The children, a girl and a boy, were 6 and 2 years old respectively at the date of the alleged wrongful retention. They had lived in Israel all their lives. The parents were married and had joint rights of custody.
In the summer of 1998, the mother left Israel with the two children for a vacation in Switzerland. She also intended to find temporary work there. They were scheduled to return to Israel on 11 August 1998. The father had agreed to this extended visit to Switzerland.
While in Switzerland the mother decided to remain there permanently with the children. In July 1998 the mother issued separation proceedings and sought full parental authority over the children in an Israeli court. The father did the same.
On 8 August the father went to Switzerland to try and take the children back to Israel, but the mother objected. On 20 August the mother commenced divorce proceedings in Switzerland.
On 23 September the father filed a return request in a Family Court in Geneva. The request was accompanied by an Israeli judgment finding that both parents had the right to object to the children leaving Israel.
The court of first instance ordered that the children be returned. This decision was overturned by an appellate court. The appellate court held that allowing one parent to object to the children’s leaving Israeli territory was a constraint on the other’s free choice of residence, and was therefore contrary to Swiss public policy.
The father appealed this decision before the Swiss Supreme Court. On 29 March 1999 the Supreme Court overturned the appellate court’s decision, holding that the latter’s interpretation of Israeli law was erroneous. The case was remitted for further proceedings.
On 16 June 1999 the appellate court rejected the mother’s appeal and ordered the return of the children. The mother appealed to the Supreme Court.