Israeli Feminists Dramatize Violence Against Women

A bride with her arm in a sling and a block eye stands outside a Jerusalem market and gives a haunting warning to shoppers that marriage will not solve the problem of violence in a relationship, but instead it will exaggerate it. The bride is an actress and the wounds are fake, but the violence against women is a daily reality for hundreds of thousands of Israeli women. This demonstration was one of the many ways Israeli feminists observed The International Protest Against Violence Against Women held during the 16 days between November 25th and December 10th, 1993.

Because of Jewish religious law, Israeli civil law and the politically violent climate of the Middle East, Israeli feminists are struggling with several particular concerns. Many Israeli women report terrible fear when their husbands return from their mandatory army service with guns. Of the hundreds of women murdered by their husbands, partners or family members, most were killed in unusually cruel methods such as stabbing and strangling.

According to a survey conducted this year by a the respected Israeli company Geocartogrophia, approximately 14% of Israeli men believe that there are situations when men are entitled to beat women, and 7% of women agree. A majority of battered women who want a divorce are unable to get one because of religious law that stipulates that only the man may initiate a get[Jewish divorce— see LILITH Foil 1993]. As a result, many women are trapped in abusive marriages.

Women all over Israel organized protests. In Tel Aviv, WIZO held a conference on violence against women, and a coalition of women’s organizations marched outside the homes of judges to protest the lenient treatment of men convicted of violence against women. In Haifa, a coalition made up of Woman to Woman, the Battered Women’s Shelter, the Emergency Line for Sexual Abuse, Women Against Violence and Al Panar, the Arab Women’s Movement had information stands in six different places in the city.

The Israel Women’s Network together with other women’s organizations, staged their demonstration—”A Market for Violence: Come But Buy Nothing”—inside Ha’Masbbir, the main department store in Jerusalem, which loaned props and space.

The actresses from the group “Kafka’s Orphans” warned against “buying violence.” The bruised bride cautioned, “Don’t buy violence while courting.” Another actress, dressed as a man, told listeners “Don’t buy any more of his apologies.” She explained the apologies are port of a pattern of violence and do not guarantee behavioral change. A heavily clothed actress explained, “Don’t buy the myth that rape is your fault” to a provocatively dressed mannequin. Surrounded by recent Israeli advertisements representing women as fruit, an actress slices produce and tells the audience, “Don’t buy it that you are a piece of fruit.”

(To learn more about these protests, and meet with Israeli feminists, contact: Israel Women’s Network, PO Box 3171, Jerusalem 91031. Phone: 02-439966 Fax:02-435976)