She Survived Decades of Domestic Abuse. Now Israel Is Persecuting Her

For years, this woman would complain about violence and threats from her husband. Ultimately, prosecutors filed charges – not against her abusive husband, but against her

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Tikva in her apartment.
Tikva in her apartment.Credit: Emil Salman
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Tikva (not her real name) is well-acquainted with the Jerusalem District police. For years, she would go to one of their stations; sometimes she called and asked that a patrol car come to her home. The reason was always the same: violence and threats from her husband. Cases were opened and closed just as quickly.

The two divorced, but Moshe (also not his real name) did not pay child support for their five children, essentially condemning them to poverty.

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Ultimately, Israel Police prosecutors filed charges – not against Moshe, but against Tikva, by then a grandmother of four, who endured two decades’ worth of physical, emotional and financial abuse. Why against her? Because one day, she surrendered to her anger, cut up Moshe’s clothing with scissors, cursed him and said, “I’ll kill you.”

Soon she was brought in for questioning. All her explanations, her vivid descriptions of life with Moshe were to no avail. “For 20 years I lived under abuse,” she told the police. “He threatened me, ‘I’ll burn you. I’ll stab you.’ And last time, what did you do? You let him go after five minutes.” She was sent to Neve Tirza prison overnight. Later, she was convicted in a plea bargain on charges including trespassing and assault, but the conviction was ultimately voided – but not quite. The prosecution informed the public defender’s office, which is representing Tikva, that it will appeal the revocation of the conviction. Another hearing in the case is due to be held in about two weeks.

To understand Tikva’s story we must go back to June 12, 2012. That night, she was at a banquet hall in Jerusalem for the bat mitzvah celebration of her best friend’s daughter. All dressed up and glad to see her friends, Tikva danced and laughed with everyone. “Anyone who looked at me would think I was a happy woman,” she recalls. But her outward appearance was deceptive: the fear that gnawed at her only intensified each time she glanced at the table where her husband was sitting. She knew how her evening would end.

At one point, Tikva went over to Moshe and asked him to dance. “He gave me such a furious look and spit at me right there next to everyone. ‘Tfu, you slut,’ he said to me. I masked my emotions, pretended that everything was fine and prayed that no one noticed. I was ashamed that everyone would know. I went back to dance with the girls and acted like nothing happened, but I know what happens when he gets jealous, when he sees me happy.”

They drove home in silence. It was a short drive, just 10 minutes. Their five kids were all asleep in their rooms when they got back. She and Moshe went into their bedroom, still not speaking. Tikva hoped that his anger had passed, but that hope didn’t last long. When she bent over to remove her high heels, he kicked her in the face.

“He struck me in the chin and knocked me backwards,” she says now. “I fell onto the bed and then he pounced on me, ripped off my dress and threw whatever was around at me, dresser drawers too.” She was terrified.

“I knew he was drunk. All I was thinking was how to get free and run to one of the other rooms. I managed to flee to the bathroom. I took the phone and called the police,” she recounts. “He heard the police car coming and ran off. When they arrived, I told them everything. I showed them where he struck me. They saw the room turned upside down, the torn dress.”

The police record of this incident says that a patrol car was dispatched, but Moshe was nowhere to be found. Tikva was questioned and told to file an official complaint, otherwise the officers could not do anything. “They told me I needed to come with them. I said I can’t leave five small kids and that I’d come another day. But afterward I didn’t have the energy or the nerve.”

There were other such incidents. In April 2014, after another beating, she showed up at the local police station. A case file was opened against Moshe for “spousal assault that caused serious injury.” But before long the case was closed. Tikva remained at home with her husband and her fears. In March 2015 she decided to go to the police again. This time the file said “threats, domestic violence.” Nothing came of that either, and the routine continued. “I don’t remember when I made a complaint and when I didn’t. I was afraid of him and afraid of the police,” Tikva says now. “No one ever helped me. I just lived with the violence and forgave him.”

This was the routine throughout most of her marriage. They were formally a couple for 25 years, but for 20 of them, she lived in constant dread. His jealousy was ever present.

“Once I went for a walk with girlfriends and he thought I was with a man,” she recalls. “He came and grabbed me by the hair and dragged me home. People told me I should leave him, but I couldn’t bring myself to.”

Most of the humiliation and violence occurred in private, far from the eyes of strangers, she adds: “He would break everything in the house – dishes, glasses. I tried to keep the children from seeing it. I didn’t want anyone to know.”

The turning point came in late 2017 when Tikva finally got up the courage to ask for a get, a bill of divorce, from Moshe. Divorce proceedings began, the children stayed with her and Moshe refused to pay child support. One day she decided she couldn’t wait any longer for him to pay what he owed her. She burst into his mother’s home, where he was staying, entering his room without permission. Spotting a pair of scissors on the dresser, she decided on the spot to cut up his clothes (“So he wouldn’t enjoy himself while my kids were suffering,” she later told police). Her mother-in-law called the police and an officer arrived; meanwhile Moshe also went into the room. In the officer’s presence, Tikva told Moshe she would “kill” him. She was swiftly arrested.

In the interrogation room, Tikva tried to explain what led to her behavior, as transcripts in Haaretz’s possession show. “He’s living at his mother’s. He eats, drinks, they buy him cigarettes, newspapers, clothes, see to all his needs – and five children at home don’t have enough to eat,” she said. “I went to his parents’ home and told his mother, ‘I’m sitting here until he comes.’ They started shouting and cursing… I just wanted to finish the story with him – for him to pay the child support he needs to pay and to give me my get.”

The female police officer asked Tikva why she tried to take the law into her own hands. “And not paying child support and living a million-dollar life isn’t taking the law into your own hands?” she replied.

But what happened that day was just a small part of the story, as she tried to tell the interrogator. “For 20 years I lived with physical and verbal abuse from him and more than once I went to the police station to complain about him.” But the officer wasn’t satisfied, asking why Tikva cut up Moshe's clothes and threatened to kill him. “If making threats is a crime – why is he walking around free?” Tikva answered.

Asked when Moshe had threatened her, Tikva responded: “He threatens me all the time. He told me, ‘I’ll burn you,’ ‘I’ll stab you,’ ‘I’ll pour acid on your face.’”

Then she was asked why she hadn’t filed a complaint. But she had, she insisted – more than once: “You questioned him last time too. But you let him go after five minutes. What good are you police?”

After the interrogation, Tikva was sent to Neve Tirza prison for the night. The police sought to extend her remand by four days, claiming that she posed a danger to the public, and her lawyer’s arguments proved to no avail.

Divorced and broken

That wasn’t her last trip to court. In 2018, police prosecutors filed charges against Tikva for criminal trespassing, assault and deliberate property damage. Her lawyer, Idan Gamlieli, reached a plea bargain in which she would be convicted of a lesser number of charges, but before the verdict was handed down, Judge David Shaul Gabai Richter of Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court decided to send the case to the probation service. He subsequently revoked the conviction and Tikva’s criminal record, saying she had felt threatened and had taken responsibility for her actions, noting that “when she saw his expensive clothes she felt frustrated that he was only investing in himself and not his children.” The judge also quoted the probation service which said Moshe had admitted “he was never threatened by the defendant, did not feel threatened during the incident and did not currently feel threatened.”

Last September, Tikva’s original conviction was formally rescinded and she was told she would be performing 100 hours of community service.

A month passed and Tikva thought this was behind her. She completed her 100 hours of service. But then she was informed that the State Prosecutor’s Office decided to appeal the earlier ruling. “The court erred in voiding her conviction,” wrote attorney Nurit Blobstein of the Jerusalem District Prosecutor’s Office. Blobstein noted that this was not the first time Tikva had been convicted and the conviction had been thrown out. Tikva, the attorney said, was previously convicted for making threats at her daughter’s school, and, therefore, was dangerous.

“It’s a shame the state didn’t make the effort it’s making now against Tikva to help her escape the long cycle of violence she endured from her spouse,” attorney Gamlieli says. “The court understood the unique circumstances. It’s very regrettable that the State Prosecutor’s Office has chosen to file an appeal that will thwart any attempt by the defendant to get on with her life and to support her children honorably.”

Asked by Haaretz why it insists on pursuing this case, the State Prosecutor’s Office responded thus: “The appeal solely concerns a legal issue, because Tikva admitted to the facts of the indictment within the framework of the plea bargain.” Asked why it is disregarding the history of violence against Tikva, the response was that “the expert opinions and the protocols used in the sentencing arguments and ruling were reviewed, and no reference was found to violent offenses against her.”

But Haaretz has seen copies of Tikva’s complaints, and the police have several records of complaints filed by her, which led to cases being opened. There are also references to violence against her in the transcripts from her interrogations and court hearings.

The State Prosecutor’s Office also noted that “the offenses against the husband occurred a year after an earlier incident in which the defendant committed an offense against people who have no connection to her former husband or his family. The court annulled that conviction. This time there was another offense committed against her ex-husband. The rule is that non-conviction is reserved for exceptional cases and the court must convict someone who is determined to have committed an offense… The short time between the end of proceedings in the previous case and the opening of this case was a significant consideration in the decision to appeal the ruling.”

Another justification for the recent appeal is “the fact that Tikva wishes to work as an assistant preschool teacher for the Jerusalem Municipality. We had the children’s welfare in mind and felt that it is important that… her [future] employers be aware of her criminal past – which is not possible as long as the voiding of the conviction stands.”

The Israel Police’s response: “The police thoroughly investigate every complaint or piece of information received about violence and threats between domestic partners and employs all the legal tools at its disposal, as was done in this case, which involved mutual complaints between the spouses over a period of years. Each report or complaint received by the police was thoroughly investigated to uncover the truth – sometimes with limited cooperation from the parties. When the investigation found no suitable evidentiary basis for the commission of criminal offenses and for filing criminal charges, the case was closed. However, in an incident that occurred in recent years, the accused is the one who attacked several times, threatened murder and caused property damage as witnessed by the police, and therefore charges were filed against her. We shall continue to investigate and take action against any domestic violence, on the part of men or women.”

So now, while Moshe walks free and still doesn’t pay child support – the state will keep hauling Tikva back into court.

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