Killings spark outburst over Israeli-Arab women status

Aron Heller
Associated Press

Lod, Israel — After years of abuse and death threats, Duaa Abu-Sharkh had finally divorced her husband, agreeing even to give up custody of her four young children and family property to escape his violent grip. Then, one night in late September, as the 32-year-old mother was dropping off her kids after a rare visit, a masked gunman dragged her from her car and shot her in the head before their eyes.

Her killing is the latest in a string of murders of Israeli-Arab women believed to have been carried out by relatives. But after years of silence, the recent outburst has sparked soul searching in the community and unprecedented demonstrations against its mistreatment of women.

The killings have some similarities to the so-called “honor killings” elsewhere in the Muslim world, where women can be murdered by relatives for tarnishing the family name through perceived sexual indiscretions. But activists in Israel reject such comparisons, saying the vast majority of the killings are the result of rampant spousal abuse that has been ignored by police in a landscape rife with drugs, crime and poverty.

Traumatized by the recent death of Abu-Sharkh and other women in their communities, Arab citizens, who have long been suspicious of Israeli authorities, are now calling for more police and social services in their long-neglected neighborhoods.

Though just a fifth of the population, Arabs represent half of the women killed in Israel each year.

And half of those women are killed in Arab neighborhoods of Ramle and Lod, cities just outside of Tel Aviv where several large clans involved in organized crime have made weapons easily accessible and allowed violence, particularly toward women, to go unchecked for years.

“Women in Arab society have a lower status. So, when there is violence, who pays the price? Women,” said Samah Salaime, a social worker who founded the Arab Women in the Center organization to aid victims in the Lod area. She said Israeli authorities treat the oppression of women as a value in Arab society. “They deal with us as if the blood of the Arab woman is cheaper,” she said.

But things are starting to change.

Abu-Sharkh’s killing, and that of another divorced mother of four in Jaffa a month later, spurred a series of street protests that drew hundreds of women and men, both Arabs and Jews. A parliamentary committee heard testimony from Arab women and the national police chief said the level of violence was “unacceptable,” and vowed to battle it.

Arabs hold full citizenship rights in Israel, but are generally poorer and less educated than Jews and suffer from discrimination and substandard public services.