When Dalal Daoud left the gates of the Neveh Tirtza women’s prison on Thursday morning after 18 years behind bars, Simona Mori wondered when her day would come.
For 22 years, she has been in prison for her involvement in the death of her abusive husband, going through all the stages of rehabilitation – but the state opposes her release because she bought a friend a telephone card to use in jail. In April, the Israel Prison Service removed Mori from the rehabilitation program, and the parole board postponed the hearing on her release until she is put back in it. All her explanations fell on deaf ears, and on Wednesday the board set a follow-up hearing that will only be held in September.
Next month, the parole board will discuss the case of Nasreen Masarwah, who has served 17 years for soliciting the murder of her abusive husband. Those involved in her treatment have recommended that Masarwah be released. Erica Frishkin, who has been in prison for 16 years for murdering her abusive husband, submitted a pardon request to President Reuven Rivlin a year ago, but has yet to receive an answer.
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Daoud’s release has given these three women hope that they too will have their sentences shortened after years of constant suffering.
They have a reason for their cautious optimism: Changes in the criminal code could well influence Rivlin’s or the parole board’s considerations. In January, the law was amended so that the criminal culpability of women convicted of killing an abusive spouse was reduced to a maximum of 15 years in prison instead of life imprisonment. The new law applies retroactively only to those who were sentenced to the lesser crime of homicide (according to Section 300 A of the criminal code), so it does not apply to Mori, Masarwah and Frishkin – but some legal officials believe that it still could apply to these women too.
The Public Defender’s Office, which represents Masarwah and Frishkin, has been encouraged by the recent events. “These stories are a tragic and painful phenomenon,” said Yoav Sapir, the chief national public defender. “We hope that the decision on Dalal’s release, along with the reform in the crime of homicide, which states that a woman who killed a family member because of continued abuse will be charged with homicide under circumstances of reduced culpability and not murder, will lead to a more appropriate policy of enforcement and punishment,” said Sapir.
Tamar Dahan, a social worker from the Tel Aviv University School of Social Work who researches women convicted in the deaths of their spouses, said: “Simona, Nasreen and Erica are not murderers. They defended themselves and their children from violent spouses after they turned to society, its representatives and institutions, shared their distress and did not receive a proper and appropriate answer.”
'The axe fell on her'
In November 2018, Mori began an individual rehabilitation program – the most advanced stage of rehabilitation in prison – and in April 2019 she reached the parole board more optimistic than ever, with the Domestic Violence Prevention Committee, in the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry and the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority both supporting her release. But during the hearing it turned out that a few days earlier, Mori, who worked outside the prison in a restaurant in Rishon Letzion as part of her rehabilitation, had bought a telephone card for a friend from work who was about to start a prison sentence.
Mori did not know this was forbidden, but nonetheless was punished severely and was not released on parole. Later it was decided at the hearing that she was to be removed from the individual rehabilitation track for two months, during which she would not receive any furloughs from prison. Today Mori is in a regular prison wing, without a rehabilitation plan, and it is not clear when she will be able to return to the program and the parole board.
“The axe fell on my client’s head, and she collapsed when she heard the severe punishment imposed on her,” Mori’s lawyer, retired judge Aryeh Sharabi, wrote to the prison commander. “The prison gates, which were supposed to open for Simona after 22 years of imprisonment, were suddenly slammed shut.”
Mori was sentenced to life in imprison for aiding in her husband’s killing in November 1996, along with her lover John Valencia, who is serving a life sentence like Mori. She met her husband when she was 15 and suffered from domestic violence for many years. “The deceased was an alcoholic throughout all the years and would treat her violently … we have no doubt that the defendant has spoken the truth and the full truth on everything concerning the descriptions of the violence and suffering that she received from the hands of the deceased,” wrote the judges in their ruling.
Mori gave Valencia a knife and he stabbed her husband 14 times while she was present. “Simona suffered greatly from the harsh violence of her deceased husband, and if she had been tried today according to the new amendment to the law, it seems her punishment would not have been more than 15 years,” Sharabi wrote.
The State Prosecutor’s Office, which opposed her release, said: “It is impossible to compare between the circumstances of carrying out the murder in the case of Simona Mori and that of Dalal Daoud. In Mori’s case, the court rejected the claim that she receive reduced culpability. The state’s position concerning her release will be made only after the receipt of the opinions of the treatment and rehabilitation authorities and will be based on those.”
Discontent in the Supreme Court
Nasreen Masarwah was sentenced to life for soliciting the murder of her husband, which was commuted by the president to 25 years. She is expected to appear before the parole board next month, after serving 17 years out of the 25. Masarwah been in the individual rehabilitation track wing of the prison for about half a year, leaving the prison to work every day. All the bodies responsible for her treatment say she is a model prisoner.
The Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority supports Masarwah’s release and is now preparing a rehabilitation program for her in a women’s hostel outside the prison. The Domestic Violence Prevention Committee and prosecution have not yet announced their stance on Masarwah’s parole but she hopes they too will support her. “We hope the state will extend its hand to Nasreen too and enable her to be released and continue in the rehabilitation process to rebuild her life,” said Anat Yaari, the attorney who is the head of prisoner affairs for the central district of the Public Defender’s Office, and Masarwah’s lawyer.
In November 2001, Haitam Masarwah was murdered by his brother. Nasreen was married to Haitam for 12 years and they had three children. His family had a history of violent incidents, which included physical attacks, emotional abuse, torching cars and death threats. These violent relations did not exclude Nasreen and her husband, and their relationship deteriorated over the years before his murder. Masarwah also suffered from mental health issues. In October 2000, when she was pregnant with her third child, she tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized a number of times with severe depression.
At the same time, Nasreen and Assad, Haitam’s brother, began a romantic relationship. A week and a half before the murder, Nasreen left her home and moved to her parents’ house. The physical separation form Nasreen was very stressful for Assad and even made his violent behavior toward his family worse. He stopped working, intimidated his relatives and even threatened to murder them a number of times while waving a knife at them.
Assad told a friend of his, Jihad, of his intentions to murder his brother. His friend provided him with a pistol and showed him how to use it. The next day, when Haitam drove from his home in Taibeh in central Israel to the nearby city of Tira, Assad and Jihad followed him. They signaled to him to stop his car. Assad got out of the car, went over to his brother’s car and shot him six times from a short distance – killing him on the spot.
The original indictment accused Assad and Jihad of murder, but did not include any charges against Nasreen. During the trial it came out that the day before the murder, she tried to convince Assad not to commit the crime. Nasreen was not charged as an active participant. Throughout all the legal proceedings, the public defenders claimed that the acts attributed to Nasreen never reached the level of attempted murder – but the courts rejected this claim. Nasreen admitted in the district court that she and Assad had an intimate relationship and she even thought of running away with him, partly because of her husband’s abuse, but said she prevented him from killing Haitam on a number of occasions. Nonetheless, no one disputed that she did not go to the authorities to prevent the murder.
The district court convicted Nasreen of soliciting the murder and of attempted murder, sentencing her to 16 years in prison. After the prosecution appealed the verdict, the Supreme Court ruled that the sentence for solicitation of a murder was life imprisonment and expressed its discontent from the specific case.
“I am of the opinion that the result in which Nasreen received the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment creates a feeling of discomfort, if not more than that, in light of the circumstance of the matter. Nonetheless, there is no avoiding this result,” wrote then-Supreme Court justice Asher Grunis. In 2011, Masarwah asked the president to commute her sentence to that of the district's court original sentence, and the president commuted it to 25 years.
I was murdered for seven years
Erica Frishkin murdered her husband in 2003 and has been serving a life sentence since. “I murdered, but he murdered me for seven years,” she told police investigators when she was confronted with the suspicions against her for the first time. Frishkin, 51, was born in Hungary, growing up with an alcoholic father. From the age of six to 14, she suffered from continued sexual abuse by two security guards at a factory near her parents’ home, as well as by two other men. Frishkin also suffered from violence from her mother.
At 14, she tried to commit suicide for the first time, going on to live on the streets and entering an institution for girls, where she once again tried to commit suicide. Later, Frishkin developed a romantic relationship with an employee at the institution and married him before she turned 18. She gave birth to her oldest son a year later, who soon fell ill with cancer. Frishkin and her family immigrated to Israel for medical treatment – but her son died when he was three. After his death, Frishkin tried to commit suicide for a third time and then divorced her husband.
While she was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital, she met her next husband, who she would eventually kill. Their relationship continued after they were released from the hospital and the two moved into Frishkin’s mother’s home together. In 1988, their daughter was born. Frishkin’s husband often beat her, in addition to subjecting her to psychological and sexual abuse. In August 2003, a few days after being attacked by her husband, an argument broke out between the two while they were at the beach. The argument lasted for hours, during which Frishkin stabbed her husband several times with a skewer and knives. Finally, Frishkin allowed a friend to call an ambulance and left. It was the next day, when the police arrested her, that she discovered that her husband had bled to death. A year later she was convicted of murder and other crimes, and sentenced to life in prison. In 2010, the president commuted her sentence to 30 years.
In July 2018, her lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office, Michal Pomerantz, submitted a request for a pardon by Rivlin, which is still being considered. “Erica asks to rehabilitate the relationship with her daughter Nicole [now 20] in a proper and healthy manner, outside the walls of the prison,” Pomerantz wrote to Rivlin. “Nicole deserves to have a free and accessible mother who can give her warmth and love along with motherly support, even if she is a young adult, and all the more so after 15 years in which a proper parenting experience was taken from her for no fault of her own.”
The President’s Residence said the request was sent to the Justice Ministry for a legal opinion and “this opinion has not yet been received. After the relevant materials are received, the president will make a decision.”
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