Missing Jewish woman crossed line into Arab world

Sima Mizyed crossed a line few Israelis ever do. She left her Jewish family, converted to Islam, married an Arab, and moved to eastern Jerusalem.

That itself is not unique. Several hundred Israeli Jews are known to have married Arab men. They lead quiet lives out of the spotlight. But not Sima Mizyed.

Thirteen years after marrying Wahil Mizyed, Sima Mizyed tried to recross the line to her former life. She packed up her five children last year and moved back to west Jerusalem. She initiated divorce proceedings, took out a restraining order against her husband, and "reconverted" to Judaism.

In April, the day after the restraining order expired, Sima Mizyed disappeared. This summer her husband and his younger brother were arrested related to Sima's disappearance, though her body has yet to be found. They have not been charged.

Still to be settled are the wildly conflicting versions of the couple's life, a custody battle between the two families over the fate of the couple's five children, and the question of whether a murder was committed.

Sima Mizyed, 30, is the oldest of seven children born to Moroccan immigrants. Her parents divorced when she was very young. She was placed in a foster home and her siblings were sent to welfare institutions.

At age 15, Sima left her foster family and started working. It was on her first job at the Kolbotek department store that she met 21-year-old Wahil Mizyed.

About a year after they started dating, she became pregnant.

He is the third of nine children born to what he calls a "modern Muslim" family in eastern Jerusalem. Until his arrest, the 35-year-old was a chef and head of the kitchen at the Little Italy restaurant in Jerusalem.

"I always had Jewish girlfriends," Wahil says. "But I never thought I would marry a Jewish girl. When I found out Sima was pregnant, I took the responsibility on myself to marry her."

The Mizyed family was happy about the marriage — especially when she decided to convert to Islam.

"We love her very much," says 40-year-old Ziad Mizyed, Wahi's eldest brother. "She is family."

The marriage stumbled along for almost a decade. Sima's mother, Annette Hamu, says that about four years ago, her daughter — then a mother of four — called to plead with her.

"Sima told me that he was beating her," Hamu says. "She called and said, `Only a mother can help her daughter. I have no one to turn to.' So we met, and she told me she was going to get a divorce. I told her to come live in the western section of Jerusalem."

But Sima returned to her husband and did not move forward with her plans when she discovered she was pregnant with her fifth child.

Her husband denies any charges of violence.

The first time Sima left her home and her children was in April 1997, a year before she disappeared. She stayed at the house of a friend for 40 days.

Three months after she returned, Sima left again. She filed for divorce in the Sharia — the Islamic courts that serve the Arab sector. But before the divorce went through, Sima returned home. That was in November 1997.

Sima Mizyed never said where she had gone the second time. Her husband's family and neighbors charge that she was having an affair.

In December 1997, Sima took the children and moved into an apartment in western Jerusalem.

She wanted to return to Judaism, and raise her children — who spoke Arabic and were raised as Moslems — as Jewish. She started going to the mikveh and began conversion proceedings for her children. They were Jewish according to halachah (Jewish law) but not listed as such on their identity cards.

A child custody battle began. The Sharia court granted Wahil Mizyed and his mother custody; the Jerusalem Family Court gave the children to Sima Mizyed. The case went to the High Court of Justice.

On Jan. 3, Jerusalem police granted Sima a restraining order that forbade her husband from contacting or visiting her for three months.

On Friday, April 3, Sima told her sister and mother that she was going to renew the order on Sunday.

On Saturday, April 4, Sima received a phone call. She spoke quietly, her oldest son says. Taking only her purse, she told him she would be gone for an hour.

This summer, police arrested Marwan Mizyed and Wahil Mizyed on suspicion of Sima's disappearance.

Evidence showed their alibi for April 4 was not accurate. According to traces on their mobile phones, the brothers were in the Givon Forest, located between Givat Ze'ev and the Arab village of Bidu.

This summer, hundreds of security forces began searching the forest.

Menahem Blum, the Mizyeds' lawyer, has argued that police have no evidence. Without a corpse, he says, police don't even know there was a homicide. Sima might have voluntarily left her home and run away.

In the meantime, police continue their search.