The murder of women in Arab society – a national emergency

The discrimination in budgets for the prevention and treatment of violence against women cries out to the heavens.

A WOMAN walks past campaign posters for the Arab-led Hadash party in the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm (photo credit: REUTERS)
A WOMAN walks past campaign posters for the Arab-led Hadash party in the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Sometimes it seems as though violence against women has always existed in our surroundings, and in a patriarchal and conservative society such as ours it no longer surprises anyone.
Recently, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was observed, and the Arab community deeply mourned the murders of 10 Arab women in the past year, out of a total of 18 women who were murdered in Israel, certainly a shocking and intolerable number.
And in spite of that, in recent years we have witnessed a significant increase in the courageous opposition to this violence, mainly within Arab society in Israel, opposition that dares to confront the aggression and those who stand behind it and to declare that there is not an iota of honor in the crimes that they try to justify with the claim of “defending the honor of the family.”
We must draw encouragement from the courageous women who are standing at the forefront of this struggle and join them in a broad front that will act to prevent this rampant crime against women in Israel, and mainly within Arab society. All those who influence the public discourse must fulfill their role by mobilizing the public to take action against this violence and urging them to take to the streets and make their voices heard. This includes civil society organizations and political parties, religious leaders from all the various denominations, the media and the education system – which can undoubtedly play a special role.
The state claims that it is incapable of eliminating violence against Arab women, arguing that this violence is deeply rooted and stems from long-standing and unpreventable practices.
That is a misleading misconception.
There is no doubt that the government and its institutions can deal with this issue by focusing on three main aspects.
First, we should examine who those murderers of women are and their background.
The murderers are without any doubt criminals who should receive the most severe punishment allowed by the law, to serve as a warning light to anyone who dares to follow in their footsteps.
But we can’t be satisfied with dealing only with one specific murderer or another. The government must bear responsibility for the fact that most of the murderers are themselves victims of ongoing oppression on the part of the establishment, and live in difficult economic and social circumstances. The government is also responsible for the fact that the unnecessary occupation has caused bloodshed to become a routine and everyday occurrence for Israel’s Arab community.
The government must take responsibility and understand that at the earliest possible stage, it must prevent the downhill slide of young Arabs from a normative course of life to potential crime, as well as reducing the level of violence and crime in Arab society in general.
Second, we should examine the identity and origins of the victims of this despicable crime. The Arab woman who experiences violence is a twofold victim: first she suffers from direct violence from her immediate surroundings, and afterward she often has to deal with her fate alone.
For example, in the entire country, of the 14 existing shelters, there are only two for battered Arab women.
The discrimination in budgets for the prevention and treatment of violence against women cries out to the heavens.
Although on average half the women who are murdered each year are Arabs, only 14 percent of those treated in centers for violence prevention are Arabs.
But it’s also important to understand that the situation is even more complicated, because even the allocation of all the necessary funds will not suffice as long as the available services are not adapted to the needs of the Arab woman who is threatened with murder in a conservative society.
Here, too, the government should intervene in the early stages, before the woman becomes a victim. The state can help to prevent the woman from becoming a helpless hostage by means of economic empowerment. A woman who works and is productive is a more independent woman, who is more capable of coping with her problems.
Here we see the direct connection between criminal behavior and the economic situation, as well as the shortage of jobs, public transportation and daycare centers.
Third, government institutions must ensure that society takes responsibility for condemning the murderer and embracing the victim. And that requires large-scale campaigns and ongoing and long-term educational programs which we don’t see at all today. In that sense there is not a single public body that has the resources, the infrastructure and the capabilities of the government, and only its genuine commitment to providing information and raising awareness in the Arab community can lead to significant results within a short time.
The horrifying statistics of the murders of Arab women in the past year make it clear that this is an emergency situation that must be dealt with immediately.
In addition to the activity of opinion makers and public figures within Arab society, the dramatic change that is necessary here will take place only by means of immediate action by the government – which is its obligation.
Continued neglect of Arab women is a disgrace that cannot continue.
Rawnak Natour is the co-executive director of Sikkuy – the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality.