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(photo credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen)
Around 200,000 Arabs live in the Negev, more than half of whom are women. The
Arab women of the Negev are caught between a rock and a hard place – the former
being government policy and the latter the strict cultural mores of Beduin
Since Arab women are part of Israel’s Palestinian minority, they
have not had much success in exercising their rights, even the most basic
Their rights are doubly violated since they belong to a
patriarchal, traditional society in which polygamy and domestic violence are
common phenomena and are socially accepted. Often, the needs and desires of
these women are not taken into consideration either by the state or by their
Many of these women believe this attitude is a natural and
inevitable part of their fate and are not aware that they are eligible for legal
For this reason, Ma’an, the umbrella organization of Negev
Beduin Women’s Organizations, was founded in 1999 by Arab women from various
organizations to promote Arab women’s rights.
Ma’an’s aim is to initiate
joint programs and to discuss complex issues that affect the Negev Arab
community, such as violence against women, polygamy – issues that any single NGO
could not cope with on its own.
We at Ma’an strive to bring about
significant social change and to contribute to a democratic and just society
that supports the rights and equality of all of its members, and women in
particular. Our work, which has received generous support from sources such as
the European Union, is based on a humanistic conception of human rights that is
based on international conventions.
The forum’s projects are carried out
synergistically and are built according the specific needs of Arab women in the
Negev. In 2006, a legal aid center was inaugurated that offers advice and legal
counsel to women in all aspects of “personal laws,” provided by qualified
lawyers. Numerous cases in which physical and sexual assault were involved have
been reported to the center.
These women come to the center seeking
psychological, therapeutic and legal support, as well as referrals to other
centers that are better qualified to deal with their issues.
Since one of
our goals was to deal with complex social sensitivities that up until now were
not being dealt with locally, we decided there was a need to set up a
This hotline, called Aman, is available to all Arab women living
in the Negev who were victims of sexual and physical abuse. It is the first and
only hotline that offers advice and guidance by native Arabic
The impetus for the hotline was the numerous requests from
women to the legal center, and the desire by women who participated in the
workshops to increase awareness regarding women’s rights given by the legal
center’s lawyers. The center has not been able to keep up with the multitude of
calls from Arab women in the Negev who wished to speak with someone who
understood their complex cultural and societal situation.
The creation of
the Aman hotline is a pioneering and unique step in the Arab Negev community’s
struggle. Great efforts went into the founding of the hotline, both in terms of
fundraising, as well as encouraging women to break the silence
At the outset, the hotline will operate once a week by trained
volunteers. Women will be able to call in to receive the help they need and to
have someone to talk to. Volunteers have been instructed to offer the caller a
variety of assistance options, such as psychological, legal or medical aid. The
caller can then pick which type of aid she wants.
Currently, there are no
safe houses for Beduin women in the Negev to go to in an emergency.
often hear in the news about Arab women who were murdered due to what is called,
“murder to protect family purity.” These women are not only victims of the
environment in which they live, but also of government policy that is not doing
anything to help protect them.
As an NGO with limited resources, Ma’an
strives to serve several hundred women a year through its hotline. This will be
a great improvement to the security of Beduin women, but it is just a first
step. There is still tremendous need for government policy change dealing with
the serious problem of violence and abuse in the Negev Beduin
community.The author is general director of Ma’an – the forum of the
Beduin women’s organizations.
Translated by Hannah Hochner