'If a man raises his voice, then his arm, it will get worse'

Domestic violence rates nearly doubled since Oct. 7. Eight women were murdered in 2024

Experts at conference on femicide say it’s not the more widespread availability of weapons that is killing women, it’s the indifference of those meant to protect them

Reporter at The Times of Israel

The scene of the murder of an 18-year-old woman in the western Galilee on June 9, 2023. (screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
The scene of the murder of an 18-year-old woman in the western Galilee on June 9, 2023. (screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Less than three days after a May 29 conference on femicide at Western Galilee College, 33-year-old Sumaya Amash was found murdered in the coastal town of Jisr az-Zarqa.

Amash had filed police complaints against her husband for the past several months. Her husband has been arrested, and police are now questioning him. She believed her life was in danger — and it was.

Eight women have been killed in Israel since January, and experts such as Hebrew University senior researcher Prof. Shalva Weil, founder of the Israel Observatory on Femicide, say that Israel’s war with Hamas has already caused a spike in domestic violence.

Dr. Janan Faraj Falah, a professor in the criminology and business management departments at Western Galilee College, organized the “From Violence to the Murder of Women” conference to raise awareness about what she calls the “alarming” increase in violent incidents against women in Israel and to share information on how it can be prevented.

A broad swath of experts, including criminologists, social workers, psychologists and police officers from both the Jewish and Arab sectors in Israel spoke about family honor killings, treating domestic violence victims, and the complications women face filing complaints against perpetrators with the police. About 100 people attended the conference, which was open to the public.

The Israeli Welfare Ministry recently reported that referrals for domestic violence from the police and the justice system have drastically increased this year: There were 4,565 referrals for domestic violence from the police and the justice system versus 2,760 in the corresponding period last year.

Weil established the Israel Observatory on Femicide under the auspices of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 2020 to collect “both quantitative and qualitative data and narratives” about the murder of women. The center produces reports about femicide in English, Arabic and Hebrew throughout the year. Weil believes that this information base will help eradicate the phenomenon.

“Women still face a persistent threat,” Weil said, in times of peace and especially in times of war.

Indeed, the Hamas atrocities — when some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, sea and air, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 250 hostages — underscore this point. Of the approximately 300 women who were murdered by the Hamas terrorists who invaded Israel on October 7, many were considered femicides because “the women were targeted as women,” said Weil.

Around the world each year, approximately 89,000 women and girls are murdered according to reports by the United Nations. (Weil said the figures have not been updated in several years.) Physical, verbal and emotional violence precede the killings. Children in houses where there is violence between the spouses are often victims of abuse as well.

The Welfare Ministry said that because children and teenagers have spent less time in educational frameworks since the start of the war, it has been more difficult for social workers to locate ones in distress.

At right, Shalva Weil, founder of the Israel Observatory on Femicide, at the ‘From Violence to the Murder of Women’ conference at Western Galilee College, May 29, 2024. (Diana Bletter/Times of Israel)

Domestic items as murder weapons

Some researchers predicted that an increase in personal firearms ownership since the war’s outbreak would cause a rise in the number of shootings of women. The reality is still that simple household items — a kitchen knife, a hammer, a pillow — have remained the weapons of choice to kill women.

For example, when Acre-resident Gila Cohen was sleeping in 1998, she awoke to find her face covered with a pillow and her husband trying to suffocate her to death. Cohen, now 59, managed to kick him off her and escaped their apartment with her six children and her life. Cohen is a survivor of what researchers call a failed femicide, an attempted murder of a woman.

Women are most often attacked by those closest to them. In 2023, for example, most of the known killers of women were either their current or past partners. In 86% of the cases, victims knew their killers. The average age of the victim was 38; the oldest was 76, and the youngest was 18.

At the conference, Falah reported that the rise in crime, particularly in the Arab sector, has run parallel with the rise in violence against women.

“You can pay NIS 5,000 [$1,340] to hire someone to murder for you,” Falah said. She cited the case of Sarit Ahmad, 18, who was shot dead in June 2023 near her hometown of Kisra-Summi in northern Israel. Ahmad, who was Druze and a lesbian, had filed a police complaint against her brothers, who were briefly imprisoned. Her youngest brother, Sa’id Ahmad, 29, now stands accused of hiring two residents of the nearby town of Shfaram to kill her.

