Analysis

Criminal Neglect: The Israeli Government Is Complicit in the Murder of Arab Women

There are only two shelters for Arab women, lawmakers are dragging their feet, police are underperforming and above it all a cloud of racism hangs

Iman Ahmed Awad / Yara Ayoub / Samar Khatib

Just one week after an inspiring protest against domestic violence swept the country, culminating in a demonstration attended by 30,000 people, another woman had her throat slit in her own home.

This year has been especially deadly for Israeli women. The number of murdered women keeps rising, yet the Knesset’s response has been shameful. On the very day when a female Knesset member, Nava Boker, demonstrated her scorn for the status of women — and especially that of vulnerable girls — by giving an award to singer Eyal Golan, a 29-year-old woman from Acre, Iman Ahmed Awad, was murdered.

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Domestic violence and femicide have always been marginal issues in Israel’s public conversation; they have been neglected for years. Pictures of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara visiting a shelter for battered women and expressing sympathy for victims of domestic violence aren’t enough. Netanyahu’s media show, including his announcement that he would form and chair a ministerial committee to fight domestic violence, are nothing more than lip service, at least for now.

This murder could have been prevented. So we should ask the government, what did you do to prevent it?

Violence against women: Thirteen Arab women killed in Israel this year

About half of all Israeli women who were murdered over the past decade were Arab, as were around half of the female survivors of murder attempts. Fascist nationalists have recently been exploiting this grim statistic to intensify racism, shirk responsibility for the issue and downplay its dimensions. But above all, this fact is evidence of long-standing institutional racism — the state’s neglect of Arab women who suffer from domestic violence.

Over the past decade, there has been a notable rise in the number of police complaints filed by Arab women. But this merely makes the police’s negligence more obvious.

The police have too few Arabic-speaking investigators, and especially female ones; they tend to downplay the danger that complainants face; they don’t enforce restraining orders and too many murders go unsolved. All this sends the message that the police are only there for Jewish women; they aren’t responsible for Arab women’s safety.

On top of all this, the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services has discriminated against Arab women for years when it comes to the allocation of funds. There are only two shelters for Arab women — and none at all for Bedouin women — compared to 14 for Jewish women. There’s also a lack of alternatives for Arab women for whom shelters are inappropriate, such as women at high, prolonged risk, who can’t remain in shelters forever.

In addition, there’s a shortage of Arabic-speaking social workers, so the help given to both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic violence is often linguistically and culturally inappropriate.

Scene of suspected murder in Acre, December 11, 2018.
Rami Chelouche

According to a 2017 report by the Knesset Research and Information Center, about half of the Arab women who were murdered were known to local welfare agencies — a fact that underscores their abject failure to address the problem.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that the women who have been murdered this year also included immigrants from the former Soviet Union, African asylum seekers and native-born Israeli Jews.

Ending violence against women is a cornerstone of the battle for equality and social justice. First and foremost, the government must immediately implement an already approved plan to combat this problem. And until the necessary funding is approved, we should support the call for women to strike for 25 minutes every day.