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Where Can Arab Women Turn When Experiencing Domestic Violence?

This blog is written by Gabrielle, a Yahel fellow living in Lod. This blog was originally shared in the Times of Israel Blogs through her Yahel volunteer placement at the Abraham Initiatives.

Zamzam was 19, living in Haifa, and had previously fled her family home in Umm al-Fahm out of fear for her life. When the coronavirus plagued the state, her family pleaded for her return. Upon her return home, she died and it appears her family killed her. No charges have been made to date holding anyone accountable for her death.

As an intern with The Abraham Initiatives, an opportunity I have with the Yahel Social Change Fellowship, I have had the privilege of learning from and working with leaders seeking to address inequities and move towards a shared society. The Abraham Initiatives and their Safe Communities Initiative has taught me about the inequities facing Arab citizens from a gendered perspective. One key issue is the lack of funding to Arab communities which lends itself to systemic challenges and limited care for women experiencing domestic violence. While 250 Million NIS has been allocated by the Knesset to address domestic violence, communities have yet to see it funneled to resource and support centers. Arab citizens are under-resourced and experience higher levels of poverty than Jewish Israelis. High unemployment and limited education around domestic violence causes further harm to Arab women.

Violence experienced by women in Israel is disproportionately felt among Arab citizens. According to the Safe Communities Initiative at The Abraham Initiatives, since the start of 2020, 22 women have been murdered. Of those 22 women, 15 women were Arab. Despite comprising just 20% of the population of Israel, 68% of murders caused by domestic violence has been against Arab women. Further, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, call centers addressing issues of domestic abuse are receiving a significant increase in volume. Calls received jumped from 2,286 to 6,615 between March and September from 2019-2020. Violence against women is considered a large source of concern for Arab women, with 70% reporting that they are worried or very worried about gender-based violence in their community.

The Abraham Initiatives, alongside partners Na’am, NA’AMAT, and Sidreh seek to address structural issues and call for policy changes to support Arab women to live in safety and security. The Abraham Initiatives works by creating public awareness campaigns, conducting research and making policy demands to support the well-being and safety of Arab women, such as, calling for a broader definition of domestic violence to include those hired for murder, and address the need for Arab women to be investigators and hold positions of power. These challenges faced by Arab women occur in a broader landscape of under-resourced communities and violence that continues unchecked.

The Abraham Initiatives shooting a public awareness campaign to address domestic violence. (photo: Abraham Initiatives)

In a recent speech in the Knesset, Joint List Leader Ayman Odeh passionately discussed violence in the Arab community and called for a comprehensive government plan to address this issue. Arab citizens of the State of Israel do not have equitable police services. There is also widespread mistrust between the police and Arab communities. The experience with the police is often either minimal, due to their lack of presence in Arab towns and villages, or hostile due to violent and racist tactics. Therefore, merely more police presence will not suffice. A push towards recruiting more Arab police officers has been made who can respond in Arabic and have more connections to the community. However, not all police officers working with the Arab community speak Arabic or have cultural awareness skills to support the community. This reality creates a deep cleavage between the police and Arab communities in which police cannot effectively engage with Arab community members.

The story of Zamzam is tragic, and it’s not the only one. There are 15 Arab women in 2020 who have had similar stories. These women should still be alive today, and those who commit acts of violence need to be held accountable for their actions and have opportunities for rehabilitation. On a systemic level, we know that investing in communities, ensuring adequate and safe housing, access to culturally appropriate social workers and police services, along with robust support systems, can prevent these outcomes.

In the time of the coronavirus, the challenges Arab women face have worsened. Arab women experience the compounding effects of gender-based violence, state violence, and the coronavirus, exemplifying the need to systemically address these issues in tandem with one another.

It is time we broaden the definition of domestic violence and the ways in which we address it from a systemic level. We need to reimagine the way Israel addresses gender-based violence to ensure it builds community up on a structural level and addresses the inequities faced by Arab citizens. I hope my time supporting The Abraham Initiatives will offer me the tools to learn more about these inequities and the ways I can become a better ally and advocate on the land I currently reside.

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