By Dr. Ruti Feuchtwanger
“The sword without, and terror within” (Deut. 32:25)
On November 18, the fifth day of Operation "Pillar of Cloud”, the body of a fifty-year-old woman was found dead in her home in Ofakim. The police suspect that she was killed by her spouse. Many people have never heard of this story – even an internet search comes up with very few results, all with few details, (like this one http://www.mako.co.il/news-law/crime/Article-7749585b2331b31004.htm&Partner=rss) and not a single news item in English.
It is hard not to compare the coverage of this death with the coverage of the deaths of three people in Kiryat Mal'achi – not far from Ofakim – a few days earlier. The three victims from Kiryat Mal'achi have names and faces, and the Ofakim victim remains anonymous; they were killed by the missile of a foreign enemy, and she was (allegedly) murdered by the stabs of a “loved one” in her home; their death got widespread coverage, while hers was barely mentioned in the margin of the news.
How have our senses become so dull so that the murder of a woman does not find its place in the news? Are these stories not news for us? Have we become so accustomed to this that we are numb to it?
We can’t simply blame the fighting in the south. Even during “normal” times, the murder of a woman does not receive widespread attention. But it is very convenient to ignore this kind of murder under the cover of "Pillar of Cloud", the cloud that obscures all that is unheroic. Barrages of rockets and interceptors, waves of words and analyses, do not leave air-time or screen-time for the life of a woman cut short so banally, in her home, in the context of her daily struggle for basic survival, rather than in the framework of a Big War.
We rightly show our sympathy for the residents of the south who are living under the threat of the enemy. In these days of war a sense of solidarity springs up, we strive to understand the difficulties of their new routine, and try as a state and as a civil society to extend what help we can through hospitality and organized activities, exemptions and discounts.
How many of us stopped our own daily routine for a moment to consider the lives of women like the victim from Ofakim – how does a life feel when it is under a constant threat? A life of such tremendous loneliness? A dead end life? How much did this woman suffer until she found her death? With whom could she share her pain and torment?
Fifteen women have been murdered in Israel by their partners over the past year. Fifteen!
Each case is its own story, the story of a man who believes that he has full rights over a woman’s body, and as a result of this "right" he can perform acts of violence on her , culminating in murder. But this kind of murder is also a broader social issue. It teaches all of us about our priorities.
This is, after all, a subject that commands a strong consensus, one that transcends social sectors – religious-Zionist, ultra-Orthodox, traditional, secular, Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druse – no-one condones the murder of women.
So how can it be that the "yiddeshe kop" that invents systems like Iron Dome still cannot develop a social support system that will enable every woman to feel protected in her own home?
When our leadership came to the decision that we can no longer live under the constant threat of fire from the Gaza Strip, the decision was made to develop a solution. Even though the idea seemed far-fetched, despite all odds and grave doubts, they found the funds and creativity to develop a sophisticated system that works. Today, Iron Dome protects and gives a considerable sense of safety and security to all those in the range of enemy missiles.
If our leadership would similarly come to a decision that the situation demands a national project to stop the constant threat that too many women are living under, and the best professionals brought in to develop a solution, a way would surely be found to enhance personal safety. We desperately need a protective dome to guard women against violence at home and elsewhere. We need funds, fresh creative thinking, and a broad public commitment, of all of us, to develop an effective system of defense and to spread wings of peace over women wherever they may be.
What do we need to do?
For a start, more of what has already been done:
- We need a unanimous denouncing of this kind of violence from anyone who has a chance of being harkened to: religious leaders, educators on all levels, politicians, people of the media. We cannot let this kind of murder of a woman from Ofakim be ignored. It’s not something that is pleasant to hear, but we must make it heard.
- We have to educate from the earliest ages for respect of people as they are, for non-violent communication, for interpersonal skills of negotiation.
- We need to spread a safety net for women, to declare loud and clear that a woman who suffers from violence has nothing to be ashamed of, that she should not face the threat alone but rather look to help from others. We need accessible and well publicized hot-lines, and safe houses and shelters for women whose homes are no longer secure.
- We need more programs for violent men to teach them to alter their behavior patterns.
If the war on violence against women would be declared as a national project, more creative ideas would undoubtedly emerge, more directions that we have not yet thought of.
“The sword without, and horror within” says the song of Ha’azinu. We have managed to overcome the sword from without, but what about the horror within?
As long as we have an Iron Dome that protects us only from the outside, while on the inside women are exposed to violence, our work as a community and as a society has not been completed, and we still have a long way to go.
Dr. Ruti Feuchtwanger is a board member of Kolech.