A man threatens to kill his ex-wife, not only in the hearing of others, but he is recorded saying the words. His wife had divorced him: the relationship was abusive, and she finally got up the courage to get out. That simple act puts her life in immediate danger. The police have only one answer for her: Go to a shelter.
She decides not to go to a shelter. He can find her there (there are only three for Arab women in the country), and she has three small daughters. And a shelter is, at best, only a short-term solution – one that is ineffective unless the abusive man is kept permanently away from her and her family. Instead, she leaves her children with her parents and goes to stay with relatives in the South.
But she misses her daughters terribly. She decides to sneak back into her parents’ house one afternoon, just to give them a hug. While she is sitting in her parents’ home in Lod, a masked man breaks into the house and shoots her multiple times. She is holding her youngest daughter in her lap as she dies from her wounds.
The ex-husband? He is inexplicably out of the country. The police know the pattern by now – the man who is abroad or visibly in a public place at the time a woman is murdered. They know the price of a contract killing – one for every pocketbook. They even arrest the ex-husband and question him. And then they let him go for lack of evidence. When questioned on television about the murder of woman they knew to be in danger, they shrug their shoulders and say: “Well, she was told to go to a shelter.”
With that bit of barefaced victim-blaming, they let themselves off the hook. But in the process, they apparently condemn not only more innocent women to death, but three small children to a fate that Dickens himself would have struggled to describe. Because a court decides, on the recommendation of the welfare authorities, to remove the daughters from the care of their loving grandparents, to send the two older ones to a children’s shelter to be funneled into the welfare system, and to give the ex-husband the custody of the youngest, who is now three years old. Because this man is never even charged in their mother’s murder, he is their legal guardian.
The system fails women
How does this happen? Let’s start with willful ignorance. Lack of evidence is a tricky term that can mean “We know who did it, but we’re too lazy to find proof.” If the killer was wearing a mask, that is already “lack of evidence.” If the car used to get away was stolen, that is more “lack of evidence.” The welfare authorities were quoted as saying they were “misinformed,” as to whether the case against the ex-husband was closed or not. Were they misinformed as to evidence that the man is violent or abusive? Surely that is relevant in a case involving child welfare? The courts? Why should they expend energy on weighing extra evidence when the welfare authorities have made a recommendation?
And if a man’s history of violence is irrelevant, it is because nowhere in the saga is there an authority who is truly able to protect the woman or her children. The shelter system is excellent – it has saved countless women’s lives. But it cannot save them all, and it does not present much of an obstacle to contract killers. In in any case, they can only save women if the other parts of the system do their jobs as well. The police have as much as admitted they cannot prevent these tragic crimes. Their jobs begin and end with recording complaints they are not likely to act on, escorting women to a shelter, investigating murders when the women are killed and letting the cases go cold for lack of evidence. The courts tend to be inexplicably lenient in domestic violence suits. Their job is limited to punishment, possibly preserving public order, but not protecting women and children. The welfare authorities? If this case is anything to judge by, they do not see their jobs as keeping children safe in a loving home.
In the long term, the system needs to change so that its focus is on protection and prevention. It must be designed to remove violent men from their homes and streets, and to deal with them in a way that prevents further violence. Acting on women’s complaints, stricter punishments, men’s education or reeducation, relocating men rather than forcing women into hiding, enforced used of mood-altering drugs – these would all be a good start. A welfare system that makes its recommendations solely based on the good of the children – one that looks to the community and schools as well as the caretakers – would be a welcome step.
The system failed Rabab Abu Siyam. It is failing her mother, who lost her daughter and is now having the grandchildren she loves taken from her. It is failing her children miserably. We cannot bring Rabab back. But we can refuse to stand for a system in which children are punished for the willful ignorance of the authorities, and are even made to live with a man who is known to be violent and almost certainly had their mother killed.