Victims of violence in Israeli society

Two groups in Israeli society are disproportionately affected and threatened by violence – women and Arabs. In both cases, we as a society are indifferent and therefore our government does not dedicate the necessary resources towards preventing violence and saving lives. Both women and Arabs are vulnerable populations due to the discrimination against them rooted in our society.

There are solutions for both groups to overcome these challenges, but they require significant resources and attention from the government. Attention from the government will not be given without an outcry from the public, demanding that these issues be addressed and prioritized.

The indifference to these two “epidemics” stems also from old habits when it comes to the way we speak about Arabs and women. A prominent example of how to cope with these habits has been demonstrated by the linguistic activism that Meirav Michaeli undertakes in her heroic attempt to change our language. Michaeli understands that language affects consciousness and consciousness affects being. We are accustomed to patriarchal language, in which women are a linguistic entity only when it comes to secretaries, housekeepers, etc. The use of patriarchal language serves as an unconscious justification for violence and harassment against women, in the minds of quite many men, and also to indifference for the harm caused to women. There is patriarchy in all languages, but the Hebrew language, which uses different adjectives and numbering forms for males and females – makes it much more difficult to use gender neutrality than the Latin languages.

Another prominent example of patriarchal language is the use of the term “husband” (which in Hebrew also means “owner”) to denote the male in a married couple. Some complain that the use of substitutes for the concept of husband stems from excessive political correctness. However, many men who murdered their wives did so out of a belief that their wives were the men’s property, and if the women did not meet their expectations, then they should have been punished, sometimes fatally.

In this sense, when Merav Michaeli employs “feminist” language, she plays the same role that Rosa Parks did against racial segregation when she refused to accept the traditional practice that black people must sit in the back of the bus. Today, Parks’ protest is taken for granted, but this was not the case during Parks’ time. What Meirav Michaeli is doing should be done by the formal education system in the State of Israel.

As for murder in Arab society, a simple statistical comparison shows the inconceivable gap in Israeli media’s lack of coverage of murders in the Arab society, compared to the widely covered murders in the Jewish society. In addition, it is outrageous that most of the murders in Arab society have not been solved by the police. This fact stands out when compared to the rate of solved cases in Jewish society. This disparity must be addressed and corrected.

The leaders of the Arab society, from Ayman Odeh to Mansour Abbas, repeatedly emphasize and acknowledge how important this issue is to the country’s Arab citizens. The pleas from 20 percent of the country’s population, however, receive partial attention only when the government needs them to form a coalition, and is in need of their votes.

In both cases, nothing short of a revolution is required in terms of investment of resources. The solutions for curbing violence against women and Arabs will come from reforming and utilizing education and technology.

Lily Ben-Ami, the sister of the late Michal Sala who was murdered by her husband, founded the Michal Sala Forum, which promotes innovative technological solutions for preventing violence against women, and for preventing tragedies like the one experienced by her sister. Using technology in the Arab sector can help dramatically as well.

A clear example of the effective use of technology to prevent murder is the way in which the Israeli Internal Security Agency (GSS) has managed to dramatically reduce the number of attacks by individual terrorists. Technology, of course, is one of the most important factors in preventing terrorism more generally. However, attacks by “lone wolves” are similar to attacks against women and Arabs by individuals because of the similar challenges to collect intelligence of potential murderers of women by their husbands, and also to the murders in Arab society. In Arab society, the challenge is a lack of trust in the police, which makes it very difficult to obtain human intelligence.

Statistics show that terrorism claims fewer victims than attacks against women and violence in the Arab society, but at the same time it receives more media coverage and vigorous government attention.

I do not suggest that the GSS should handle domestic crime, as it is the role of the police in democracies. However, it is possible for the police to utilize some of the GSS’s measures to prevent domestic and social violence. We must keep in mind, however, that this effort must be done under close legal supervision, in order to prevent civil rights violations.

Israeli society has proven time and again that it has extraordinarily creative and innovative abilities, a trait that has made us the “nation of innovation.” The Israeli governments must give priority to dealing with violence in the Arab society and violence against women, by giving the issue a much higher priority, and by stimulating Israeli innovation in education and in technology, in order to deal with the challenges of violence. The sooner the better.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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