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Tens of thousands take part in women's strike protests throughout Israel

A general view of protest against violence against women in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. A nationwide strike in protest of violence against women and commemorating the 24 victims of domestic violence with thousands of men and women calling on
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
More than 300 institutions declared their support, as protesters voiced their anger at government inaction.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will chair an exceptional meeting of a Ministerial Committee on Violence against Women at 9:00 am on Wednesday, a day after protests brought together tens of thousands of Israelis across the country.

Marches and events were held throughout the day on Tuesday as anger continues to mount over what they say is the government's inadequate response to a rise in violence against women in Israel.

The action, which was largely organized on social media by a coalition of more than 50 women’s organizations, was launched following the murders of two teenage girls late last month, the day after the International Day to End Violence Against Women.

Their deaths brought to 24 the number of women killed in Israel on the basis of their gender this year alone -- marking a more that 30 percent increase in femicide since last year.

The strike, which aims to put pressure on the government to take action, has received unprecedented support within Israeli society. Large gatherings were held throughout the day in Israel's largest cities, culminating with a major rally at Rabin Square, where thousands of demonstrators gathered to demand government action.

The rally included speeches by organizers of the strike, elected officials, and feminist movement leaders, as well as families of women murdered in recent years.

Ortal Shefek, the daughter of a woman murdered in Netanya two months ago, said at the rally: "Two months ago, it was my mother, tomorrow it could be any one of us. Over twenty women were murdered this year by someone they know, and I see the cry of the women around me who are struggling for a better educational system, for our future."

Einat Nir, one of the protesters organizers said: "This struggle is beyond the sectors - it crosses sectors, classes, communities and nationalities...We come from all corners of the country, from all parts of our society. "

"No more. Our blood is not abandoned", Nir continued. "We will continue to voice this voice, and it will be heard throughout the country and in the corridors of the government and the Knesset."

Late Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a meeting of his ministerial committee on violence against women to be held on Wednesday morning.

AP Photo/Oded Balilty

Marches began Tuesday morning in Tel Aviv with hundreds of participants chanting slogans and brandishing placards near the Azrieli towers, where they blocked entrances to major highways into the city and caused major traffic disturbances.

Traffic was also blocked at the entrance to Jerusalem, where a similar demonstration was underway.

Takeoffs at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport were halted as female employees of the Israel Airports Authority joined in the nationwide strike.

Elsewhere in Tel Aviv, residents awoke to a display of red women’s shoes in the city’s iconic Habima Square -- a tribute to the victims of domestic violence. A red carpet lined the length of Tel Aviv's central Rothschild Boulevard, where the families of victims sat with photos of their lost loved ones.

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Many large Israeli companies ran efforts in solidarity with the strike, which went from encouraging employees to wear black, to permitting their workforce to join the protests without docking a day’s pay.

Around 300 institutions and organizations in total gave support to the strike, including 50 Israeli municipal authorities, including most of the major Jewish towns, and a substantial amount of Arab ones.

Histadrut, a major labor union, also signed up for the strike, as well as many smaller unions, including the teacher’s union. Most educational institutions were closed Tuesday, including major universities, which designated space for local rallies to take place.

Only the major industrial port of Ashdod was reportedly seeking an injunction from the courts to prevent any disturbances to its operations. 

The organizers of Tuesday's protest are asking for the budget already allocated to an emergency plan for prevention of violence against women to be immediately actioned.

Minimal government funding has been allocated to fighting domestic violence in Israel despite promises from several ministries to earmark 250 million shekels ($67 million) over the course of five years beginning a year ago.

Ellie Stern/i24NEWS

The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services as well as Public Security were supposed to provide programs to combat domestic violence with 47 million NIS allotted for 2018.

So far, none of the funding was disbursed.

Tzipi Livni, who joined protesters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday morning, told i24NEWS she wanted the women of Israel to know that the government is listening to their demands even if the coalition is not.

Joint (Arab) List lawmaker Touma Suleiman called on women across the country to take their lives into their own hands and join marches in their cities.

"This government has to understand that we are taking responsibility for our lives, because nobody else is doing it, because they have betrayed women," she told i24NEWS from a protest in Tel Aviv.

The proposal was approved by the executive in July 2017, but it was never funded. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced further embarrassment after it was revealed he voted against a parliamentary opposition proposal to set up an inquiry into the murder of women by family members in November.

"Bibi, wake up, our blood is not cheap," protesters chanted near the entrance to Jerusalem, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.

Speaking on Sunday, Netanyahu mentioned a recent visit to a women's shelter, following which he decided to head the governmental committee to combat domestic violence.

"We will convene the committee time after time," he pledged, "to bring a better future and hope for these women."

Members of the opposition, however, accused the government of failing to fund the existing programme to deal with the problem.

Ellie Stern/i24NEWS

"It's all a matter of priorities," Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union said during a parliamentary hearing.

“We want the Israeli public to see the blood, the damage, and to put pressure on the government to make real changes,” one of the organizers of a demonstration which saw fountains across the country turned blood-red told i24NEWS Monday on the condition of anonymity.

“This is our time for taking to the streets and giving voice to the problem,” protest organizers said. “On Tuesday we’re all striking. We’re in the midst of a show of force by women, one which gives hope, and we won’t remain quiet until women’s lives are put at the top of the national agenda.”

Welfare groups estimate that there are approximately 200,000 battered women in Israel, entangling more than one million women, children, and men in the cycle of domestic violence.

Figures published by the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO) show that an average of 70 criminal domestic violence complaints are filed every day.

Released on condition of anonymity

According to WIZO, of the 24,424 complaints of violence filed by women to police 4,163 (or 17 percent) resulted in indictments against the perpetrator. Of another 714 complaints regarding the violation of a restraining order, 283 (or 39 percent) ended up in indictments.

The 23rd and 24th victims, who were killed on November 26th, the day after the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, were both teenagers in some of the most under-privileged sectors of Israeli society.

Silvana Tsegai, 12, was an asylum seeker from Eritrea who died in south Tel Aviv, despite repeated calls for social services and police to respond to her home situation.

Yara Ayoub, a 16-year old Arab woman living in Jish, was found dead in a garbage bin, raising cries for action from activists in the Arab community. “The proportion of Arab women murdered is double their share of the population. Ten of the 24 women murdered this year were Arabs”, said Naila Awwad, director of the Association of Women Against Violence, to Haaretz.

In both cases, the police suspect the girls were murdered by men that they knew.

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