Even before all the information becomes available regarding the suspected murder of a 12-year-old Eritrean girl in south Tel Aviv on Monday, one thing is clear: Violence against girls and women and the distress experienced by asylum seekers are two of the topics that have been neglected most by Israel's governments.
Interministerial task forces have been appointed to deal with both these subjects, but in both cases, the resulting recommendations have languished for months while government funding that could help has not been forthcoming. As a result, two of the country’s weakest communities have been consciously left to their fates.
The only unbelievable aspect of Monday’s killing in south Tel Aviv is that such a thing had not happened earlier.
So far this year, a total of 24 women and girls have been murdered in Israel, including two on Monday: In addition to the seventh-grader in Tel Aviv, a 16-year-old girl was found dead in the northern village of Jish.
The same sort of statistics is repeated, year after year. About half of the victims had filed complaints with the police about violence before they were killed, and 14 percent of all the individuals thought to have been involved in violent acts against women were under suspicion in more than one case.
As far back as September 2014, a decision was made to convene an “urgent” interministerial committee to deal with domestic violence. The panel's meetings dragged on until it finally submitted recommendations in June 2016. Then, instead of those suggestions being implemented as quickly as possible, a decision was made to convene yet another committee, which was to be responsible for carrying out the recommendations of the first one.
The second panel sat for another year, until July 2017, when the government ceremoniously adopted its plan of action, to which various ministries attached an estimated price tag of 250 million shekels ($67 million) over five years. Last week Haaretz reported that, in practice, last summer's resolution was devoid of content, as the Finance Ministry did not allocate funding for the approved plan, treating it instead as a collection of recommendations.
Some of the relevant ministries did in fact receive several million shekels to underwrite various aspects of the plan, but most of what was suggested remained unrealized, sitting in a drawer.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister for years, yet this week he frankly admitted that up until now, he hadn’t been aware of the plight of female victims of domestic violence in this country: There are 200,000 of them every year, according to the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry. Staff at the shelter for battered women that the prime minister visited this week described him as “shaken.”
Just after that visit, Netanyahu announced the convening of another panel, this time comprised of cabinet ministers, to deal with domestic violence. After he was informed that another committee is already dealing with the subject, along with other issues involving violence, the premier announced that he would chair that committee's next session on domestic violence instead of its regular chairman, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan.
Instead of creating more committees that will just issue more recommendations, Netanyahu would do well to provide funding, once and for all, to implement the important recommendations of the most recent panel, from last year. It would also be appropriate for him to personally monitor the implementation process.
One way or another, the only community that is suffering more from government policies relating to domestic violence is asylum seekers. In light of the government’s efforts to expel them from Israel, many people forget that these migrants are here legally. In practice, the state also recognizes that they are “not deportable,” but it also insists that they are not "acceptable."
The government has repeatedly cited different reasons to explain that the fact that asylum seekers can’t be legally expelled doesn’t mean that they can be permitted to lead decent lives in this country. In the meantime, these people are living in abject poverty, many in permanent survival mode, without official status or employment security, working at low paying jobs where, by law, 20 percent of their earnings are deducted, to be returned to them only when they leave the country.
Many asylum seekers experienced abduction, rape and abuse en route to Israel. They are suffering from post-traumatic stress and living with the ongoing threat of deportation hanging over them.
Even though it’s clear that many asylum seekers require social welfare services, in part to head off domestic violence, local social welfare agencies are not providing them with the requisite assistance other than in extreme, life-threatening situations. In 2014, in his harshly critical report, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira wrote: “Foreign nationals in Israel, most of whom come from undeveloped countries, also experience crises in a cultural context and don’t benefit from communal power. As a result, these foreigners are likely to need more wide-scale social services than the population of Israel as a whole.”
Although the comptroller demanded that social welfare agencies revamp their policies, it was only last year that the interministerial team dealing with the plight of asylum seekers began its work, submitting its recommendations only in July. Five months have elapsed since then, but differences of opinion among the ministries have prevented final approval and implementation of the recommendations.
And then this week, the High Court of Justice held a hearing on a petition from the Aid Association for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel that was filed against Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz and demanded that his ministry's services be provided to these foreigners.
“When was the report submitted to the ministers?” Court President Esther Hayut asked the state’s representative at the hearing. “Five months ago,” came the response.
Five months in one case, and four years in another. The state is dragging its feet when it comes to making decisions and providing funding on both domestic violence issues and policies regarding asylum seekers. Will the murder of a 12-year-old Eritrean girl in south Tel Aviv perhaps be enough for the state to finally undertake to finance a plan for the prevention of domestic violence? Will it now agree to open social welfare offices to asylum seekers?
“Hasn’t the time come to decide?” Justice Hayut asked the state’s representative at the hearing without expecting an answer.
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