The head of a Knesset panel charged with advancing women’s rights has called on the Israel Police and State Attorney’s Office to pursue men who threaten violence against women.
The comments by MK Aida Touma-Sliman, who leads the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, come amid a spate of murders in the last two months committed by men against women. They also follow a highly contentious court decision, since overturned, that required a threatened woman to enter a shelter against her will.
The ruling by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court was nixed on Monday following an appeal by the woman in question.
Speaking to The Times of Israel, Touma-Sliman pointed out that Israel’s criminal code provides for a punishment of up to three years’ incarceration for making threats of different kinds, including threatening physical harm to someone, but that this was rarely enforced.
“We need a change of attitude by the police and the State Attorney’s Office,” said Touma-Sliman. “Instead of disconnecting women from their lives, it is the freedom of the men [making such threats] that should be restricted.”
She said police were failing in their duty to protect threatened women in the Arab sector, and more broadly failing to impose law and order in Arab society.
Touma-Sliman argued that this absence of law enforcement was the root cause of increased violence in the Arab community, and as a result the primary cause of increased violence against women in the sector as well.
The MK noted that Rabab Abu Siyam, a 30-year-old school teacher shot dead in Lod last month, had been repeatedly threatened by her ex-husband, but that the police had instructed Abu Siyam to leave the city for her safety instead of enforcing the law against him.
She was murdered while her two-and-a-half-year-old sat on her lap after she returned to the city to meet her children. It is suspected that the killer was a hitman hired by her ex-husband.
The police stated that they had made strenuous efforts to assist Abu Siyam, and had not been told she was returning to the city before she was murdered. Her father told Hebrew media that his daughter had been threatened for some six months and blamed police for not taking action against her ex-husband for so long.
Touma-Sliman also addressed the growing involvement of organized crime in the murder of women in the Arab sector. She said the hitmen phenomenon had become increasingly common in recent years.
Abu Siyam was reportedly tracked on GPS devices, which was apparently how the gunman was able to quickly locate and murder her once she returned to Lod.
The MK said women in relationships with men involved in organized crime are at even greater risk, since they are exposed to the criminal activity of their partners. If they separate, the women can be seen as posing a threat to them and face suspicions of informing to the police.
Touma-Sliman added that recent efforts by the state to confiscate illegal firearms in the Arab sector were not happening quickly enough, and claimed that gun ubiquitousness would have been dealt with much faster had their intended use been for attacks against Jews.
According to Prof. Shalva Weil, senior researcher at the Seymour Fox School of Education at Hebrew University and the founder of the Israel Observatory on Femicide, there were 12 cases of murdered women by partners or family in the first six months of 2022 (not including three more murders perpetrated in July).
This compares to seven such incidents in the first half of 2021, a jump of 71 percent, although Weil said that a rise in reporting the circumstances of such murders might be responsible for the apparent spike.
Some 58 percent of so-called “femicides” in 2022 were in the Jewish sector, and 42% in the Arab or Druze sector, the center found. Weil noted, however, that the figure for the Arab and Druze sector was disproportionate to the relative size of the community that constitutes some 21% of the overall population of Israel.
Like Touma-Silman, Weil said a gradual rise in killings in the Arab community was due to growing violence in general in that sector and the failure of law enforcement to cope with it.
She also noted that in the majority of cases in which women are murdered by their partners or ex-partners, the victim had previously suffered physical abuse at the hands of the murderer.
Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, founding academic director of the Rackman Center at Bar-Ilan University, concurred with both Touma-Sliman and Weil, saying the primary cause for violence against women in the Arab sector was the state’s general neglect of violence in the Arab community over many years.
But she said the involvement of hitmen in carrying out such murders complicated efforts to protect women, since in such cases arresting the threatening partner might not protect the women they are targeting.
“What we are seeing is the most extreme end result of a problem which has deep underlying causes — particularly the lack of enforcement and lack of presence of state authorities and law enforcement in Arab communities,” said Halperin-Kaddari, who was also the former vice-president of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.
She said the initial ruling forcing the unnamed threatened woman to enter a shelter, forcibly restricting her personal liberty, was an “expression of the state’s failure to protect women” and demonstrated how state authorities often choose “the easier path” when dealing with such issues.
Halperin-Kaddari added that “patriarchal attitudes” in Arab society as well as conservative and traditional attitudes towards women also contributed to the rise in violence against women there. This, combined with the failure of law enforcement in the Arab community, has created a lethal situation for at-risk women, she said.
“It is easy to present Arab society as violent and different from Jewish society, but the state has essentially collaborated with these criminal elements by failing to act,” Halperin-Kaddari added.
She said that a sea change was needed in the general attitude of society toward women, as well as greater police enforcement against those who threaten and perpetrate violence against women. She also called for legislation to define what constitutes domestic abuse in all its forms.
Additionally, Halperin-Kaddari said that judges, police officers, and social workers need to be given mandatory training about domestic abuse and violence in order to better cope with such incidents when confronted with them.
“When these professionals have to deal with situations in which they don’t have basic training, then you get to situations in which the state fails in its duty to provide those threatened by violence with the protection they need and deserve.”