The phenomenon of killing women for the sake of “family honor” in the Israeli Arab sector has not abated, said Falah.

Israeli women have been killed not only for their gender identity but also for wearing modern clothes, behaving independently, or asking for a divorce.

In Cohen’s case, her husband once accused her of not cleaning the house. When Cohen complained to her parents-in-law after he beat her, they told her that it was her fault and insisted she work things out with him.

Attempted femicide survivor Gila Cohen. (Diana Bletter/Times of Israel)

Stay with an abuser to ‘protect the children’

Last week, Amash’s mother admitted after her daughter’s murder that she had encouraged her to stay with her husband “for the sake of the children.”

Statistics show that while Arabs make up 21% of the Israeli population, they account for 50% of the femicides in Israel.

Malka Dahamsha Hijaze, a clinical psychologist who has worked extensively with victims of domestic violence, said that in the Arab sector, families believe that a woman should stay with her husband because even if he’s abusive, “only he can protect her in the community.” The fear of raising children alone, without a husband, is sometimes considered a fate worse than being beaten.

“If women have already experienced violence, they are afraid,” Hijaze said. “If they file a report against their husband and he goes to jail, they are frightened he will take revenge on her once he gets out.”

She said that women can go to shelters but “the problem of the husband’s violent behavior goes untreated.” Hijaze said that all too often, when the police are called, a police officer might ask the woman, “What did you do to cause the violence?”

“Things have changed in the Arab sector,” said Morjan Baaluoky, 20, of Nahef, near Carmiel, who attended the conference. She plans to study next fall at Ben Gurion University and said that women are becoming “more educated and aware, yet there is still domestic violence.”

Dr. Janan Faraj Falah, a professor of Gender Studies at the Western Galilee College. (Courtesy)

Studies show that domestic violence gets progressively worse with time. It could start with verbal and emotional abuse, such as a husband isolating his wife, and then grow in severity.

Femicide is what Brenda Geiger, professor of criminal justice at Western Galilee College and one of the speakers at the conference, calls “the last station on the road.”

A woman who is verbally and physically abused and battered becomes more and more isolated. She might also commit suicide which, Geiger said, is another form of femicide. When a woman reports her husband’s physical abuse and the people around her tell her to “try again,” the cycle of violence continues.

“Every day, you can kill a woman’s soul,” Geiger said.

Patterns can be broken

Stopping domestic violence, and ultimately femicide, is possible, said Weil.
In 2008, Weil reported that one-third of all femicides in Israel were in the Ethiopian community. Yet after working with the Kesim, traditional Ethiopian religious leaders, engaging with social workers, raising awareness and education in the community, there have been no femicides in the Ethiopian community in the past two years.

That shows that “most femicides can be prevented,” Weil said, calling for workshops for Russian-speakers to explain how alcohol could lead to violence, and urging religious authorities in the Arab sector to condemn domestic violence and so-called “honor killings.”

Despite the avowed allocation of funds several years back, the Israeli government has still not provided sufficient funding to ministries to combat violence against women and femicide. The Israel Observatory on Femicide receives no governmental funds and relies on philanthropy and volunteers to continue its work.

A handout photo shows emergency vehicles at the scene of a suspected murder of a woman in Ashdod, February 21, 2023. (Magen David Adom)

Weil said that the increased awareness has filtered up to judges who, in the past year, have been giving harsher sentences to men who kill women.

“Public opinion and awareness have definitely influenced judges who were more lenient about crimes against women until now,” Weil said. She doesn’t know if that will serve as a deterrent, however.

Cohen’s husband, before attempting to smother her, attacked her with a box cutter, strangled her, and threatened her with a gun.

“I tell people that if a man raises his voice and then raises his arm, be prepared because it will get worse,” said Cohen. Although she came from what she called a good family, and spoke to police and social workers, she didn’t have the confidence to leave her husband while pregnant with their seventh child. It was her friends who gave her the push she needed.

“They told me that either I’m going to end up under the earth, with my children in the welfare system, or I’m going to stand on my own two feet,” Cohen said. Eventually, her husband served a prison term of four years, and Cohen got a divorce.

“I’m so proud that what I suffered didn’t break me,” Cohen said. “I now see that this could happen to every woman. My message is, ‘Find the courage to leave. Don’t be afraid.’”

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