In Israel, approximately 100,000 Israeli-Arab women are the victims of abuse and violence each year, constituting 50% of the national total, even though the Israeli-Arab community forms only 21% of Israel's population. Only 25% of the victims of abuse and violence turn to the authorities for help. This article examines the case of Dalal Daoud, an Israeli-Arab woman belonging to a conservative Muslim community who was regularly abused and beaten by her husband. Dalal sought help from her community, the Islamic courts, and the Israeli authorities. However, after her efforts proved futile, she killed her husband (in a case similar to the known cases of Simona Mori and Carmela Buhbut). Subsequently, she was convicted of premeditated murder, received a life sentence, was ostracized by her community, and was separated from her young children. In 2019, after having spent 18 years behind bars, Dalal was paroled and her sentence was commuted owing mainly to campaigns led by feminist organizations.
Until the fatal night of 16.1.1997, Dalal Daoud led the normative life of a northern Israeli Arab Muslim woman who strove to conform to her social and gender roles while being terrorized by her husband. During the five years of their marriage, Dalal's husband Ali abused her physically, sexually, and emotionally. On 16.1.1997, four days after Dalal had given birth to her second child, Ali arrived home drunk, yelled that she was cheating on him and that the new-born was not his, and demanded sexual intercourse. When Dalal refused, he beat her, and threw objects at her and at the baby. Threatening to beat the new-born and rape Dalal, he tried to tear her clothes off in the presence of their three-year-old daughter. Fearing for her life and for the life of her children, Dalal gave her husband Bondormin pills to calm him down. After he fell asleep, she covered him with thick blankets, suffocating him.
The examination of Dalal's story from a feminist, legal, Islamic, and social perspective reveals how her race, class, gender and religion cumulatively interacted to place her at the margins of society, restricting the opportunities and help available to her. Her case exposes the patriarchal system that governs the Arab society. In accordance with the Islamic law principle of Bayt at-Ta'ah, the Islamic Sharia court sent her back home to her violent husband. After she killed her husband, the Israeli court convicted her of premeditated murder.
Dalal belongs to a traditional and conservative Islamic community saturated with patriarchal ideologies. Certain Quranic verses and Hadiths overtly state that women are subordinate to men. For instance, according to An-Nisa 4:34, men are masters over women. As accepted interpretations propose, a virtuous wife must obey and serve her husband, which includes sexually satisfying him whenever he demands. Among other prescribed disciplinary methods, An-Nisa 4:34 instructs husbands to beat wives on whose part they fear disobedience. For these reasons, Islam as a religious institution is interpreted by many, including Sharia lawyers, as endorsing marital rape and wife-beating. Accordingly, although everyone in Dalal's small village knew about her abuse, nobody took any action to stop it. When Dalal turned to the Islamic Sharia Court, she was blamed for what was deemed "marital discord" and was told to go home and make peace with her husband.
Research shows that women in general, and women from traditional societies in particular, tend to refrain from turning to the authorities in cases of domestic violence. Overcoming her fear and cultural barriers, Dalal turned to the Israeli police 26 times, but all of her complaints were dismissed. Despite ample evidence against her husband, and despite the fact that the Israeli Penal Code views offences of rape and domestic abuse with severity, he was never prosecuted on the grounds that this was not in the public interest.
The Israeli Supreme Court convicted Dalal of premeditated murder with a mandatory life sentence. In my view, Dalal killed her husband under extenuating circumstances – she was in a state of great distress and felt that she was acting in self-defense. However, Dalal's sexual and physical abuse by her husband did not attract the attention of the court. On the contrary, her abuse by her husband was considered her motive for the murder. Dalal's punishment was particularly cruel since she was separated for life from her young children, whom she had sought to protect throughout her ordeal. In addition, the members of Dalal's community, who had earlier stood by and watched in inaction, labelled Dalal a murderer. She was ostracized by friends and family, and banned from reentering her hometown.
In 2014, Dalal submitted a request for retrial on the basis of her mental state at the time of the murder. Expert testimonies established that Dalal, who was in a post-traumatic state when she killed her husband, was subjected to psychological distress triggered by her long-term physical and psychological abuse at his hands, influencing her judgement. According to Dalal's lawyers, she suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome, which is a recognized psychological disorder classified as a branch of PTSD by the World Health Organization. This would make her eligible for a reduced sentence in accordance with Section 300.1.3 of the then Israeli Penal Code.
Section 300.1.3 is the first official attempt in the Israeli legal system to recognize the special circumstances and mental state of battered women. It was added to the Israeli Homicide Law as part of a 1995 amendment following the case of Carmela Buhbut, who, a year earlier, had shot and killed her husband following 24 years of severe physical and sexual abuse at his hands. In Buhbut's case, the Supreme Court ruled that it would be against the principles of justice to give a long prison sentence to a woman who had suffered such extreme abuse. The amendment made it possible for the court to give reduced prison sentences in murder cases where the accused was in a state of mental distress brought about by long-term abuse at the hands of the victim. However, the Supreme Court found that in Dalal's case, Section 300.1.3 did not apply.
