Some 30,000 demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Tuesday evening to protest what they say is the authorities’ failure to stem a sharp increase in violence against women.
The rally was the culmination of a day of action that saw thousands of women go on strike and participate in rallies across the country. Intersections throughout Israel were blocked Tuesday morning as women went on strike to protest the deaths of 24 women killed since the start of the year by a partner, family member, or someone known to them.
“Today we made history,” the protest’s organizers told the crowd. “Today the silence on the violence against women has turned to screams.”
Listening to speeches in both Arabic and Hebrew, the demonstrators were dressed mainly in black with red hats, and carrying red balloons and torches. The municipal building was lit with the Hebrew word for “Enough!”
Ayala Itmar, whose sister was killed by her husband in December 2003, issued a call for the authorities to take action on the issue.
“The State of Israel must invest in budgets, resources and professionals who will deal with violent men,” she told the crowd, “and develop safeguards for women to ensure their safety in times of distress and invest in shelters that can accommodate whole families.”
Ortal Safek, whose mother, Aliza Safek, was stabbed to death by her estranged husband at their home in Netanya in October, warned that anyone can be affected by domestic violence.
“Two months ago my mother was murdered, taken from those she loved just because she wanted to be free. Tomorrow it could be any of us,” she told the crowd.
Shortly after the end of the rally, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene a meeting of the ministerial committee on violence against women on Wednesday morning, in response to the day of protests.
Earlier in the day, some 200 protesters blocked traffic at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli interchange, a major intersection near the Defense Ministry headquarters, with opposition politicians in attendance.
Speaking to the Hadashot TV news outlet, opposition leader Tzipi Livni called on authorities to take action, saying the government should dust off an existing program.
“There is a plan,” she said. “The government just needs to take it off the shelf and implement it.”
Organizers called the strike last week in the wake of the murders of two teen girls, whose deaths brought the number of women killed in the last year in domestic violence-related incidents to 24, the highest in years.
Hundreds of institutions, municipalities, schools, and organizations allowed their employees to strike, and the government’s civil service commissioner also made concessions to allow participation in the labor action.
At 10 a.m., a 24-minute period of silence was observed in memory of the 24 women.
Aside from the Azrieli protest, demonstrations in Tel Aviv also took place at the intersection of Rokach Boulevard and the Namir highway in the north of the city at 12 p.m, and at the city’s central Dizengoff Square.
Around 1,000 students demonstrated at Tel Aviv University, and classes were suspended for an hour.
At the city’s Habima Square, police arrested an activist during a demonstration. Sapir Slutzker-Amran, an attorney with the Association for Civil Liberties in Israel, was detained after she “blatantly disobeyed police instructions and contributed to violent confrontations,” authorities said.
Workers at Ben Gurion Airport temporarily stopped working early Tuesday afternoon, causing several flights to be delayed at the transportation hub.
In Jerusalem, around 50 women blocked the entrance to the city, holding signs stating, “Enough with the murder of women,” with a second demonstration in the city’s Safra Park.
President Reuven Rivlin lent his support to the protest, tweeting photos of his wife, first lady Nechama Rivlin, demonstrating alongside workers from the President’s Residence in the capital.
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) December 4, 2018
Demonstrators also gathered at the Beit Lid intersection in the center of the country, but did not disrupt traffic.
In the north, around 150 protesters held a rally in Haifa’s Memorial Park, dozens demonstrated at the entrance to the town of Kiryat Shmona, and a crowd gathered in the city of Safed.
Demonstrators also rallied in nearly every other major town and city in the country, including protests in Beersheba, Acre, Lod, Tira, Ashdod, Bat Yam, Beit Shemesh, Rehovot, Netanya, and Beit Jann, among others.
Women also gathered close to the northern town of Metulla, near the border with Lebanon, where the IDF on Tuesday began an operation to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels, with signs saying that the violence against women was a “red line.”
במטולה, על הגבול- שרון עייני ומילי רומי מקבוצת קו אדום: "בטחון של נשים הוא לא פחות חשוב למדינה והוא לא יכול לזוז מסדר היום הציבורי. נמשיך עד שיהיה בטחון לכולנו". pic.twitter.com/9YG4oGOpjK
— Noa Shpigel (@NoaShpigel) December 4, 2018
In the south of the country, women gathered with signs at the entrance to Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava Valley.
Kicking off the protests Tuesday morning, over 200 pairs of women’s shoes, painted red, were laid out to protest the violence, in an installation at Tel Aviv’s central Ha’Bima Square.
A day earlier, activists poured red dye in public fountains in several cities to draw attention to the protest.
The protests capped a week of smaller demonstrations, after the two teen girls were found killed on November 26.
Yara Ayoub, 16, was found dead in her Galilee hometown of Jish, six days after she went missing, according to police. Authorities have identified the primary suspect in the murder as a 28-year-old man from the village, and have arrested several others suspected of involvement.
Many of the details of the investigation, including the identities of the suspects, are under a court-ordered gag order for fear that their publication could hinder the investigation.
Hours later, Sylvana Tsegai, 13, was found murdered in her Tel Aviv home, allegedly by her mother’s former partner Tesfebarhan Tesfasion, who evaded police for several days before being caught. Police reportedly suspect she was also sexually assaulted.
According to reports, Tsegai had been known to welfare authorities as a victim of domestic violence. She reportedly called police on Saturday to complain about Tesfasion being in her home.
On Monday, the opposition’s Zionist Union brought a no-confidence motion condemning the government failure to curb the violence. Coalition members boycotted the discussion and vote. A no-confidence motion needs at least 61 supporters to pass.
During the discussion, a number of activists in the stands overlooking the plenum pulled out signs and loudly protested the government inaction. Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein ordered the women removed from the plenum.
At a visit to a women’s shelter on November 25, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, said they were “unsettled” by domestic violence.
Netanyahu later told ministers he was surprised to learn that “almost nothing” was done to domestic abusers.
Netanyahu said the uptick in violence against women in Israel in recent years was “a criminal phenomenon” and called for stricter enforcement.
The prime minister said he had voted against the Knesset proposal to establish a parliamentary commission of inquiry on violence against women because it was presented by opposition lawmakers.
The opposition floated the proposal for a commission of inquiry into violence against women after the government failed to deliver a plan to address the problem, as it had promised to do several weeks ago.