Israelis Protest Femicide After Uptick in Violence Against Women During Coronavirus Lockdown

Five women were murdered over a seven-week period since the government imposed a lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus

Lee Yaron
Bar Peleg
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A woman stands face-to-face with a policeman at a protest against femicide, Tel Aviv, May 6, 2020
A woman stands face-to-face with a policeman at a protest against femicide, Tel Aviv, May 6, 2020Credit: Meged Gozani
Lee Yaron
Bar Peleg

Protesters gathered in cities around Israel to rally against femicide and domestic violence after the Social Services Ministry announced that five women had been killed in domestic violence related incidents during the coronavirus lockdown. 

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Dozens gathered in Bat Yam, where a woman was murdered on Monday, along with dozens in Haifa. Additional protests are being held in Be’er Sheva, Herzliya, Holon, Jerusalem, Lod, Mateh Yehuda, Kiryat Shmona, Rishon Letzion, Rehovot, Ra’anana, and Tel Aviv.

Women carried signs in Hebrew with the slogan "We will not be silent," along with death notices with the names of the five female murder victims. The death notices included a caption reading: "The funeral will take place every day until the State of Israel takes responsibility and stops the violence."

Feminist organizer Anat Nir said: "We are taking to the streets over the murder of five women in seven weeks, but that's just the tip of the phenomenon. We are the invisible victims of the coronavirus. The exit from the coronavirus crisis is being managed on the backs and over the heads of women. We constitute most of those who have been laid off. We bear the burden of taking care of children and the sick. We are the social workers and teachers, and staff most of the nursing and [medical] treatment positions."

"Most of the National Security Council doesn't include appropriate or varied representation of women in its decision-making. The women who have paid with their blood are the most violent and terrible expression of all of the policy of discrimination and oppression and today we are presenting the government with the bill. [It will not be] on our blood, from our salaries, at the expense of our representation," Nir said. "We are demanding solutions and a place at the table where the decisions are made."

People protests against femicide, Tel Aviv, May 6, 2020
People protests against femicide, Tel Aviv, May 6, 2020Credit: Meged Gozani

Five women were murdered over a seven-week period since the government imposed a lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. Another two committed suicide after being subjected to gender-based violenceHotlines and women's shelters throughout Israel are reporting an uptick in reports and difficulty providing a solution for women suffering from domestic violence. 

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“We have turned to the prime minister, public security minister and Social Affairs Ministry, to the local leadership in Arab society and all Knesset members,” Naila Awad, the director of the Women Against Violence organization, said. “We are in a pressure cooker that will soon explode. Israel is neglecting women and continues to put them on the margins in every area without batting an eyelid.”

A statement from two of the groups that organized Wednesday's protest said: “This is the time to come out with a clear call to open shelters for violent men so they can't terrorize the women in their lives. If it is possible to pass a law to lock up people with coronavirus in just one day, it is also possible to find an immediate solution for violent men, who have become one of the most serious side effects of the crisis. We demand a proper response to the victims who complain; we are fighting for our lives and we will not allow anyone to look the other way.”

People protest violence against women, in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2020.
People protest violence against women, in Tel Aviv, May 6, 2020.Credit: Ilan Gritsevsky

“Just this week, two more cases of murder were carried out by men who served prison sentences for domestic violence," Another group involved in the protests noted. "It's there are always more burning issues to deal with than the equality and personal safety of women. We are over half the population and demand to get an equal place in the nation's priorities." 

"We call on the public – come out into the streets and demand that the police and the Israeli government take responsibility and address this terrible phenomenon. We must act immediately,” the group added.

Activist Samah Salaime, founder and director of an organization for Arab women in central Israel, was among the organizers of the protest in Lod. It was obvious from the beginning of the lockdown that abused women were being put in danger, she said, noting that three of the five murdered women were Arab. “And instead of admitting to the negligence, the government ministries and the so-called National Security Council had the nerve and ignorance to completely ignore – as though we live in the 17th century  –  the basic request for representation of women in the illustrious, high-testosterone [government coronavirus] committee – which turned out to be an ineffective treatment for the coronavirus, but rather the opposite.”

Saleime said officials were making decisions “riddled with stupidity, personal interests, and disconnected from the reality on the ground, as well as a lack of sensitivity or creativity. And instead of saying, ‘come do your part as experts in every field, we were sent an insulting response [that amounted to] ‘sit and write it down and we’ll consider answering you.'" She added that she had issued a guide for what must be done for at-risk women and families during the lockdown, but that it was completely ignored. “And we lost five souls. Five families have been destroyed.”

In Bat Yam, the protesters gathered near the home of a woman found stabbed to death after her partner, who had been previously convicted for domestic violence, called police. Her partner was found next to the woman's body, and appeared drunk when police arrived. “We are being abandoned here, and the police aren’t helping and the funding [to combat the violence] isn’t helping,” said one demonstrator. “And it’s time to also think about an exit strategy for this crisis we have always been in. A strategy to come out alive … because five women have already been murdered since the coronavirus crisis [began], ten women have been murdered this year, and 20 women are murdered by men close to them every year in Israel.”

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