Calling the murder of Ethiopian women by their husbands an epidemic that must be stopped immediately, the chairman of the Knesset Committee for Aliya, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs said Wednesday society must not wait idly for the “next shocking murder” to take place.
MK Danny Danon (Likud), who was speaking at special hearing following the murder- suicide last week’s of Lawaka and Yeshi Amara in Rishon Lezion, received data from the Knesset’s Research and Information Department showing that 30 percent of such domestic crimes occur within the Ethiopian immigrant community.
“We should not be accepting this statistic,” stated Danon, highlighting that there seems to be failure by the authorities in reaching and treating immigrant families that are struggling as they start their new lives in Israel.
“As a society we are not being successful in pinpointing the problems that these olim are facing,” he said. “We cannot wait for the next shocking event to happen, this is an epidemic and it cannot be ignored.”
Danon called on the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to set in motion a program that would immediately tackle the problem and to report back to the committee in the near future.
According to statistics compiled by Knesset researchers, out of 102 women who were murdered by their partners between 2004 and 2012, 21 were Ethiopian. Furthermore, data from the Immigrant Absorption Ministry suggests additional murders that were not recorded by police due to lack of evidence or witnesses.
“We have entered into an awful cycle of discussions that take place after every murder,” commented the Knesset’s only Ethiopianborn MK, Shlomo Molla (Kadima), pointing out that Wednesday’s meeting was approximately the 10th such hearing to be called in the last four years to discuss this issue.
Molla said the onus was on the Immigrant Absorption Ministry to help ease the immigrant’s transition from absorption centers, where they live initially after arriving in Israel, to permanent housing. He also said there needed to be more focus on violent men and on helping divorcing couples.
Molla also suggested the government return to funding the Bahalachin, a cultural center structured according to Ethiopian society, that provides counseling and supportive services for the community.
Following each tragic incident, experts working with the community are often quick to point out the social support system that exists in Ethiopia to help couples work through their problems suddenly disappears after the immigrants arrive here. Although attention is still paid to the elders and spiritual leaders while the immigrants are living in absorption centers, once they leave that close-knit community, there is no culturally suitable alternative system to replace it.
In addition, they point out that new immigrants are often faced with social and economic pressures that did not exist in Ethiopia, where the men spend most of their time working and the women taking care of the home and family.
Representatives of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry admitted Wednesday that for the community of 115,000 there are only 26 Ethiopian social workers that really understand the social and culture problems that exist. More are needed they said.
The ministry’s head of Ethiopian immigration, David Yassu, said, however, that detecting the problem was also an issue.
“No one knows who the next potential murderer could be, the last murder-suicide happened in a normal family,” he said referring to events last week in Rishon Lezion where Lawaka Amara, 37, stabbed his wife, Yeshi, 32, to death and then hanged himself. The couple, who had three children, immigrated five years ago and had no case file with local welfare services.
Other experts present at Wednesday’s meeting said some efforts were already being made to treat potentially violent husbands, provide shelter for battered women and offer counseling to troubled couples before and after they arrive in Israel.
The Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs’ national coordinator for combating domestic violence, Said Tali, said two group homes exist to treat violent men and two more centers are set to open soon. Out of 62 men, who, in recent years, have received treatment for domestic violence, five or six were from the Ethiopian community. And out of the 750 women in 13 government- sponsored shelters, 92 were Ethiopian-born.
The Jewish Agency for Israel’s Director of Social Welfare Mira Keidar also pointed out to a program that provides Ethiopian olim and those waiting to immigrate with couple’s counseling. However, she said such programs were limited and there was little budget to expand them.