In the case of Mastawal Alaza z”l, the writing was on the wall. For years there have been warnings regarding the system’s poor handling of domestic violence cases. Recently, during the coronavirus epidemic, things have gotten even worse, since many have been forced to remain in quarantine with their abuser. The number on domestic violence cases have skyrocketed, but nothing has been done to stop it.Since the beginning of the year, eight women have been murdered by their husbands.
The system stands by the criminals in these cases. Neglect, disregard, and recklessness characterize the treatment of complaints by women against those perpetrating domestic violence. In Mastawal’s case, the authorities knew she was in danger—she tried to get up and leave a number of times and in a number of different ways. Her husband was previously incarcerated for being violent towards her, but he was released after a few months and returned to live with her.
The authorities do not do enough to stop the next murder and it is clear to all of us. But we should also think what we can do in a case like this. We, as a community, must look at ourselves in the mirror and perform a self-examination. The culture of silence, shame, low status of women in the community, and the constant violence, together with the absence of an effective social response for both women in general, and Ethiopian women in particular, leaves women with nowhere to turn. The murder of women at the hands of men never happens as an isolated incident. There are many stages before the heinous act. It’s the violence that leads to murder—physical, verbal, sexual, economic, psychological-emotional and social.
In communities like ours, characterized by close family and neighborly life, everyone knows about the violence that exists behind closed doors. Everyone knows and remains silent. Even when people get involved, they prefer to have imaginary domestic peace over a divorce, as if they cannot hear the voices of the women who beg for help to get up and leave. With no family and community support, it is almost impossible for them to make this move.
The media, even in 2020, still mentions the ethnic origin of some of the murdered women, and did so in the case of Mastawal z”l. This says a lot about the message the media tries to send and implant in the collective consciousness. When stating the ethnic origin of the women murdered, the message implies that men from this ethnic origin routinely murder their women—as if it is typical for this specific community. When it refers to white women, the media will always mention that the family in question is a normative family, but this message is missing when the woman who was murdered is Ethiopian or Arab, hence relaying the message that we are not normative communities and that it is natural and reasonable for us to be murdered.
This is exactly how you create a social consciousness which influences the community’s everyday life. This way, the establishment and society shift the responsibility, and burden, to the culture of this community or another, and so “that’s the way they are” is the most common sentence in the comments section. While reality is simpler and more painful, since those who murder Ethiopian, Arab, Russian, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi or asylum-seeking women have a common denominator: they are all men! This is gender-based murder. Not romantic-based murder [as it is often called by Israeli media], (because how can violence of any kind can be characterized as romantic?), not honor killing (because it is the establishment’s tactic to normalize and preserve this reality, and it is used as an excuse only when you are a brown person), and definitely not due to difficulties acclimating to Israel. When the media mentions such reasons for murder, it condones it and rationalizes this ongoing nightmare.
The responsibility for the murder of women is never the women themselves. It’s easy for us to tell them to get up and leave—but many of them have nowhere to go.
The responsibility is on the state and the authorities to do their jobs and to keep all citizens safe. A proper response to violence in the home is not to require the women and their children to completely cut themselves off from their natural environment–but to remove the violent men who are the source and cause of violence. The establishment must deal with and allocate resources toward violence against women, at least as much as it does toward fighting terrorism., as this is terrorism in the full sense of the word: gender terrorism.
We, as a community, need to stop teaching our boys that women’s lives are worth less and start to say that real masculinity never means aggression. Ethiopian men need to be a meaningful part of the battle against violence towards women, because your beloved mother, sister, nieces are all women! Men must be an active part of educating boys, brothers and nephews, and begin to set an example for healthy masculinity.
In recent years, it seems the community is dealing with crises in a new way, which is more verbal, more honest, and more open. We have probably crossed a threshold as to how many more shocks we can take. We believe that as a community, it is possible and necessary to change our attitude toward this issue of domestic violence. It is time, and we are ready.