Femicide cases down during 2021, matricide cases rise in disturbing upwards trend

Of the 16 femicide cases reported in Israel in 2021, six were perpetrated by the women’s partners and four by their sons.

WITH THE advent of COVID-19, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel has seen a 30% rise in calls or visits to its local centers countrywide. (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
WITH THE advent of COVID-19, the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel has seen a 30% rise in calls or visits to its local centers countrywide.
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Sixteen femicide cases were reported in Israel during 2021, a 24% drop from the previous year, according to a yearly report released by the Israel Observatory on Femicide (IOF) headed by Dr. Shalva Weil at the Hebrew University.

However, even as overall cases dropped, a new worrying trend emerged: more women are being murdered by their own sons. 

Several of the 16 cases were first classified as random killings and only later understood to have been femicide.

Half of the 2021 victims were from the Arab sector, with 31% Israeli Arabs and 19% Druze, while 44% were Jewish. One victim came from the African Hebrew Israelite community in Dimona.

Femicide is a hate crime defined as “the killing of females by males because they are female,” according to the term’s modern definition, first coined in 1976 by feminist author Diana E. H. Russell.

ACTIVISTS PROTEST against recent cases of violence against women at Habima Square in Tel Aviv last week. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)ACTIVISTS PROTEST against recent cases of violence against women at Habima Square in Tel Aviv last week. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

There were 21 cases reported in 2020, indicating a 24% decrease that could be attributed to any one of several different causes. 

Firstly, explained Weil, Israel was in various stages of corona lockdown for much of 2020, while in 2021 normal life pretty much resumed. 

Many other reports have indicated that there was an uptick in domestic violence during lockdown, such as a June 2021 report from State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman that showed corona leading to an 800% increase in domestic violence complaints.

Another possibility is that the extensive work being done by Israel’s feminist organizations is finally starting to take hold, as seen in the “unprecedented media coverage on the subject of femicide, and the significant work being done by Israel’s feminist organizations and associations,” said Weil. “Additionally, this year saw several harsh verdicts for perpetrators, which may have acted as a deterrent.”

Of the 16 cases, six were perpetrated by the women’s partners, four by their sons (matricide), and two by brothers. In four of the cases, the identity of the murderer is still unknown.

In the case of one femicide victim, Goumana Keisi, her brother and her husband were arrested in connection with her murder in May. Keisi had previously complained to Israel Police about the violence she faced at the hands of her husband, and police officials said that the issue had been addressed.

The ethnicity of the victims is important to note, as 2021 saw a sharp increase in overall violence in the Arab sector, with 125 murders overall. Eight of them were femicide cases categorized as “honor killings.” 

Honor killings are the murder of a woman either by a member of her family, or by someone outside at the family’s request, in order to “protect the honor and dignity of the family.” 

According to Human Rights Watch, the most common reasons given for honor killings are that the victim either refused an arranged marriage, was the victim of assault or rape, or had sexual relations outside of marriage. 

The ethnicity of the perpetrators matched the ethnicity of their victim in every femicide case this year, the report added.

In one-third of the femicide murders, prior domestic abuse complaints had already been filed against the murderer, two of whom had histories of mental illness.

To date, eight indictments have been filed against the alleged murderers, meaning that an indictment has yet to be filed against the suspect in 44% of the cases. 

In three cases they were deemed unfit to stand trial. However, the report adds, several verdicts were issued against the perpetrators of femicide in 2021, including life sentences.

The average age of femicide victims in 2021 was 45.6 years old, six years older than 2020’s 39.6 average, apparently due to the increase in matricide cases. The youngest femicide victim this year was 27 years old; the oldest was 76.

“We have to recognize femicide as a pandemic – as lethal as is COVID – and to allocate funds to eliminate these acts of violence,” Weil said, summarizing the report findings. “Furthermore, we must educate our fellow citizens to respect their elderly mothers. One of the most alarming features of femicide in 2021 is the increased rate of mothers murdered by their sons.”

The data collected by IOF was gathered from local and national media reports, and then cross-checked with Israel Police databases, women’s organizations and parliamentary reports.

In order to comply with international guidelines, femicide data was restricted to victims age 18 and older. Victims age 17 and below who were murdered by adult partners were omitted from these statistics.