September 11, 2003
Teen Feared Kidnapped in Israel
Danna Bennett finished her waitressing shift at a Tiberias restaurant at 1 a.m., caught a taxi to a designated stop less than one mile from her house, started walking home and has not been seen since.
The Aug. 1 disappearance of the 18-year-old Los Angeles native has her family fearing their daughter might have been kidnapped. Despite intensive searches involving more than 200 police officers and civilians, appeals in the Israeli media for knowledge of Danna Bennett's whereabouts, and a $50,000 reward for any information related to the disappearance, the Bennetts have not been able to uncover any clues about her disappearance.
Danna Bennett's disappearance came only a week after a U.S. yeshiva student, Eliezer Zusia Klockhoft, 19, from Brooklyn, went missing after visiting the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, another northern city. He, too, has not been found yet.
Unlike disappearances in the United States, which are often a case of runaways or kidnapping by criminals, disappearances in Israel are often feared to be a case of terrorism. Indeed, both Danna Bennett and Klockhoft disappeared just days after Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah broadcast a call to kidnap more Israelis. Moreover, since the July 27 broadcast, several Israelis in the north -- the site of Danna Bennett's and Klockhoft's last appearances -- reported kidnapping attempts at gunpoint from which they were able to escape, according to The Jerusalem Post.
But Danna Bennett's family is not giving up the search.
"The first two weeks I was part of search parties," said Raphael Bennett, her 20-year-old brother who lives in San Francisco. "There was a base camp where people gathered, and we went out everyday literally searching fields. But now there is nothing to do except support my family."
Nancy Newport, a close family friend of the Bennetts who lives in Carthay Circle, said that since there is no body and no clues, the family fears that an Arab man posing as a Jew seduced Danna Bennett and lured her into a neighboring village, such as Kfar Kana, to work as a domestic slave. This has happened to other young Jewish girls in Israel, some of whom managed to escape.
The family does not want to discuss details of the case, for fear it would jeopardize efforts to locate their daughter.
But Raphael Bennett did say that although the FBI had come to Israel to help investigate the disappearance, he did not think that the American government was doing enough to help find his sister.
"I believe that the Israeli government is probably doing what they can, and if the American government is doing anything, I think they can probably be doing a lot more," he said. "The FBI came, but they didn't contact me or my parents, and whether they know something or don't know something is what we are going to try and find out. But I think they need to be over in Israel doing whatever it takes to find some idea of what happened."
A representative for the FBI would not comment on Danna Bennett's disappearance or efforts to find her.
Danna Bennett was raised in the Fairfax area where she attended Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy, an Orthodox day school. When she was 14, her parent's divorced and Danna moved to Israel with her mother and attended high school at a kibbutz.
Prior to her disappearance, she had been working as a waitress at her uncle's restaurant on the Tiberias boardwalk during the day. On July 30, two days before she disappeared, she had taken a night job at another restaurant in Tiberias. She was planning on returning to the United States in October to live with her brother, work at the YMCA in El Cerrito and decide what she was going to do in college.
"My sister is a very responsible girl," Raphael Bennett said. "She liked hanging out with my grandmother, helping her cook and writing down her recipes."
Raphael Bennett said that his sister is religious, keeps Shabbat and prays every day, and hasn't gotten serious about boys yet.
He also noted that police in Israel have closed the investigation into his sister's disappearance.
"They spent lots of money and manpower and didn't get any leads, so there was nothing for them to really do," he said. "But that doesn't mean that the other authorities like Shabak aren't working on it," he added, referring to the General Security Services.
He also said that his father had hired private investigators, but would say no more.
In Los Angeles, a number of Danna Bennett's friends from elementary school are getting together to pray for her, and Etz Jacob principal, Rabbi Shlomo Harroush is helping to raise money for the $50,000 reward.
"She is a wonderful girl," Harosh said. "She was very involved, very active, and this is really sad."
Raphael Bennett said that his family was trying to hold up under the pressure.
"My dad is still trying to stay optimistic, and so is my mother, but it is definitely tough," he said. "Instead of getting easier every day, it just gets more difficult. Hope has become a very difficult thing."