14-year-old Palestinian Girl Sold Into Marriage by Abusive Father to Israeli Bedouin Flees to Safety

The girl's family told Haaretz that her father would beat her, as did the man she was forced to marry

A center for youth at risk, Tel Aviv, Israel.
Limor Edri

A 14-year-old girl from Hebron was sold by her father for about 10,000 shekels to an Israeli Bedouin who is 20 years her senior. Last week she managed to escape and asked for help from the Border Police, who sent her to the Civil Administration. Before Yom Kippur she was placed in a hiding place by Israeli welfare services, and the Justice Ministry’s anti-human trafficking unit is examining the case.

The girl, who comes from a large family in Hebron, was sold a few months ago by her father to a man in his 30s from a Bedouin community in the south. Her family, who spoke with Haaretz, said her father would hurt her and beat her, as did the man she was forced to marry. Recently the girl managed to flee and return to Hebron, and last week she asked the Border Police at the Tomb of the Patriarchs for help. They soldiers transferred her to the Civil Administration welfare authorities and she was sent to a Social Affairs Ministry shelter. Welfare experts told Haaretz that her life is in danger and that they are examining how to protect her.

The girl has family members who live in the Israeli village of Fureidis. When they found out about the case they turned to the authorities with a request to raise the girl. “This is a sad case. Her extended family in Israel, as soon as they discovered what had happened to her, came to her aid and hired me so that the girl would be recognized as a victim of trafficking,” said attorney Nehami Feinblatt, who is representing the family along with attorney Neta Avnon.

“I also turned on behalf of the family to the Justice Ministry and the Civil Administration to examine the possibility of leaving her with her well-to-do family in Israel so that she can grow up and be rehabilitated in a protected and supportive environment. The family thanks the Israel Defense Forces authorities for distancing her from a dangerous environment and bringing her to Israel.”

In a letter that the lawyers sent to the Civil Administration in the name of the family, they wrote: “When the family learned about the unfortunate case, the family members decided that they must act in order to see to her welfare and safety and to offer their help in finding a solution for her.” In addition to her relatives in Israel, the girl has well-to-do relatives in Hebron who offered to raise her.

According to attorney Dina Dominitz, head of Justice Ministry’s anti-human trafficking unit, every year Israel takes care of 50 to 80 such victims. “Israel is a signatory to the international convention that mandates protection, treatment and assistance for victims of trafficking. There are two Social Affairs Ministry shelters (one for women and one for men) where they receive medical and psychological treatment and legal assistance free of charge, as well as work permits. The victims come from a variety of countries such as Eritrea, Ethiopia, Eastern European countries and more,” she said.

“When I heard what happened I was shocked. The girl grew up in a bad place for children, she grew up in a harsh environment. Her father beat her all her life and afterwards sold her like property to a husband, who also beat her and did terrible things to her,” said a relative from Fureidis. “She’s a brave girl. She’s been through so much in her life and has seen more that she should have. The time has come for her to have an decent life.”

According to Samah Salaime, a social worker from Noam, an Arab women’s nongovernmental organization that promote legislative reform in marriage law, marriage of minors and polygamy, there are dozens of similar cases every year of girls whose families marry them off illegally for money to men in Israel, mainly Bedouin.

The amendment to the Marriage Age Law, which went into effect in 2014, raised the marriage age from 17 to 18. The new law considers a person under age 18 as a minor who is not fit to marry. Salaime says the number of young marriages is far greater than the official statistics claim. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 there were 3,681 Muslim brides under the age of 19, about a third of them under the age of 18, and 362 of them under the age of 16. Other statistics, from the Sharia court, say 306 young girls married before the age of 18. The youngest has just turned 14.

Salaime notes that dozens of young women marry without being registered in court because the marriage contract is considered legal according to the religion, even without registering in the Interior Ministry or the court.

That can also be deduced from the number of births to young mothers. According to the CBS, in 2013 there were 2,037 infants were born to Muslim mothers under the age of 19. Two years after the legislation, 1,946 infants were born to young Muslim mothers.

“Since according to the social codes in Arab society it is very probable that most of these mothers are married and not single, the conclusion is that over 2,000 girls married a year or two before the birth, despite the fact that according to the official figure, only 877 Muslim minor girls married at ages 15-19 in 2013,” Salaime points out.