JERUSALEM: The “heartbreaking” story of a 14-year-old boy imprisoned at home by his parents for years grabbed the headlines in Israel on Friday, eclipsing stories on the Middle East conflict.
Yediot Aharonot daily devoted most of its front page and all of page two to the story, under the headline: “The boy who nobody knew.”
Haaretz newspaper said the plight of the teenager, confined for at least the past eight years to a ground-floor flat barricaded with a washing machine and scrap metal, was revealed on Thursday when neighbours called environmental inspectors in the central Israeli town of Hadera to complain of a stench coming from the apartment.
It quoted city environmental chief Itzik Bozaglo as telling reporters at the scene that when he visited and nobody answered the door, he called the police.
After entering through a window they found the boy wearing clothes too small for him and with dishevelled hair.
“The boy’s appearance was heartbreaking,” Maariv newspaper wrote.
A neighbour, Chico Vakhnin, told Israeli army radio that he had seen the boy through a window looking “like a zombie in a horror film”.
“The home was really dilapidated, full of rubbish,” Bozaglo said, adding that the parents themselves also appeared neglected.
Photos showed a ramshackle building, with a dusty, fenced-in yard where the boy reportedly told police he was allowed to go for fresh air for half an hour twice a month accompanied by his parents, mostly at night.
Haaretz said the mother, 57, and the father, in his 60s, both came to Israel from Russia in the 1990s as part of a wave of post-Soviet immigration.
More than a million people of Jewish descent resettled from the former Soviet Union in Israel during that period.
A neighbour said the parents were Russian-speakers with very limited Hebrew.
Media reports said the boy was born with unnamed health defects and the parents, themselves suffering emotional problems, kept him at home because they feared for his welfare.
He had never been to school but had been under regular medical care, the mother reportedly said.
Public radio said he was taken to a local hospital for an examination and found to be in sound overall health.
Police said Friday that the parents were released on bail after questioning that led detectives to drop suspicions of physical abuse and instead to accuse of them of neglect.
In September, police uncovered two separate cases of Israeli Arab men suffering from mental illness chained up naked in remote Bedouin villages.
One told police he had been confined for around 15 years, the other for a year.
On the same day that the 14-year-old was discovered a one-year-old girl died after her mother forgot her in the family car for several hours in the Israeli settlement of Avnei Hefetz.
Such tragedies are not uncommon during Israel’s long, hot summers.