Eighty percent of Bedouin women who have reported violence at the hands of a relative say they accept it as a decree from God that they cannot change, a study shows.
The report, whose results will be debated Monday by the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, was compiled by Itach - Women Lawyers for Social Justice. It shows that 97 percent of Bedouin women have suffered some form of repeated violence by a relative. It adds that 85 percent have suffered physical violence, while 91 percent have been verbally abused and 24 percent sexually assaulted. Sixty percent said they did not know what a restraining order was.
The study also shows that 90 percent of Bedouin women had been abused in public. It states that 80 percent of the women feel they are to blame for the violence.
The report was based on the complaints of 400 Bedouin women who came to Itach's help center in 2011, as well as a representative sampling of 2,000 women who approached the center between 2006 and 2010.
Some two-thirds of the complainants said they had not told anyone about the violence and were afraid of involving the authorities in what was going on in their families. Sixty-four percent noted their dependence on their attacker, who was the sole source of their livelihood.
Of those women who said they had been sexually assaulted, only one woman who had fled her home and was in hiding would admit it was her husband who had assaulted her.
The report reveals a lack of awareness among Bedouin women as to their rights and the option of filing a complaint against a relative who attacks them.
The report was written by attorney Ainsaf Abusharb, director of Itach's Bedouin Women's Rights Center and attorney Keren Shemesh-Perlmutter, Itach's director.
"The violence against Arab Bedouin women in the south gets its legitimacy first and foremost from the community's social norms," the report says. "The phenomenon is closely linked to the cultural perception of a woman as weak and inferior, and later to the deep dependence she develops on the man who supports her, even as he is the source of violence against her.
"From childhood, the woman is regarded as an inferior object, subject to control by the man and is considered his property - whether we are speaking about her father, her brothers, or later, her husband," it adds.
The report's authors accused the authorities meant to protect these women of being dysfunctional. Abusharb added that, because the authorities fail to deal forcefully with the problems, "the women learn to suffer the violence against them and internalize it as being a necessary part of life.
"Very few women dare try to break this cycle of violence, especially when they don't have their immediate family's support," Abusharb added. "Women who break the silence pay a heavy price - they are forced to give up raising their children, and live a life of exile. Some of them are murdered."
The report's authors say that in 2009-2010 half of the incidents of violence against Bedouin women that were reported to police were closed for lack of evidence or "lack of public interest."
Earlier studies of domestic violence in the general Arab community have shown that one in three women complain of verbal or physical violence. Those, however, are the ones who broke the conspiracy of silence and asked for help.
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