A parole board decided on Wednesday to release a woman convicted of soliciting the murder of her abusive husband, who has already served 17 years of her 25-year sentence.
Nisreen Masarwah will be released from the Neveh Tirtza women’s prison next week and will move to a hostel run by the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority, the same hostel where Dalal Daoud now lives.
Daoud, an Israeli Arab woman who was imprisoned for murdering her abusive husband, was also released by the parole board last month after 18 years behind bars.
For the past six months, Masarwah has been in the prison's individual rehabilitation wing, leaving it every day to work. All the authorities involved in her rehabilitation said she is a model prisoner and supported her release. The Domestic Violence Prevention Committee in the Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry and the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority also supported her parole.
“Nisreen suffered from harsh violence from of her husband for years,” 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. “During the time of her imprisonment she went through the optimal rehabilitation process and asked to continue to rebuild her life.”
“Today the state accepted her request and recognized the legal injustice done to her and we hope she will succeed in rehabilitating her life,” said Yaari.
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In November 2001, Nisreen's husband Haitam Masarwah was murdered by his brother. Nisreen was married to Haitam for 12 years and they had three children. His family had violent relationships, which included physical attacks, emotional abuse, torching cars and death threats. These violent relations did not exclude Nisreen and her husband, and their relationship worsened over the years prior to his murder.
She also suffered from deteriorating mental health. 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, Nisreen and Assad Masarwah, Haitam’s brother, began a romantic relationship. A week and a half before the murder, Nisreen left her home and moved to her parents’ house. The physical separation form Nisreen 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 wielding a knife.
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 vehicle. 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 the murder, but did not include any charges against Nisreen. It was transpired during the trial that Nisreen even tried to convince Assad not to commit the murder the day before it took place.
Throughout all the legal proceedings, the public defenders claimed that the acts attributed to Nisreen never reached the level of attempted murder – but the courts rejected this claim.
Nisreen admitted before a district court that she and Assad had conducted 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 had not gone to the authorities to prevent the murder, which is why the court convicted her of soliciting the murder and 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, though it expressed its discontent in this specific case.
“I am of the opinion that the fact Nisreen received a life sentence 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 then President Moshe Katsav to commute her sentence to the length of the original sentence imposed by the district court, and the president commuted it to 25 years in prison.
Two other women are still imprisoned in Neve Tirza for their involvement in the murder of their abusive husbands. Simona Mori has served 22 years of her sentence for aiding in her husband’s murder in November 1996, along with her lover John Valencia, who is also serving a life sentence.
She has already gone through all the stages of the rehabilitation process – but the state opposes her release because she bought a friend a telephone card he can use in prison. In April this year, the Israel Prison Service removed her from her individual rehabilitation program and the parole board postponed the hearing on her release until she returns to the program.
Erica Frishkin murdered her abusive husband in 2003 and has been serving a life sentence since. In July 2018, she submitted a request for a pardon to President Reuven Rivlin, which is still being examined.
“Without a doubt the Dalal Daoud effect works,” said attorney Sapir Sluzker-Amran, a leader of the campaign to free women who suffered from abuse and the director of the Public Hotline Department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
“When we take a stand and apply public pressure in support of those women who society has abandoned and forsaken, we are sending a message of hope and solidarity and succeed in changing the public discourse and give a second chance to these women. We will continue the fight to free Simona Mori and Erika Frishkin and call on the public to join us,” said Sluzker-Amran.
Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel released a statement saying “Nisreen Masarwah, who suffered from long-term abuse and tried to dissuade her brother-in-law from the act, should not have needed to serve such a long prison sentence, but the fact justice has been done is a good thing, albeit belatedly.
"It is impossible to ignore the trend and enormous public effect that began with the obligatory release of Dalal Daoud. We have made it clear that we, as a society, need to help women escape the circles of violence and abuse when it is still possible and to no longer accept cruelty or indifference on the part of institutions that failed to them," Sulitzeanu said.