For Arab women, Israel provides no sanctuary from violence
Authorities are not doing enough to respond to incidents involving Arab women, who are the victims of an alarming trend of murder
A group of Palestinian women gathered around a long table in a worn-down room with a high ceiling in central Israel to do what too many had done before: cut the white burial cloth while awaiting the body to arrive from the morgue for a final farewell before the funeral.
Shadiya Musrati, 29, was shot dead point blank in the head by a gunman. She was the 26th victim of femicide in Israel last year. Her murder, despite initial arrests, remains unsolved.
This alarming streak of murdered women – Jewish and Arab Palestinian – in Israel made international headlines in January when tens of thousands of women protested the government’s inaction in preventing gender-based violence. Politicians across the political spectrum have vowed to do more.
Grieving women assembled around Shadiya’s mother, Mona Musrati, in a dilapidated, one-storey home in Ramle, a poor city of Jews and Arabs in the centre of Israel. Here the echoes of solidarity and political action rang hollow for the elder Musrati – both as a woman and as a Palestinian citizen of Israel. And she is not expecting the situation to improve after Israelis voted for what is set to be one of the most right-wing governments in history, in an election that was driven in part by an anti-Arab rhetoric.
“This is how we live,” Ms Musrati told The National, seated in a sparse room filled with women sharing coffee, dates and words of condolences. One of Shadiya’s three children sat on her lap. “We are afraid, afraid to go out. There’s no security. Just injustice.”
While Israeli Arabs, also called Palestinian citizens of Israel, make up nearly 21 per cent of the population, 40 per cent of the victims of gender-based violence are Arab women, said social worker Samah Salaime, the director of the charity organisation Arab Women in the Centre (Na’am). Her clients complain that emergency services such as ambulances and police do not come as quickly to predominantly poor Arab communities, while women and men here overall have low trust in the police because of the ongoing national conflicts.
“You can take any indicator and you will find a huge gap between Arab and [Jewish] Israeli women,” said Ms Salaime. “The institutional discrimination is the main obstacle. It is something that’s supposed to be changed by policymakers. We still have officials think we deserve less because it’s a Jewish state. Don’t patronise us. We know what we need. We do our job. We pay our taxes. So just do your job.”
This mindset, said Ms Salaime, trickles down to other groups in Israel. “For the Palestinian women they say it’s a cultural thing and they are conservative,” she said. “For the Russians it’s the culture of violence and alcohol. For the Ethiopians it’s because they are African.”
Police Chief Mickey Rosenfeld denied any police discrimination, telling The National that the force rapidly responds to all crimes anywhere in Israel and “are in close contact with leaders of the [Arab] community, mayors and municipalities, in order to prevent incidents from taking place and knowing what’s going on inside the communities”.
Ms Salaime said only two out of 14 of Israel’s shelters for abused women and children are specifically focused on Arab women. One other is mixed and the rest are focused on the various Jewish communities in the country.
“Women are looking for solutions, for support,” Ms Salaime said. “So we should be much more funded by welfare services. But for our regret, the different agencies are not.”
In some cases, men murder women over a relationship, job, or divorce that violates a social norm. In others, it is a woman telling her husband that she does not want drugs or guns hidden in her home anymore and faces a fatal retaliation, said Ms Salaime.
Ms Salaime said the police and Israeli media are too quick to call any femicide as “honuor related”, they arrest a close male family member of the victim, and then end the investigation.
“We pay for the price of the patriarchy of the Arab criminals and the police,” she said.
In some cases, the police reach out directly to family leaders to reconcile and solve disputes, a tactic not used for cases of domestic violence with Jewish Israelis. This in turn can perpetuate the violence and inequality that fuels gender-based violence by strengthening the control of conservative and familial structures within Arab communities, while enabling criminal gangs and overarching patriarchal politics to continue to reign, said Shahrazad Odeh, a lawyer and researcher on law and gender.
“The link between the police and tribal law is a way of reinforcing patriarchy within the Palestinian community,” said Ms Odeh. “You are providing the male authority with the power to dictate what is right and what is wrong.”
And so the killings continue.
Iman Awad, 29, was pregnant when her husband allegedly slit her throat in her home in the northern city of Akko about a week before Shadiya’s murder. Police arrested him for murder.
In mid-march of this year, Diana Qatifan, 18, was gunned down and killedwhile shopping for a wedding dress with her grandfather in Lod, adjacent to Ramle. Her mother was also murdered when she was young. Back in February, Abu Qatifan became engaged to a man that her family rejected. In March the couple ran away together to the West Bank city of Ramallah. She returned after the police intervened, initially sending Qatifan to hide with a prominent family and having her family members sign a document saying they would not harm her.
Shadiya is the third of Mona’s daughters murdered; now she only has one daughter left. One Musrati daughter’s death remains unsolved, while in the other’s case a man has been convicted of being paid to kill her shortly after she had reportedly fled an abusive husband. In Shadiya’s case, police initially arrested her husband and another family member, but released them a week later.
In the meantime, this cycle of silence and inaction continues to hurt both women and men.
“There are good and bad men everywhere,” Samira, 42, who declined to give her last name to protect her privacy, told The National while paying condolences to Ms Musrati. She said, But, “We need more education in the schools [for the boys]” on gender-based violence. For now, she said, it goes largely undiscussed, leaving another generation raised around and normalised to violence.
At a small protest and vigil at the start of January in Ramle, the elder Musrati stood solemnly with a photo of her daughter as participants marched with empty coffins to the police station.
In attendance was Aida Touma-Suleiman, a member of Israeli Parliament in the Arab-Jewish socialist party and an Arab women’s rights activist. She told The National she was disappointed at the small turnout, especially at the only handful of Jewish Israelis who came. Ramle and Lod, the site of many femicides, are just about 25km from the bustling Tel Aviv, where more than 30,000 had turned out for the major protest in December.
Now with the election taking centre stage for months and set to dominate for weeks to come, she said actually combatting gender-based violence – and the larger policies and structures that perpetuate it – had fallen off the political radar.
Ms Touma-Suleiman concluded, “It looks like being an Arab, being from the periphery, not from Tel Aviv, being just another woman. There is a hierarchy even in death.”