Dalal is not a cold-blooded murderer, nor should she be treated as such: she was the victim of severe domestic violence, she received no help from her community, her appeals to the Islamic Sharia Court were rejected, and the Israeli police did not take action against her husband. This should have been taken into consideration in the deliberations of her appeal based on Section 300.1.3.
Justice Rubenstein began his response to Dalal Daoud's request for a retrial, submitted in 2014, as follows:
The defendant was married to the deceased for 5 years, during which several disputes erupted between them, partly due to the deceased's suspicions concerning the defendant's affair with his uncle. During the evening hours of 16.1.1997, the defendant murdered the deceased by suffocation. Afterwards, she tied his feet together, wrapped his body in blue nylon, placed it in a burlap sack, the opening of which she tied with wire, and dumped it in a dumpster close to her home. (Retrial 4990/14 ב)
I am not ignoring the evidence of the defendant being a battered woman […] in a conservative society, where victims of abuse are entrapped within the walls of convention. Nevertheless, those who have taken human life cannot be exempted from punishment, as sacred is the value of human life. (Retrial 4990/14 מו-מז)
Between these two excerpts lies a story of long-term violence, sexual, physical and emotional abuse; a story of the work of an abusive husband who was never brought to justice, and a woman who is still suffering the consequences. The word "disputes", with which Justice Rubenstein in his opening statement characterizes the relationship between Dalal Daoud and her husband, hardly captures Ali Daoud's actions. A more realistic description of the husband as "a violent and sadistic man" who, for the five years of the marriage, used his wife as "a sex slave" is advanced by Sapir Sluzker-Amran )Interview with Ynet(, an Israeli feminist activist who led the public support for Dalal. Dalal herself explained that she used to live in "perpetual terror" imposed by her husband (Interview with Ahrish). It is this version of the story that this paper seeks to explore from a feminist, legal, Islamic, social, and cultural perspective.
Dalal was convicted by the Israeli Supreme Court of premeditated murder with a mandatory life sentence. She was separated from her young children, whom she had sought to protect throughout her ordeal. In addition, a reduced sentence subject to Israeli Penal Code Section 300.1.3 was denied to her in a retrial for reasons that this paper will discuss.
Anchoring Dalal's story in its appropriate context of her subordinate status in a conservative Islamic patriarchal society, I will provide an account of her appeal to the local Islamic Sharia court and the way that she was treated by her local community. Dalal's race, class, gender, and religion cumulatively interacted to place her at the margins of her society, restricting the opportunities available to her and dictating the response of the legal system to her choices and actions. Furthermore, I will argue that the Israeli police did not properly fulfil its duty in her case, and that the Israeli justice system did not sufficiently account for the context of her abuse while trying her case.
It is not the aim of this paper to glorify Dalal's actions or to pronounce her a hero, as some feminist activists who followed her case have done. After all, Dalal had still decided to kill her husband and conceal the evidence. Rather, this paper will offer a glimpse of Dalal's life, relying on judicial decisions published in Nevo (the Israeli Legal Database), media coverage of her story, and interviews she gave upon her release from Neve Tirza women's prison.
Dalal was born and raised in Abu Snan, a small Muslim-majority Israeli Arab village in Northern Israel. Dalal scored low on the social ladder, and prior to her imprisonment, she had never left the village:
I entered prison as a girl from the village. I didn't know anything. I didn't understand anything about life. You know what the village mentality is like. You grow up in your parents' house, you get married, then you raise children. (Kol Isha)
In 1992, at the age of 21, Dalal left her parents' home and moved in with her husband. Shortly after Dalal's wedding, her husband Ali Daoud started beating and raping her: "No matter what I said or did, without seeing me bleed, he was not satisfied" (Kol Isha). Her husband used to shackle her to the bed before he left for work, fearing that if he let her loose, she would cheat on him. Then he would bring her flowers. As she recalls, her whole body, which was always bruised black and blue, became accustomed to his violence. There was nowhere to hide: "I used to run away from him with my daughter. I used to hide in the bathroom, behind furniture, at my mother's house, but he would find me everywhere" (Kol Isha).
Dalal's abuse was no secret: "Everyone knew. They all waited to see what he would do to me this time" (Kol Isha). At first, Dalal sought the help of her family. However, Ali Daoud would show up at her parents' house and make a scene, after which she was told to return to his house. Dalal was frequently hospitalized, which aroused the suspicion of the medical staff. Her abuse did not cease during her two pregnancies. A severe beating in her seventh month of pregnancy with her first child landed her in intensive care, inducing premature labor. Ali Daoud even beat her at the hospital after she delivered their daughter – the doctors had to chase him out. These events were documented in medical reports which Dalal later submitted to the court in her request for a retrial.
