The decision to parole Dalal Daoud, a 50-year-old mother of three, is welcome and important, but it shouldn’t obscure the heavy price paid by Israeli women who are victims of domestic violence, especially those from the Arab community.
The story of Daoud’s life and imprisonment is a bitter and painful testament to the police’s apathy, the welfare authorities’ helplessness and the legal system’s lack of power to protect women suffering from domestic violence.
She was married against her will at age 19 to an older man. He raped her and beat her severely. Twenty days later, she fled home to her parents, but they returned her to him. After she tried to flee again, the marriage was quickly annulled. But it turned out she was pregnant.
She gave birth to her eldest son at age 22. But a month after giving birth, she was forced to hand him over to his father, who didn’t let her see him for many years.
Daoud was married for the second time at age 24, to Ali Daoud, who turned out to be a drug addict. Her life was full of violence.
She tried knocking on every possible door and reported her problems to every possible authority – the Social Affairs Ministry, the police station, the Sharia court. Her police complaints were repeatedly closed due to “lack of evidence.” Social workers wrote chilling reports that described unbearable abuse.
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When her case finally reached the Acre Magistrate’s Court, her husband was given a one-month suspended sentence.
After five years of marriage, she killed him. “I screamed for help, but nobody helped,” she said when I interviewed her four years ago. “As long as the violence was aimed at me, it was a different story. But when the violence reached my children, I couldn’t stand it. Four days after I gave birth to another son, he attacked him and hit him. I couldn’t stand this. How is it possible to hit a 4-day-old child?”
According to the Public Defender’s Office, had information that later emerged about Daoud’s situation been available to the court at the time, “it’s very likely that she would have been convicted of manslaughter rather than murder, or at least of a lesser degree of murder, and then she would likely have received a prison sentence of only a few years.” It’s hard to ignore the stringent sentence actually imposed on her.
Other battered women who killed their husbands after suffering prolonged violence have been convicted only of manslaughter and given relatively short prison sentences. That was the case for Carmela Buhbut, who shot and killed her husband after suffering prolonged abuse. The district court sentenced her to seven years in prison, and the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to just three years.
Until now, I’ve only seen Daoud behind bars. I interviewed her for the first article I did on the Neveh Tirza women’s prison in 2005. She appeared over the years in many other articles I wrote for Haaretz, because she participated in a wide variety of therapy and rehabilitation programs.
Four years ago, during breaks from her shifts in the prison tailor’s shop, she would make baby dresses from scraps of cloth in effort to flee the unfathomable grief of her lost motherhood. Her work inspired the prison’s theater group to put on a play about motherhood, and she took part in it in the course of one of her therapy groups. But she couldn’t find the strength to play her own character on stage, preferring to remain behind the scenes and design the costumes.
When the play was performed, the president’s late wife, Nechama Rivlin, was present. She regularly attended plays staged by prisoners.
At the end of the play, Daoud was asked to come on stage together with the other prisoners. She broke down in tears as she spoke about her longing for her children, her yearning to raise them and the difficulty of being in prison for so many years and seeing all the other prisoners released while she remained.
Daoud paid a heavy price for the absence of any protective network for battered Arab women. The delay in her release, even after President Reuven Rivlin intervened, is the price she paid for the system’s helplessness, for the fact that it preferred to leave her in the prison’s rehabilitation wing because it wasn’t prepared to take care of her.
Daoud was released into a reality in which women are murdered, and the number of Arab victims is rising. She was released into a reality in which there is no funded government plan for dealing with violence against women in the Arab community. Will we as a society succeed in protecting the next battered woman, so that she won’t undergo the trials and tribulations Daoud did?