For 10 days, 13-year-old Oceane Sluijzer didn’t leave her house, terrified to go out. The fear to walk on the street on her own still paralyzes her, ever since that Friday, about two weeks ago, when five girls of Muslim descent, her schoolmates, humiliated her in public and assaulted her.
“Dirty Jew – go to your country,” they told her, grabbing her hair and slamming her head against their knees and beating her. Then they just left her there, at the sports center, not far from the school, while those who witnessed the incident quickly ran away. Yet this information was not to be found in the press and news sites.
It seems that in Belgium of 2011, complete disregard is apparently the way Belgian law authorities, government and educational systems respond to anti-Semitic attacks on children. “The police suggested that I keep quiet about the incident. They asked me, ‘Don’t say that it’s anti-Semitism,'” Oceane reveals. “They even suggested that I avoid going to the hospital.”
According to her father, Dan, “The police said they would collect the five girls’ testimonies and settle for that. If they attack her again in the future, they promised to act differently. The police wanted to bury this affair as soon as possible.” The educational system’s response was similar. Oceane returned home that day and didn’t leave her house for the next 10 days, but no one at the school even bothered to check on her. Her schoolmates disappeared too.
“A week later, the principal called” the father says. “He said he had decided to suspend the girls’ leader. I informed him that my daughter would not be returning to a school which is incapable of protecting her.
In her first interview, a day after she agreed to leave her house following the incident, Oceane reenacts the trauma. “I’m over the hemorrhages and physical pain,” she says, “but mentally I feel hurt.” She finds it difficult to look up when she speaks, her head is bent down, her voice is faint. Her father says his daughter has changed. “Suddenly I can’t touch her,” he notes. “A pat on the shoulder and she flinches. I’m very concerned.”
Oceane describes what happened. “”At the soccer center, where we play, the abuse was nothing new. Muslim girls of Moroccan descent used to regularly address her with exclamations of contempt. Usually I do not respond but that day I just had enough.” She mustered the courage and answered: “The fact that I’m not Moroccan doesn’t give you permission not to respect me,” she told the girls. “They began cursing and insulting me.” Oceane didn’t break down: “I don’t want to keep quiet. I live in my country.” Her comment cost her two hits in the face. “It was an act of provocation and they wanted me to hit them back. I was gripped with fear and realized I must walk away.”
But the girls wouldn’t let her go. “They followed me and began assaulting me. The attack lasted five minutes, which seemed eternal. A friend of mine of Indian descent was the only one who intervened. She tried to protect me. She prevented a disaster. Their hatred would have left me bleeding on the grass without anyone there to help me.”
“We’re Arab. We don’t want you to be part of our group,” they used to tell her. “The Muslim girls created a balance of fear threatening everyone. I got used to not having the Belgian girls defend me, because I knew they were scared too.”
Tensions mounted at the school every day. “I got used to being called a dirty Jew. It wasn’t unusual, although I was burning up inside.” Her father, whose grandfather was murdered in the Holocaust, says that “last year I already went to the school and warned the principal that there is a problem of anti-Semitism here, but he said they were just children and that I mustn’t make generalizations. I was concerned by the fact that my daughter and her older sister are the only Jewish girls in the school.”
She wasn’t raised in a religious home, and her identity as a Jew never bothered her or was part of her life. “Until now I was never afraid to say that I’m Jewish, but it’s different now,” she says. “The indifference is proving itself in Belgium again,” says Dan. Indeed, the fact that the incident was not reported in Belgium and that elected representatives had nothing to say about it points to the problematic situation in the country.
A visit to the school in Brussels’ Laeken neighborhood supports this feeling. Rochelle, Ali, Antoine and Orly – Oceane’s classmates – stand at the entrance. “Do you know why Oceane was attacked?” I ask them, and Orly responds: “Yes, she was attacked because her father is Jewish.“
“We don’t know what happened there, if Oceane teased them or not,” says Rochelle, without rushing to point a finger at anyone although Orly explained the situation to her. None of the teachers or educators discussed the incident with them. The principal sent me to Madame Fauzia Harisha, the Muslim woman in charge of the education portfolio at the Brussels City Hall, who did nothing.