Dalal said about this incident:
He beat me when I was 7 months pregnant. I was forced to undergo a c-section. He beat me after the surgery in the hospital because I gave birth to a daughter and not to a son. People had to chase him away. He was prevented from entering the hospital for one day. One day only. He was never arrested. Not for a single moment. Everything is documented. This is what is driving me crazy. Everything is written down. My every hospital visit was documented. How he beat me and how many times. (Interview with Ahrish)
Dalal filed one complaint about her husband to the Islamic Sharia Court. In accordance with the Islamic principle of Beit Al-Ta'a (lit. "house of obedience," enforced obedience of a wife to her husband), the sheikh told Dalal to go home, to resume her wifely duties, and to make peace with her husband.
During her marriage to Ali, Dalal also filed 26 complaints to the Israeli police about her husband. When one day the police arrived at the scene of a beating, they removed Dalal from her home. She recalled: "They were concerned about my well-being, but not concerned enough to arrest him" (Kol Isha). Following another severe battering, Dalal tried to commit suicide, which led to her hospitalization. Yet even after this incident, she returned home to her husband.
Dalal also turned to the social services. Ali Daoud, who flew into a fit of rage when a social worker arrived at the family home, stabbed his wife with a knife:
I was stabbed in front of a social worker in my own home in the presence of my 2-year-old daughter. The social worker fled in horror and never came back. She neither called the police nor the ambulance. I crawled to the door with a stab wound. The neighbors, who saw me, took me to the hospital. In the hospitals, which I frequented, everybody knew. I had a psychologist there. Everything was documented. Yet, no one said, "Let's help this woman." (Kol Isha)
In 1997, four days after Dalal gave birth to their second child (this time a boy), Ali Daoud arrived home drunk, and his behavior was extreme even compared to his usual self. Screaming that she was cheating on him and that the newborn was not his, he demanded sexual intercourse, which she refused. Ali then beat her and threw objects at her and at her baby in her arms. Threatening to beat the newborn and rape Dalal, Ali tried to tear her clothes off. All the while, her 3-year-old daughter was glued to her, pulling at her pants and crying. Fearing for her life and for the life of her children, Dalal gave her husband Bondormin pills to sedate him, and she told him that she will join him in the bedroom after putting the children to sleep. Ali Daoud went to bed and fell asleep. Then, Dalal covered Ali with thick winter blankets, making sure he would suffocate. That night, Dalal slept in her children's room. In the morning, she disposed of Ali's body with the help of Mufid Ali, her husband's uncle, with whom she was later accused of having an affair.
Shortly after Ali's body was discovered, Dalal was arrested. By her account, the police interrogated her without taking her health and well-being into consideration:
I was four days post-partum, bleeding. I had fever and my body ached from the pains of delivery and the beating that I had earlier received at my husband's hands. I was lactating; milk poured from my breasts. I was separated from my baby. I think that the cruelest thing the state can do is take a mother away from her newborn. They made me sit on a concrete bench and questioned me all night long until I fainted and was taken to the hospital. (Zman Israel)
Dalal did not confess to killing her husband and was acquitted by the District Court on the grounds of lack of sufficient evidence to prove that she had committed the crime beyond reasonable doubt. She was released from custody: "For five years, I raised my children at home and thought that this was over. It was determined that he died of natural causes. I had never thought that I would go back to prison" (Kol Isha). The state eventually appealed Dalal's acquittal, and in 2002, Israel's Supreme Court found Dalal guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced her for life.
Everybody blamed Dalal: "My mother stopped talking to me for ten years. My family was angry with me. They were ashamed of me" (Kol Isha). In her community, Dalal was labelled a murderer by the same people who had earlier stood by and watched: "They never looked at my past and what I had gone through. They never cared to understand what kind of life I was living" (Kol Isha). She was ostracized by friends and family, and she was banned from reentering her hometown.
Dalal's Abuser – Ali Daoud
Not much is known about Ali Daoud, as the judicial decisions focus on Dalal and the murder. However, based on his wife's narrative and on hospital and police reports, Ali was a violent man, and an abusive husband and father. Dalal suggests that her husband may have suffered from an untreated psychiatric disorder:
I am angry with his parents for never admitting that their son had issues. They never took him to therapy. They saw how aggressive he was as a child and never did anything about it. So, he grew up to become an abusive man. (Kol Isha)
Dalal feared for her life: "If I had left him, he would have certainly murdered me. He beat me up several times and also tried to murder me" (Kol Isha). Indeed, research indicates that "compared to batterers, men who [both] batter and rape are particularly dangerous and are more likely to severely injure their wives and potentially even escalate the violence to murder" (Bergen 3).
It seems that Ali was not a pious Muslim, as evidenced by his consumption of alcohol (which is prohibited by Islamic law – although it is not known whether he was a full-blown alcoholic) and by his attempt to rape his wife despite her post-partum bleeding (also forbidden by Islamic law, as mentioned below).
Ali's actions do fit the profile of inveterate husband rapists, who are more likely to attack when their wives are physically, emotionally, or psychologically vulnerable: in a 1989 study by Campbell and Alford, "52% of the responding women reported being raped by their partners while they were physically ill, and 46% were forced immediately following a hospital discharge, usually after childbirth" (Bennice and Resick 236-37).
