(l-r) Samah Salaime and Naila Awad in Forbes. Photo: Makbula Nasser
Of the 67 women murdered by their partners in Israel between 2017-2019, over half were Arab. But Arab women are speaking out, and they are, of late, getting recognition for their efforts. Samah Salaime, Head of Na’am-Arab Women in the Center, and Naila Awad, Head of Women against Violence, an organization that has been working within Arab society for positive change since 1996, were included in Forbes’ list of “power women,” along with celebrities, activists, CEOS and other prominent women in Israel.
“At first, we felt alone,” said Salaime in the interview, “but now there are hundreds speaking our language.” Salaime and Awad, both social workers, have come to understand the status of Arab women in Israel in feminist terms, as well as societal and cultural. “At every junction, I ran into women who were unable to realize their potential due to repression, as well as opposition at home,” said Salaime, “but what broke my heart was the murder, in 2003, of a young woman in Lod who I knew. I could not tolerate the silence and tacit acceptance surrounding that murder. It was then I understood that one cannot talk about Israeli society without discussing how women are oppressed.”
The article cited a few of their achievements, including some attained through cooperative efforts that included the two organizations. Describing them as “taking down the wall, brick by brick,” the piece mentioned the successes in fighting the use of the term “honor killing,” changing police practices, working for laws to increase the representation of women in local authorities, fighting court battles, and most of all, bringing other women into the struggle to change the status quo.
“Fundamentalist voices are still with us, disseminating their extreme, contagious values,” said Awad. “That exists in every society, not just the Arab one. But I can see a light.”
The piece also credited the two with being quick to understand the implications of a situation in which women, men and children were forced to stay at home, in which fear, uncertainty and lack of employment would exacerbate tensions and lead to an increase in domestic violence. Their Corona responses included a “control center” for women’s rights, a hot line and an application in development for emergency information and assistance, and an increase in lobbying.