Arab-Israeli women, both Christians and Muslims, are dying at the hands of their own family members, with little governmental response. Israeli media continues to paint these murders as a uniquely “Arab” problem and fail to address the larger societal flaws at work.
In cities like Lod, violence against women often stems from domestic abuse and criminal activity common to large cities, reports the Times of Israel. Unfortunately, in labeling a woman’s murder as an honor killing, the media and the police do not look for a true motive, allow perpetrators to go free, and threaten the reputation of the victim and her family — effectively putting more women at risk.
“Sometimes the [police] say it was an honor killing…and it turns out not to have been and it damages [the dead woman’s] reputation, and the reputation of her daughter and family for generations to come,” Ahmad Tibi told the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, reports the Times of Israel.
Although some of the murders fit the definition of an honor killing, women’s rights activists in Israel discourage the use of the term as it implies the woman, in supposedly dishonoring herself, deserves her death. The term also carries a stereotype of being a distinctly “Arab” problem, which often leads to a lack of police and government support.
“[Calling these crimes honor killings] makes it easier for the police to move on,” Neila Awad-Rashed, director of Nazareth-based Women Against Violence, told the Times of Israel. “When we talk about Arab women being killed, most of the time there is never even an indictment.”
When indictments do occur, the judge often accepts plea bargains or give lighter sentencing if the murderer’s friends and neighbors attest to his decent character. Such leniency makes it difficult to convince women to testify against their abusers. They fear speaking publically against their abusers, only to face their wrath after serving a short prison sentence.
Other activists raise concern with how stereotypes around the term honor killing leave Arab-Christian women, like 17-year-old Henriette Karra, vulnerable to domestic abuse, reports the Washington Post. Karra’s family and her boyfriend are both Arab-Israelis, but her boyfriend is Muslim.
Her parents saw this as a shame to the family and began to beat and threaten Karra. A week after she filed a report of the abuse, police found Karra dead in her parents’ kitchen, reports the Washington Post. Officials immediately suspected her boyfriend, thinking her Christian parents were not capable of such a horrific crime. A month after Karra’s death, police finally arrested and charged her father with her murder.
In addition to the dangerous real-life implication of the stereotypes surrounding the term honor killing, the lack of social services for Arab women perpetuates violence against women in society. Most services, including women’s shelters, cater to Hebrew-speaking Israeli women. Of the 14 women’s shelters in Israel, only two cater to Arab women, despite that 30% of women seeking shelter are Arab women, reports the Times of Israel.
“We need someone who can speak about our problems and our trauma. We need to be able to speak in our mother tongue,” Awad-Rashed told the Times of Israel. “If the percentage of Arab women in the shelters is 30 percent, then at least 30 percent of the shelters should be for Arab women.”
High levels of organized crime in cities mean that hit men hired by family members or abusive spouses carry out the murders, while the principle suspects can enjoy an airtight alibi. Without adequate shelters and social services, and with more than 65 percent of Arab women reporting a lack of confidence in the justice system, Arab-Israeli women live in a perilous situation.