Islamic Law's Perspective on Marital Rape and Domestic Violence
Marital rape, defined as "unwanted intercourse or penetration obtained by force, threat of force, or when the wife is unable to consent" (Bergen 1), is a serious and pervasive form of violence against women that "has existed for centuries throughout the world" (Bennice and Resick 228).
For a long time, the concept of rape inside the institution of marriage did not exist, as marriage in patriarchal societies was perceived as an entitlement to sex. It was assumed that since through marriage a woman consents to sexual intercourse, she has no right to refuse to perform her wifely duty.
To her disadvantage, Dalal belongs to a traditional and conservative Islamic community saturated with patriarchal ideologies. Islam as a religious institution is interpreted by many as endorsing marital rape and wife-beating.
According to the hierarchical structure that Islam posits, men dominate women in general, and husbands have authority over their wives in particular. This is evident in the Quranic verse An-Nisa 4:34, which states that men are superior to women. As accepted interpretations of this verse propose, Islam considers men the protectors and maintainers of women because Allah has made them better than women, because they are physically stronger, and because they possess the means of supporting women. Therefore, a virtuous wife must obey her husband. According to the hadith, the Prophet Muhammad said that "the best of all women is the one [who] obeys her husband when he commands her" (Encyclopdedia of Islamic Jurisprudence 330). He also said: "If I had to command anyone to prostrate to anyone, I would have commanded the woman to prostrate to her husband" (Ibid.).
Such religious writings perpetuate the stance that women are subordinate to men. As a result, "if an abusive husband interprets his wife's behaviour as immoral or suggestive of impropriety, the use of physical and sexual force within marriage is sanctioned as a means to an end in protecting the family's morality" (Bennice and Resick 233). Among other disciplinary methods, An-Nisa 4:34 instructs husbands to beat wives on whose part they fear disobedience, rebellion, disloyalty or ill-conduct: "admonish them, refuse to share their beds, and beat them" (Encyclopdedia of Islamic Jurisprudence 333). Although some modern Islamic scholars and apologists have proposed that the verb "udrubuhun [lit. strike them]" in the verse should not be literally read as "beat them" but should rather be interpreted as a symbolic reprimand, Arabic dictionaries and other instances of this word in the Quran unequivocally support its literal sense of beating.
The Hadith qualify that the Prophet Muhammad had instructed a certain man not to beat his wife "without any acceptable reason, and the beating should not be injurious" (Encyclopdedia of Islamic Jurisprudence 328). Some translations of the verse that are considered reliable include "lightly" following the verb "beat them."
In Islam, sexually satisfying the husband falls under a woman's wifely duty: a wife "should come to him [her husband] when he requests to have marital intercourse with her, for that is one of his rights over her" (Encyclopdedia of Islamic Jurisprudence331). As recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet said: "If a husband calls his wife to his bed and she refuses and causes him to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning" (ibid.).
Hence, it is difficult for Islam to accept the idea that marital rape is indeed rape: Muslim jurists Abdul Wahib and Muhammad Irfan note that "the term marital rape is unknown in Islam" (Susila 329); Zakiyah Drajat, a female Muslim Jurist, holds that "a wife cannot refuse the sexual intercourse demanded by her husband […] if she is reluctant with that task, it is better for her not to marry" (328); in 2021, Mahmoud Al-Assal, chairman of national commission for human rights, declared that forcing one's wife into sexual intercourse "is not considered rape," for rape signifies "taking something over which you do not have rights" ("Al-Assal"); on islamweb.net, an online discussion platform, a man asked if intercourse with one's wife without her consent is regarded as rape, to which a Sharia expert responded that this "is not considered rape since a wife is obliged to respond to her husband if he calls her to his bed" (October 2010).
However, Islamic law does make some exceptions: a wife is allowed to refuse sexual intercourse with her husband "in the case of sickness" (Susila 327). Likewise, Al-Baqarah 2:222 forbids a husband "from having intercourse with his wife while she is experiencing menstrual or post-partum bleeding" (Encyclopdedia of Islamic Jurisprudence 335). It should also be noted that other sources state that an Islamic marriage should be based on "mutual rights and fruitful cooperation in an atmosphere of love and respect" (Ibid. 309), and that the husband has a duty to respect his wife and treat her well.
Pointing to these sources, some modern Islamic scholars attempt to dissuade husbands from abusing their wives. For instance, Sima Kinana, a contemporary Muslim lawyer, asserts that a woman has the right to refrain from sexual intercourse with her husband without having to justify this. She argues that whereas many religious interpreters resort to the Quran and the Hadiths to legitimize marital rape, Islam does not advocate this. She also maintains that the Prophet's statements suggest that a man must be merciful to his wife, must not insult or beat her, and must not forcefully demand his rights to intercourse. Drawing the public's attention to the fact that intimate partner violence is widespread in the Islamic world, she states: "If a man knows the Hadith about angels cursing his wife till morning if she denies him sexual intercourse, why does not he remember other Hadiths that command husbands to treat their wives respectfully?" ("Sima Kinana: A Woman's Rape by Her Husband"). Unfortunately, though, wife-beating and marital rape remain accepted by Islamic jurisprudence. As Kinana observes, instead of taking responsibility for their actions, husbands resort to the Shariah to legitimize wife battering and rape.
