This is a news photo taken at a unique demonstration held in the mixed Druze and Christian village of Ussefiya (Isfiya) in northern Israel. The placard featured in the photo reads Violence is a Cancer of Society. Other signs at the demonstration read There is no honor in crime and Your silence is approval of the crime in both Arabic and Hebrew.
The demonstration was organized by a 21-year-old Druze student, Missan Hamdan. That is the first of several unique aspects to the protest: it was organized by a young woman following the discovery of the bodies of Hakim Kayouf (25) from the village and Iham Kadour (19) from Daliat-al-Karmel, a large Druze town, also in the north of Israel. Ms. Kadour’s family is thought to have disapproved of the relationship, and the deaths are initially believed to be murder-suicide. The families have not released any statements.
This is no simple Romeo and Juliet story, however. Ussefiya is known to be a particularly conservative village and it has been witness to a growing number of violent crimes against women by male family members, many of them on the grounds of “family honor”. In an interview with the Haaretz Hebrew daily (19.09.2012), Ms. Hamdan said, “Violent events in our community are on the rise, and we feel helpless about them. I initiated and led this protest rally in front of the Ussefiya council building; the demonstration’s goal is to say ‘no more violence’ and to bring an end to the tacit condoning of such things.”
Don’t rush to conclude that this is a sectarian issue. Just this week a horrifying story came to light. In 1991 a Jewish man, whose name was not released, murdered his wife. He was convicted and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The prison system, however, deemed him too mentally ill to be held in prison so he served his full sentence in a psychiatric hospital. After his release in 2004, a woman complained that he was threatening her and he served a brief prison sentence. In 2005 this man remarried and in 2008 his wife gave birth to a daughter. This week he stabbed his second wife to death in the presence of the little girl. He is presently undergoing psychiatric evaluation to determine his fitness to stand trial.
Those two cases took place within the last seven days, which is why I chose to write about them in detail. However, not a month goes by without one or two women in this country being killed by their husbands or partners, fathers or brothers. I have a request in with the Israel Police for the exact numbers, but I don’t know if I’ll receive them.
Violence is indeed a cancer in society. It grows, it spreads, it reproduces: violence begets violence. Women are particularly susceptible to victimization due to both traditional roles and the simple fact of being, as a rule, smaller than than men and not as strong. Violence against women is somehow not perceived as being as grave as violence against men, though this is rarely if ever articulated. Fourteen years is a laughably light sentence for murder but not unusual in domestic crimes.
In the US it used to be common (and may, sadly, become common again) for women who had been raped to be accused of somehow causing the rape. Women who are victims of domestic violence face the same sort of revictimization: Why didn’t she leave? How could she let him do that? Women who are murdered by their husbands or fathers are sometimes regarded in the same way. I have even heard from a reliable eye witness about a priest who said that yes, the father should not have killed his daughter, but if she hadn’t been dating a boy the father didn’t like the whole issue wouldn’t have come up.
Taking my cue from one of the signs in Ussefiya, I decided to write this post. I do not approve. I am not indifferent. I will not be silent.
Information in this post is taken from the Israeli press and from private conversations with Palestinian women in Ussefiya and Jerusalem.