Israel Registers a Rise in Domestic Violence Cases; Authorities Struggling to Cope With the Crisis
© AP Photo / Ariel SchalitIsraeli special forces police officers run during a drill simulating an attack on a bus, in the port of Ashdod, Israel (File)
© AP Photo / Ariel Schalit
On November 25th, the world observes an international day for the elimination of violence against women. In Israel, thousands are expected to take to the centre of Tel Aviv later this evening, where they will stage a rally in support of the victims of violence.
It is not really clear how many Israeli women suffer from domestic violence. In 2001 their number stood at 200,000 but current estimates suggest that this figure is much higher now.
According to official data, 2021 saw a ten percent spike in the number of women who contacted the 118 hotline of the Welfare Ministry that has been set up for the purpose of helping victims of domestic violence.
Since the beginning of the year and till October, the hotline registered nearly 8,000 queries. 4,382 of these dealt with violence against women. 295 were directed at men, whereas the remaining cases dealt with children.
These extremely high numbers were also registered a year earlier. At the time, the Women International Zionist Organisation registered a 300 percent spike in the number of calls from women asking for assistance.
Yael Levin, a social worker, psychotherapist and the Director of Shelter for women victims of violence and their children, operated by Naamat, one of the leading organisations fighting for women's rights, says the spike in numbers has largely been attributed to the coronavirus pandemic and the fragile economic situation that it unkeyed.
"We know that social crises often intensify the scope of violence. In the case of COVID-19, it happened too, and we have not only seen a higher number of cases, but also an aggravation in the dimensions of the phenomenon."
To deal with the situation, Israel operates 16 shelters for women, two of which were opened since the outbreak of COVID-19 in February 2020.
Out of the 16, there are two shelters that are dedicated to dealing with violence cases among the Arab community. Two others are devoted to the Haredi women. Another two are designed to house victims and their children, whereas all the rest absorb everyone who asks for assistance without differentiation according to race, religion or ethnicity.
The trouble is that 16 shelters, each of which is able to house only 12 women and their children, are unable to provide assistance to all women seeking help.
However, the lack of shelters is just one of the many problems that such vulnerable women are facing.
"Although those shelters provide a refuge to women and give them some treatment, most of the rehabilitation is done in special centres that are operated by the Welfare Ministry. There are 160 centres across Israel that provide that assistance but the treatment they provide to men is very limited".
To treat those men, many of whom have witnessed violence in their childhood, the Welfare Ministry needs to provide a wide range of psychologists and social workers specialising in this sphere. But the number of such professionals has been exceptionally low, partially due to the low salaries they have been getting, and partially because the state didn't provide them with enough work places.
Where is the Money?
In 2017, in an attempt to tackle the issue, Israel allocated some $97 million, but in 2020 a State Comptroller report revealed that less than 50 percent of that amount has been transferred to cater to their needs.
The fact that Israel hasn't had a budget for three years has also bogged down progress in that regard, but now authorities are hopeful that 2022 will see a boost of $16 million.
However, apart from funds, many of which will be allocated to the rehabilitation and to the housing of victims, Levin says that Israel also needs to punish men who are violent against women. And it will also need to enforce law and make sure that women that feel threatened are properly protected.
"Once a year, when we mark the international day for the elimination if violence against women, we remember those women and talk about them but then they are forgotten. To eradicate this phenomenon Israel needs a combination of strict punishments, law enforcement and treatment of violent men and their victims," said Levin.
For now, however, Israel has been struggling to cope with these challenges. And while authorities are dragging their feet, the number of women who have been murdered by their partners in 2021 stands at 21, slightly more than what was registered a year earlier.