Turning to the Authorities
In many countries throughout the world, including in Israel, the "majority of battered women do not turn to the authorities for help" (Borokovich and Efrat 484). This has many reasons: since sexual intercourse is considered a private matter even if it involves abuse, the victim is ashamed of telling her story. This is exacerbated by the fact that some women, especially women living in conservative communities, do not recognize sexual assault by their husbands as rape. If they do, given the biased traditional perception of domestic violence, some women might "question whether their experiences 'qualify' as rape or are 'serious enough' to justify help" (Bennice and Resick 241). Some women fear that no one would believe them. Others realize that they might be blamed for bringing the violence on themselves. Or worse, "traditional wives measured by conformity to traditional female sex roles are likely to blame themselves for the violence" (Bergen 3). Such attitudes are evident in Dalal's account of her experience:
I constantly blamed myself. I thought that the problem was me, not him. I was ashamed to reveal to my family the details of what was happening at home. Even after I was imprisoned, I thought that all this was my fault. I had no awareness of life in general. I had no idea that a woman could stand up and defend herself. (Kol Isha)
Another reason for not filing complaints against their abusive husbands is that battered women and raped wives "may fear retaliation by their abusers if they do seek help" (Bennice and Resick 240). Dalal's remark that "each complaint [she] filed only augmented the violence" (Kol Isha) is an indication that this was a valid concern for her. Some women also worry that their partner, on whom they depend economically, might lose his job as a result of the investigation or arrest if a complaint is filed. In addition, they fear that their children would be taken away from them once their domestic circumstances come to light. Finally, if women feel that law enforcement agencies are indifferent to domestic abuse cases, this could also deter them from filing complaints.
In particular, women from traditional societies refrain from resorting to the law in cases of domestic violence. Instead, they prefer to rely on their family members or on the community to resolve what is considered a marital conflict. This had indeed been Dalal's first course of action, but her cries for help fell on deaf ears: "If anyone had stood up for me, things would have ended differently" (Kol Isha). Dalal eventually turned to the Islamic Sharia Court, which blamed her for what was deemed "marital discord." Dalal was told to go home and make peace with her husband (Retrial 4990/14, יב).
Dalal's Appeals to the Israeli Police
Dalal turned to the Israeli police 26 times, but her complaints were dismissed. Ali Daoud was never prosecuted on the grounds that his "prosecution was not justified in the public interest" (Retrial 4990/14, יב). From a legal perspective, according to Section 62(א) of the Israeli Law of Criminal Procedure, prosecution should be initiated if the prosecutor holds that the evidence against someone is sufficient for indictment, unless the offence and the circumstances of its commission are of such a character that prosecution is not justified in the public interest. In other words, even if, based on concrete evidence, the prosecutor believes that a reasonable probability exists for conviction, what needs to be determined is whether prosecution is of public interest.
Although the decision to prosecute hinges on the judgement of the prosecution, to ensure that the right decision is made on behalf of all concerned, Israel follows an established policy outlined in the "Instructions of the Director of Public Prosecution." According to these, when it comes to public interest, among the factors to be considered are the seriousness of the offence and its consequences; whether the action was intentional and committed out of malice; the physical, psychological, or material harm suffered by the victim; the prevalence of the criminal offence in question and its influence on the general public's sense of safety; whether the action was long-term; the passage of time since the commission of the crime; the confidence of the victim and the general public in the criminal justice system; and the availability of resources, such as time and manpower, required for prosecution.
The examination of these criteria leads one to wonder why the decision was made to not prosecute Dalal's husband, particularly considering that he met almost all of these requirements. Ali Daoud intentionally and maliciously, for a long period of time, inflicted physical, emotional and psychological damage on his wife – enough damage to drive her towards attempting suicide, and the majority of Dalal's complaints were filed immediately after the beatings.
Little is known about the specific circumstances of Dalal's many appeals to the police, other than that they were not addressed seriously. There may be many factors, including difficulties generally faced by the Israeli police in cases of violence in Arab towns and neighborhoods. One Israeli police lieutenant describes this difficulty:
In 98% of the cases, we understand what happened in the incident, who the suspects are and what the background is. Our difficulty is translating the intelligence into evidence for the charges and the prosecution. That's the gap. You arrive at the scene that was cleaned with bleach and a water hose, cameras disappear, witnesses to the crime do not help, and a child sweeps up the gun casings. This is why the percentage of indictments filed is low. (Maariv Zman Sharon)
Anan Zidan, an Arab officer who serves as the spokesman for Israel's Menashe region also explains:
At the scene of a shooting in Hadera [an Israeli city], the hotline is flooded with witnesses, business owners hand over cameras and the public is mobilized. On the other hand, in nearby Aara [an Arab village], a neighbor was shot, and everyone closes the windows. They didn't see and didn't hear. It's a way of life and not something that the police is to blame for. I have a detective who worked day and night on a serious assault case, and everyone kept quiet during the investigation. He gave his soul [to the investigation], and in the end everyone was released. (Maariv Zman Sharon)
There may also be other factors involved. Some researchers assert that when police officers, who tend to be men, "learn that the assailant is the woman's husband, they may fail to respond to a call from a victim, discourage her from filing a complaint, and refuse to accompany her to the hospital to collect medical evidence" (Bergen 6). Borokovich and Efrat (481-88) suggest that in Israeli police stations, complaints of domestic violence are filtered according to the traits of the victim and her abuser, the nature of the relationship between them, their racial or ethnic background, and the identity of the plaintiff. In Dalal's case, this may have led the police to downplay the severity of the violence and the urgency of the complaints.
