Rape of teen shocks Israelis, sends them to the streets

Women rights groups were joined by many Israeli firms in a protest over the gang rape of a 16-year-old in Eilat.

al-monitor Israeli protesters wearing protective face masks hold placards as they take part in a demonstration in Tel Aviv to denounce sexual violence against women following the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat, Israel, Aug. 23, 2020. Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images.

Aug 26, 2020

Orit Soliciano has heard many testimonies of sexual and domestic violence over the years. But even she admits that a recent case in Eilat stands out in its severity.

Soliciano heads the Israeli Association of Rape Crisis Centers — an organization uniting all of the centers in the country treating victims of sexual harassment and violence. She has just come back from a meeting with Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir. The reason for the meeting was the gruesome gang rape in Eilat that took place in a hotel Aug. 20. Several men are accused of gang-raping a 16-year-old girl in a Red Sea Hotel room. First reports of the case mentioned 30 men who allegedly participated in the attack. The police have arrested 11 suspects, including seven minors, but the investigation is far from over.

The gang rape in Eilat generated anger with large swaths of the society. "Dozens of men were present there. It is inconceivable. Unimaginable. And so this has touched many. It was the one drop too many that caused all sorts of feelings to burst out," Soliciano told Al-Monitor.

Soliciano and her organization are not alone in the protest. Thousands of people have been demonstrating for the past few days against what they consider insufficient action by the authorities against sexual violence, lenient punishment and lack of resources to assist victims of rape. Shortly after the news, women started gathering in junctions across the country, dressed in red, carrying signs, "We won’t be silenced" and "Rape is like murder." On Aug. 23 at noon, dozens of women rights groups staged a strike, with walkouts all over Israel. A mass rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square took place that night.

Interestingly, these groups were joined by many big and small companies. Yair Katz, head of Israel Aerospace Industry labor union, posted on his Facebook page a call for staffers to wear red, as a sign of solidarity with the battle against violence against women. "Israel is embarrassed," said his post. But calls came not just from activists and labor unions. Managements of dozens of firms were also quick to react. In fact, many companies decided to join the public upheaval and stop all work for different periods of time. In a symbolic strike denouncing sexual violence against women, Microsoft staff in Israel were encouraged to protest for an hour. AIG Israel Insurance Co. announced it will donate 50,000 Israeli shekels ($15,000) to one of the rape crisis centers. Carasso Motors announced that its 18,000 staffers would stop working at noon Aug. 23 to join the protests in the public space.

"As companies that operate as part of Israeli society and view human dignity and gender equality as major values, we consider the struggle of preventing violence against women as a highly important one. Following the recent events, we decided to join the protests and to stop all work at 12:00 as a sign of solidarity," said Dganit Kremer, deputy CEO of Pelephone, yes and Bezeq International. Thousands of workers in these three companies stopped working for 15 minutes and released balloons in a sign of support.

"We have seen in Israel several mediatized cases even before the #MeToo movement," Soliciano noted. "The case of former President Moshe Katsav, for instance, who was convicted of sexual assault — that was several years ago. The coronavirus period also did its part, with a serious increase in domestic violence cases in Israel. Then we had a few cases recently of celebrities getting lenient sentencing for sexual assault. People are no longer willing to accept this."

Director of the Israel Women’s Network Michal Gera Margaliot told Al-Monitor that this recent case illustrates a comprehensive, institutionalized failure. She argued that the state’s handling of sexual violence must change profoundly. "Two and a half years ago, the Israeli government decided to invest 10 million shekels [$2.9 million] in a national program for the prevention of sexual harassment. Ten million. Not 100 or 200 million. And even this [small] budget was never allocated. The program stayed on paper only." Gera Margaliot has fought many years for gender equality and she has years of experience in parliamentarian lobbying. She said that this failure to fund the program is yet another example of a much larger trend where Israel’s government takes no responsibility for the lives of women, their safety or their well-being.

Soliciano explained that well before the Eilat case, they proposed a comprehensive ministerial plan for fighting sexual violence. The organization identified the six Cabinet ministries most relevant to the issue — including the ministries of justice, health and education — proposing concrete measures to be implemented. So far, they received no serious response. "The first and most important measure should be prevention. In Israel, we don’t have a compulsory comprehensive education plan in schools for that. We need a program that teaches students about sexual consent and about sexual violence. The Education Ministry must react now," she concluded.

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