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Israeli Women Take to Streets to Protest Violence and Abuse

An unusual marathon was run through the streets of Tel Aviv on Monday, one that had neither winners nor prizes.

The participants were women, and they ran under the banner “A Race for Our Lives.” The marathon triggered the start of what is considered a long overdue national campaign to protest violence against women in Israel.

The race followed the release of some shocking statistics that reveal a dark aspect of Israeli society: One of every six women in Israel is battered, and one of every three girls suffers sexual abuse of some kind, according to the study.

Thirty-three Israeli women are known to have been murdered by their husbands, boyfriends or a member of their immediate family since the beginning of the year.

Perhaps dozens more violent deaths of women at the hands of family members or lovers were recorded as “accidents,” with claims that “she fell off the balcony and died” or “she was killed by an unknown man who broke into her home.”

Despite these frightening statistics, there are only four shelters for abused women in Israel, and none in Tel Aviv, its biggest city.

On Monday, a discussion was held in the Knesset about violence against women. But of the 120 members of Knesset, only 12 took part. Most outspoken was Sarah Doron of Likud, who said, “The problem is not the battered women but the battering men.”

On Monday night, a documentary about divorce, funded by the Israel Women’s Network, was aired on Israeli television.

The program directly addressed the relationship between violence in the home and Israel’s slow divorce process.

One of the women interviewed said her husband forced her into prostitution in the presence of their children.

‘HAVE TO FIGHT VIOLENCE NOW’

Israel’s struggling feminist movement, which includes a significant number of transplanted Americans, organized the “Race for Our Lives.”

“We have decided to stop ‘walking’ and to start ‘racing’ against the violence against women,” one member told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Hallie Fernandez, originally from Buffalo, N.Y., but now an Israeli, has been involved with the movement for three years. She explained that in addition to raising the awareness of the Israeli public, the purpose of the race was to collect funds for a battered women’s shelter in Tel Aviv.

The marathon attracted only about 150 runners. It began at the Dolphinarium in southern Tel Aviv and ended at Malchei Yisrael Square outside City Hall, where about 300 more people joined them in a rally.

“We have to fight the violence, now, and not tomorrow,” 29-year-old Orly Hadar, one of the runners, told JTA.

“I have never been beaten, but I have a friend who has, and I want to do as much as possible to protest, fight and correct the situation,” she said.

Hadar does not belong to the feminist movement but professes a strong interest in it and attends feminist lectures. “I feel very strongly against the violence, and I am really shocked and horrified by the enormous number of victims in Israel,” she said.

Another runner, Donna Wallach, originally from California, was among the first to reach the finish line. A 10-year resident of Ramat Gan, she said she ran “because I want to tell the world how sick I am of the violence against women.”

Wallach, a member of the Society for the Protection of Personal Rights in Israel, a support group for lesbians and gay men, was part of a group of 34 women who held posters with the name, age and date of death of the 33 women murdered by their spouses.

The 34th poster simply read, “Anonymous, of Blessed Memory,” representing the countless unknown women victims.

‘DESPERATELY NEED MORE SHELTERS’

The runners were mostly young, single women, most of whom had personally never suffered such abuse.

But some among the group did have first-hand experience with violent spouses, and they acknowledged it in public for the first time.

“It was bad,” one elderly women told JTA. “In Morocco, before we came here, he was a good husband. He was never violent,” she said. “But here, everything changed.”

The women, in her 70s and a widow for 20 years, said she nevertheless misses her husband.

“Today, if I would be young again, and my husband would hit me, I might leave him. But I am not sure,” she admitted.

She connected his physical abuse with long periods of unemployment, during which he blamed her for all their problems.

“I realize that he probably felt ashamed in front of the children. But then I hurt, both mentally and physically. I can still feel the blows and kicks, although over 20 years have passed,” said the woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

The paradox of why abused and battered women return to their husbands was raised by a young vocalist who sang about a village on the slopes of a volcano in India.

“The life of a battered woman,” explained Shirley Youval, introducing the song, “can be compared to the lives of villagers who keep returning to the volcano that destroys their village time after time. Why do they return?”

An obvious reason is that they have nowhere to go. The four existing shelters, in Jerusalem, Ashdod, Herzliya and Haifa, can house no more than 50 women and children between them. Women seeking shelter are turned away every day.

“We desperately need more shelters in Israel,” said Ruth Reznik, who manages the Herzliya shelter.

To emphasize the dimensions of the shortage, she compared Santa Barbara, Calif., a city of 400,000 that has four shelters, with Tel Aviv, which has not even one.

The campaign for women will continue until Dec. 10, which is International Human Rights Day. Petitions have been circulated declaring violence against women a violation of their human rights.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, the JTA Daily News Bulletin will not be published Friday, Nov. 29.

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