In addition, since "intimate partner violence is socially accepted" (Borokovich and Efrat 487) in some ethnic and socio-economic circles in Israel (such as the Arab community), the police may be less disposed to invest resources and investigation in communities where their efforts have little impact. However, it is for precisely this reason that the intervention of authorities is imperative in order to assert that domestic violence is an unacceptable violation of Israeli law. It may also be relevant to note that many of the police officers in Arab villages are themselves Arab men – on the one hand, they are obligated to Israeli law and have a duty as law enforcement officers, but on the other hand, they live under the same social norms that govern the Arab communities.
Israeli Law on Rape and Domestic Violence
In 1980, citing Jewish religious law, the Israeli Supreme Court affirmed that marital rape was a felony. This principle was later expanded to eliminate "the defence of marital immunity for rape for all persons regardless of religion" (Gross 207).
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In 2005, in Criminal Appeal 130/04 (unavailable to the public), the Israeli Supreme Court recognized that "only a minority of rape cases fit the typical scenario in which a stranger emerges from the shadows and brutally attacks his victim. The vast majority of rape cases occur between people who know each other."
The combination of Section 379 and Section 382(ב)(1) of the Israeli Penal Code establishes the offence of intimate partner violence, for which it is possible to receive a 4-year prison sentence. If the assault causes substantial damage, the offender could be sentenced to 6 years. Section 345(א)(1), which does not distinguish between spouses and strangers in rape cases, determines that sexual intercourse with a woman without her consent is a felony punishable by up to 16 years in prison. Section 345(ב) adds that if the act is performed under aggravated circumstances, such as the infliction of physical or psychological injuries on the victim (3), or while abusing the victim before, during or after the act (4), the sentence can be increased to up to 20 years. Had Ali Daoud been prosecuted for marital rape and intimate partner violence, he would have been behind bars a long time.
With regard to the police's obligation to thoroughly investigate cases of rape and domestic violence, Section 59(א), which was added to the Israeli Law of Criminal Procedure in 2002, makes it obligatory for the police to investigate sex offences and cases of intimate partner violence, even in cases where the complainant withdraws her complaint. Only high-ranking officers can decide to call off investigations into such cases, and these officers must refer the couple to a domestic abuse prevention center. Reports specifically addressing the threats that the offender poses to the complainant must be filed, and if any of the partners refuse to turn to the centre, the officer can launch an investigation without such a report.
In the same spirit, since 2003, the Director of Public Prosecution instructed that a withdrawal of a complaint is insufficient grounds for closing an intimate partner violence case, even though it remains sufficient grounds in other types of cases ("Instructions of the Director of Public Prosecution" 9). In 2009, in Criminal Appeal 8916/08 (unavailable to the public), the Supreme Court ruled that serious measures must be taken in marital rape cases because the perpetrator, exploiting the trust of the victim, violates her autonomy and dignity and harms her in her own residence.
Did Dalal Autonomously Decide to Kill Her Husband?
Liberal thinkers base the concepts of guilt and criminal liability on the individual's autonomy and free will. Accordingly, Western justice systems assume that since an individual's actions are the outcome of his/her autonomy, free will, and the choices that he/she makes, "it is appropriate to take legal measures against those who break the law" (Yocht 631). However, in cases of violence by women against abusive intimate partners, feminist criminological theory challenges this principle: pointing to a direct connection between women's subjugation to male dominance, the physical and sexual abuse of women, and the women's subsequent criminal behavior, radical feminists argue that the majority of women commit these violent crimes in the absence of individual autonomy because their violence "is embedded in inter-personal relations and social structures inherent to a patriarchal society" (Rimlatt 305). In other words, these women have lost control over their own choices and resort to crime out of despair and a lack of other options.
