Israel Police Keep Woman in Prison Due to Threats on Her Life From Victim's Family

A., who aided her abusive husband in committing a murder in 2012, is still behind bars despite rehabilitation and serving two-thirds of sentence; police say she shouldn't be released yet because victim’s family say tensions haven’t cooled

Inmates at Israel's women's prison, Neveh Tirza, in Ramle. (Illustrative)
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

The Israel Police are opposing the release of a female prisoner due to alleged threats on her life outside of prison.

The prisoner has undergone rehabilitation and the Israel Prison Service recommended that she be released, but Lod District Court recently cited the police’s opposition as one reason for turning down her petition for release.

The woman, A., was convicted of aiding her abusive husband in the 2012 murder of a convenience store owner to whom they were in debt. The court found she acted out of emotional weakness and fearfulness of her husband, and sentenced her to six years in jail.

The victim’s family says that, if released, her life would be in danger because “tensions have not cooled.” The prisoner’s lawyer, Abeer Baker of the Public Defender’s Office, argued that a “prisoner’s early release cannot be blocked solely because of behavior that has nothing to do with him or her.”

The case will now be heard in the Supreme Court.

The police declined to comment when asked why they cannot protect A. outside of prison, why they are not taking action against those who are threatening her life and whether they would take the same position in other cases.

A., a 32-year-old mother of three from northern Israel, met her husband at age 14. Throughout their relationship he abused her emotionally, sexually and physically.

In 2012, the couple got into financial difficulty and ran up a large debt at the nearby convenience store. A. worked in the store for a month to help pay off the debt, but it kept growing. When it reached 2,400 shekels ($670), the shopkeeper would no longer sell to the couple. In July 2012, the shopkeeper came to their home and A.’s husband beat, stabbed and choked him to death. A. helped her husband put the shopkeeper’s body in the trunk of their car, and the husband buried it in the nearby woods.

In late 2016, after serving two-thirds of her sentence, the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority recommended that she be released. However, the parole board turned down the request.

The initial explanation was that A. had not become sufficiently assertive and could possibly be pressured to participate in criminal activity again.

A. appealed the decision in Lod District Court, where she encountered further opposition for a different reason. The police told the court it opposed A.’s release due to threats on her life – even though when she had been on furloughs in previous years there had been no attempts to hurt her. However, the father of the murdered shopkeeper filed a document with the court saying that since “tensions have not cooled between the families,” the woman would be in serious danger.

In April, the court turned down the release request, citing, among other things, the victim’s family’s argument about the potential danger to the prisoner if she were released.

Baker filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on A.’s behalf earlier this month.

At the heart of the matter is whether a prisoner’s early release may be prevented when there is information that the person’s life would be in danger. “This is clearly a question that could be relevant to many other prisoners, with the key to their early release being left in the hands of none other than those who wish to hurt them,” wrote Baker.

Another issue raised by A.’s appeal is how much weight to give to a child’s best interests in parole board hearings when a prisoner had to stop raising her children due to her incarceration.

A.’s 4-year-old daughter was born when the trial was underway in 2013. The child was raised by A. in prison until age 2 and then transferred to live with A.’s parents. The girl has since been diagnosed as autistic with severe developmental delays.

“Early release is the only way open to minimize the damage caused to the children of incarcerated mothers,” added Baker. “Being by her children’s side also aids in her rehabilitation, given the serious damage caused to [A.] as a result of being separated from her children.”

The Israel Police said their position is based on “professional and objective considerations, after analysis and examination of all available information.”

They added that they will not elaborate on this particular case for privacy reasons.

The State Prosecutor’s Office said “after the judges reviewed the latest material, they ruled that the prisoner must undergo further rehabilitation.”

The office added that while being aware of the police position regarding the potential harm that could come to the prisoner if she was released, that was not the main reason for the decision not to free her.

The Israel Women’s Network NGO called the decision “scandalous,” saying that “leaving a rehabilitated inmate in prison just because there were threats to her life shows how feeble the state is when it comes to defending the bodies and lives of women.

“This is a scandalous solution to the gender-based terror many women suffer,” the NGO added. “It’s time that the state take serious steps toward helping women who are under threat by properly training policemen and policewomen, enforcing restraining orders, expanding and adapting municipal welfare departments and, above all, making sure that the criminals are imprisoned and not the victims.”