Israeli Domestic Abuse Survivor and Her Rescuer Deserve to Be Honored

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Shira Isakov in court in February.

Among the individuals lighting torches in this year’s official Independence Day ceremony next week are Shira Isakov, a survivor of domestic violence including a murder attempt by her former partner, and Adi Guzi, a neighbor who heard her cries, came to her aid and saved her life. The announcement set off numerous discussions that ranged from support and depiction of the two women as heroes to comments such as “With all due respect, what did they do to deserve such an honor?”

I would like to offer a perspective that focuses not on these two women, but rather on the public importance of their selection.

Social changes happen slowly, through hard, nearly Sisyphean labor. Most of the public is not even aware of the social struggles that lead to change until they eventually find their way from the margins into the mainstream. And then, it suddenly looks like a revolution.

The Israeli struggle to end violence against women did not begin this year. In the 1960s, lawmakers Rachel Cohen-Kagan and Beba Idelson raised in the Knesset the problem of violence against women, but were met with denial or the argument that the state and the police should not interfere in what happens within the home. In the 1970s, MK Marcia Freedman tried to put the issue on the public agenda but ran into a wall of derision and resistance.

In the early ‘70s women’s organizations upon realizing that the state was not assuming responsibility, established shelters for battered women themselves. After a long time and much effort, the state began to allocate funds to these shelters. The Prevention of Domestic Violence Law was passed only in 1991.

Those who deal daily with women affected by family violence know that there is still a long road ahead. Women are still murdered by members of their families. The shelters for survivors of domestic violence are still completely full. We are far from the day that every complaint of violence is treated with the requisite seriousness. We still need to fight so that a man who raped a 13-year-old girl is prosecuted for rape and not “consensual statutory rape,” and for tens of thousands of women for whom their home, which is supposed to be the safest place of all, constitutes a daily existential threat. Recently we learned that a party that is slated to enter the Knesset seeks to repeal a cabinet resolution on combating violence against women.

Much has been accomplished, however. Reports on violence against women, including murder, are no longer relegated to the inside pages of the newspapers. In December 2018 thousands of women (and men) took to the streets to protest the flawed handling of violence against women, garnering impressive coverage in the media. The Knesset holds discussions about violence against women fairly frequently. There is no doubt that much remains to be done, but the margins have long since become mainstream: The struggle against violence against women is no longer considered a small problem that interests a handful of women. Victims of violence can reveal their stories and receive a public and media platform to do so. Today, much more than in the past, this violence has names and faces.

And that, in my eyes, is the main significance of the selection of Isakov and Guzi as torch lighters. In my imagination, I see a ceremony in which all the participants are female and all are survivors of violence, social workers who help women affected by violence, directors of shelters for survivors of domestic violence, lawyers who represent women affected by violence. All of them heroes and all of them deserving to light a torch on Independence Day.

Yael Braudo-Bahat has a Ph.D. in law and is a co-director of the Israeli organization Women Wage Peace.

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