In this view, Dalal is the victim of her circumstances. In Dalal's request for a retrial, her lawyers reinforce "her special characteristics of a victim of a crime" (Retrial 4990/14, ז). Likewise, in her expert testimony, Dr. Giladit Ofir, a psychiatrist who examined Dalal in 2014, states:
Dalal Daoud is a woman who, in a moment of crisis, under severe psychological distress, while still suffering from post-partum pains and bleeding, committed an act out of desperation. Irrespective of the severity of her deed, and without legitimizing it, we cannot ignore that it was committed in the context of her being a victim of years of physical and sexual abuse. (Retrial 4990/14, לט)
In contrast to the liberal concept of autonomy and liability, the radical feminist perspective assumes that women are passive – they do not act, but are rather acted upon. But was this entirely the case for Dalal? Although she suffered from long-term physical and sexual abuse, it is not easy to say that she was merely a victim: refusing to passively tolerate her situation, Dalal chose to act, and she explored all the options that she thought were available to her. She turned to her family, to law enforcement agencies, to the Islamic Sharia Court, to healthcare and social welfare services, and she even attempted suicide. Yet, years later, Dalal reflected and realized that the only thing she did not do was get up and leave: "Look at me. I can manage on my own. Without any man, without anyone actually" (Kol Isha). With the wisdom of hindsight, this appears to have been the most salient option, but back then she always ended up returning to her abusive husband.
Studies have shown that women, and especially those who live in conservative societies, "feel trapped into violent relationships" (Anderson 861). This is mainly because the women who are most likely to leave an abusive relationship are those who are capable of providing for themselves and for their children. However, since the majority of battered women are financially dependent on their partners, "economic resources play a particularly significant role" (Bergen 3) in their inability to end the relationship. Dalal, who got married at a young age, did not have a job or much of an education. She mentions that it was only while serving time in prison that she acquired some sort of higher education, and that she held a job for the first time in her life in the context of prisoner rehabilitation programmes.
Another reason that women stay with violent partners is fear of further abuse: "Women are at particularly high risk of experiencing physical and sexual violence when they attempt to leave their partners" (Bergen 4). Dalal was scared that her husband would kill her if she attempted to leave – "I killed him before he killed me" (Kol Isha). In addition, the threat of custody battles "may inhibit women's plans to leave a violent relationship" (Anderson 861): women are afraid that their partners would take their children away from them as a means of revenge. Shaming and humiliation by one's community is likewise a factor in women's decision to tolerate an abusive relationship. In some traditional societies, divorced or separated women are stigmatized and are even considered damaged goods. In Dalal's words:
I was scared to just get up and leave. I was scared of the shame that society would make me feel. What would my parents say? What would people say about me? I have always thought about other people. Their opinions were very important to me. I never thought about myself. (Kol Isha)
In a tragic twist, the same people whose opinions Dalal dreaded were the ones who denied her a helping hand: "I begged for help in every possible way. However, no one stood up for me. I was completely alone" (Zman Israel). Only in prison did it dawn on Dalal that what her family and community think about her is meaningless:
Eventually, when I was incarcerated, I realized that I was all alone and no one cared about me. So why should I think of other people's opinions of me? Today, I think only about myself and about my children. Whatever society says it says. I don't care anymore. (Kol Isha)
As Dalal gradually exhausted her options, the circle narrowed down until that ominous night, when, in her tattered condition, she decided to kill her husband.
Instead of categorizing women offenders as incapacitated victims of circumstances dictated by their traditional gender roles and social status, which is what radical feminist theory suggests, it is also possible to see them as "active, innovative, rational agents making choices regarding their criminality" (Ajzenstadt 202). However, it is important to note that their criminal behavior nonetheless takes place within a confined "socio-cultural environment, characterized mainly by a set of limited options from which these women could choose" (ibid.).
Reducing Dalal to a victim deprives her of the relative autonomy that she had and of the limited control that she was left with. Rather, the social context of her daily life influenced what she perceived as a rational course of action. Dalal indeed made the autonomous decision to kill her husband, albeit not the type of autonomous decision defined by the liberal thought that Western legal systems ascribe to sane individuals.
Conviction and Imprisonment
In 2002, the Supreme Court convicted Dalal of premeditated murder according to Sections 300(א)(2) and 301 of the Israeli Penal Code at the time. She received a life sentence. Throughout the trial, Dalal opted for total denial of her involvement in her husband's death. As a consequence, the procedure focused on determining whether or not she committed the crime, rather than on her mental state while committing it. The defense strategy that she chose "prevented her from introducing crucial evidence pertaining to her psychological and emotional state" (Retrial 4990/14, מ) on the night of the murder and thus barred the examination of her entitlement to mitigating conditions.
Prior to the 2019 reform of the Israeli Homicide Law, according to Section 300(א) of the penal code, the mental state of premeditated murder hinged on an intent to kill, which, according to Section 301, consisted of three elements: a decision to kill, preparation, and absence of provocation. According to Section 301(ג), a decision to kill does not necessarily require a person to spend considerable time planning and plotting a murder; even a rash and spontaneous decision would suffice.[v] Likewise, the Supreme Court generally adopted a very narrow interpretation of the element of preparation, which mainly related to the physical preparation of a murder instrument. This could be done right before the act of murder – for instance, by grabbing a knife available nearby, without any prior decision or consideration. Even strangulation with one's bare hands could meet the requirements of preparation.
