A cry for change – Shira Iskov

As long as we make excuses for the abuse of women, it will not be okay.

Activists protest against recent cases of violence against women, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Activists protest against recent cases of violence against women, at Habima Square in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
This month, Israel’s Uvda on Channel 12 aired a two-part special on the story of Shira Iskov that painfully detailed the shocking story of how the 32-year-old Israeli woman survived a horrific attempted murder by her husband, Aviad Moshe, on Rosh Hashanah.
Despite her tremendous injuries, Shira miraculously survived, and throughout her recovery (which is ongoing) she has spoken out bravely and unabashedly about the dangers of domestic violence. Shira’s story shocked the Israeli public, yet her story isn’t unique. Domestic violence is an issue that exists across all cultures, and in Shira’s story all of us, no matter background or culture, will find something to learn.
Shira and Aviad’s story began as a normal relationship. Platonic friends for over a year, a romantic relationship developed, despite a 13-year age difference, and progressed fairly quickly. They married and while there was conflict like many couples experience, there was never any violence until well into their marriage when Aviad got angry that Shira wouldn’t show him a text message. He hit her, and she separated from him for a period of time, returning to her parents in Carmiel.
But in the months that followed, Aviad won her back and both Shira and Shira’s mother were convinced that she ought to give her marriage a chance. Aviad and Shira returned to “normal life” together in Tel Aviv and things never escalated to such a level again, until Rosh Hashanah 2020.
In the months leading up to the attempted murder, Shira had agreed to move to Mitzpe Ramon, despite having no support system in the area, for Aviad’s job. While there was no violence, Aviad had been cruel and verbally abusive to Shira. In the evening of Rosh Hashanah, Shira decided to leave Aviad once and for all, and told him she wanted a divorce.
He responded by beating her with a rolling pin, strangling her, and stabbing her 20 times with a kitchen knife, all in front of their screaming infant son. Her life was spared only because her neighbor, Adi, intervened and heroically broke into the apartment to save her life.
Throughout the TV interview, both Shira and her mother open up about the relationship, and at various points in Shira’s story, such as when she explains that Aviad would become angry over her nursing their baby, it’s easy to say “this is a red flag.” But these incidents occurred well into their marriage.
AS SHIRA explained, Aviad really didn’t demonstrate the tell-tale signs of an abuser in their relationship until after they had a child, which brings out an important point often missed in discussions of domestic violence: Most of the time, perpetrators of domestic violence don’t appear as monsters to anyone else, and even to their victims, not until much later. An abuser could be your next door neighbor, your cousin, your friend. This makes it even more difficult for victims to speak out, because it’s hard for outsiders (and the victims themselves) to believe that someone they consider family or a friend could do such a thing.
This is not to say that we should live as if everyone is a potential abuser, and sometimes there are clear red flags, but if we are aware of the fact that someone who seems wonderful may not be who they present themselves as to their partner, we can take a major step forward in changing attitudes about domestic violence.
Beyond understanding our own biases, fighting domestic violence demands cultural change, whether in Israel or abroad. In Israel, it’s a cultural norm to respect strength. But we must understand that there’s no power on the individual or collective level in covering up or minimizing violence against women.
When Shira described Aviad’s abuse the first time he hit her, she explained how she never considered herself a victim of domestic violence. Shira, a remarkably strong person with unmatched resilience, didn’t want to be “another statistic.” While her strength is admirable, we must combat the notion that being victimized in a relationship makes one weak. It’s okay to not be okay.
Even further, Israelis are known for their ability to carry on despite the world falling apart around them. In fact, many take pride in the fact that even when we face the most chaotic of situations, our response is yehiyeh beseder (it will be okay). But there are limits to the benefit of this approach, and domestic violence demonstrates one of them.
WE CANNOT treat this issue lightly but now we do – with the government refusing to provide adequate resources, with the education system not instilling values of mutual respect and consent, with society downplaying the abuse of women, with the police repeatedly failing to protect women who are known to have violent partners, and with the justice system failing to deter domestic violence and enforce the law. The result? Dozens of women murdered in Israel in 2020, and more already in 2021.
As long as we make excuses for the abuse of women, it will not be okay. This means we cannot ignore polygamy in the Bedouin community, turn a blind eye to sex trafficking, erase women in ultra-Orthodox communities, or neglect murder and violence against women from minority groups. We cannot refuse to take reports of domestic violence seriously, either on the police/governmental level, or in families who prioritize staying married over ending violence.
Shira’s story is a tragic mirror of what can happen when we refuse to face the reality of the issues we have as a society. While it’s not a problem unique to Israel, we must make changes in how we approach this issue, and we most certainly can.
Israel is a place where there is tremendous community, and a sense of responsibility for our fellow citizens. Shira’s story also reflects the value of “I am my brother’s (or sister’s) keeper.” Adi, Shira’s neighbor, put herself at great risk intervening in an attempted murder, but she did so because it was the right thing to do, because we do have an obligation to each other. When our backs are against the wall, Israelis always come through. What we have yet to learn is that when it comes to domestic violence, we shouldn’t wait until our backs are against the wall.
Shira’s story is an opportunity for change. Through proper education, through enforcing the law, through having zero tolerance for domestic violence and holding each other accountable, we can change the way Israel responds to domestic violence and save countless lives in the process.
The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC and a research fellow at the Tel Aviv Institute.