Dalal's intent to kill was established on the basis of "solid" circumstantial evidence that tied her to the murder, such as "the content of the deceased's stomach, and the fact that his body was found in a garbage tank close to her home" (Retrial 4990/14, ד). It was further decided that the "packaging of the body with items available to the defendant," for instance the burlap sack in which it was placed and the mattress used to conceal it, points to Dalal's guilt (ד). The prosecution also inferred the premeditated nature of Dalal's actions from her conduct following the murder: "The 7 empty packs of Bondormin found in the defendant's courtyard are an example of her conscious decision to conceal evidence […] the defendant impeccably cleaned her house after having killed her husband, invited her friends over and mentioned in passing that he had gone to Eilat. This demonstrates her determination, persistence, and intent" (כ). Moreover, that Dalal "lead her defense in a calculated manner, weighing her options and thoughtfully choosing neither to admit the murder nor to resort to her abuse by her husband, attests to a sound decision making process" (כ). Hence, the court ruled that "the Bondormin given to the deceased and his murder during his sleep in his own home establish the elements of a decision to kill and preparation" (ד).
The element of provocation refers to a situation in which a person has committed a criminal act immediately following a set of events that caused him/her to lose self-control. This makes one less culpable than if the act was premeditated. Provocation is a mitigating factor in sentencing, leading to a lesser punishment. It can also serve as a partial defense against murder charges, which can result in the classification of the offence as manslaughter. However, this does not apply to every provocation – only behavior considered severely offensive or infuriating by social and moral standards would legally qualify as provocation. Therefore, the provocative act should pass an objective normative test, by which the court examines whether the reasonable person would have lost self-control if he/she were in the defendant's place, and whether the defendant's fatal response to this provocation could be attributed to an expression of human frailty.
In Dalal's case, according to the court, "it was neither alleged nor proven that the deceased had provoked her, not in general and not prior to the murder" (ד). Evidently, the five years of Ali's abuse were not considered provocation. There may be several reasons for this, and as a consequence, whether Dalal could have received a conviction of manslaughter had she admitted committing the crime and resorted to provocation as a partial defense is questionable. First, if following the provocative act, a sufficient interval elapses for the perpetrator to calm down, provocation cannot rule out premeditated murder. Dalal suffocated her husband while he was sleeping, which provided her with sufficient time to calm down and weigh her actions, potentially ruling out provocation entirely. Second, prior to the reform of the Israeli Homicide Law, the objective test set by the court to determine whether the defendant could have lost self-control by reference to the standard of the reasonable person did not take into consideration the defendant's personal traits, such as gender, ethnic and cultural background, and socio-economic situation. Some legal theories have asserted that the standardized reasonable person of the justice system was (and perhaps still is) an average middle-class man. Hence, the issue of provocation would boil down to the question of would a reasonable man in circumstances similar to Dalal's have reacted in the same way she did? The question of whether a reasonable man would ever be in Dalal's circumstances (probably not) is not part of the equation.
Throughout Dalal's Supreme Court trial, even though there was a disagreement between the prosecution and the defense concerning the extent of Ali Daoud's violence, and even though Dalal deliberately avoided revealing the complete history of her abuse, it was never doubted that she was sexually and physically abused by her husband. On the contrary, it was established that Dalal was "genuinely worried about her life" and that of her children on the night of the murder (ח). However, the prosecution argued that "[Dalal had] filed the last complaint against her husband 9 months before the murder"; "the deceased had stopped beating his wife by the time of the murder"; "the majority of the hospital reports do not necessarily indicate violence"; and Dalal was "last hospitalized [due to a severe beating] 2 months before the murder" (כג). Apparently, the prosecution considered two months to be a long interval and did not take into consideration the fact that Dalal was seven months pregnant at the time of the last beating. Eventually, Ali's "violent attitude" towards his wife was established as her "obvious motive" to murdering him (כב), reinforcing her intent and paving the way for her life sentence.
For women, "the harshest single aspect of being imprisoned is the separation of mother and child" (Pogrebin and Dodge 532). Women inmates are generally "characterized by anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies, and lack of trust in themselves and others" (Shamai and Kochal 324). The majority come from low socio-economic backgrounds. They are uneducated and lack professional experience or occupational training. A high percentage of them are victims of long-term abuse. They suffer from physical and mental illnesses and are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol (Yechimovitz-Cohen 2). Dalal, a stay-at-home uneducated and unemployed mother who suffered from domestic violence and marital rape, fits the profile.
However, the most significant common denominator for women prisoners worldwide is the fact that they are mothers. As research has repeatedly shown, the majority of incarcerated women are mothers of children under 18 (Pogrebin and Dodge 532). In Israel, according to a 2017 study issued by the Knesset Research and Information Center, "72% of women inmates are mothers" (Yechimovitz-Cohen 23). These women tend to be single mothers (Tal-Spiro 1) who are either divorced or have never been married. Prior to incarceration, they provided their children with "the sole means of family support" (Pogrebin and Dodge 532). Defying the common prejudice that incarcerated women are bad mothers who have wilfully abandoned their children, studies reveal that, uneducated and lacking professional skills, these women tend to resort to the drug industry and prostitution as a means of catering for their children's needs. As in Dalal's case, they commit crimes to protect their children:
On that fatal night, my feelings for my children were the catalyst. I am not a murderer. I have never meant to murder anyone. I have simply murdered my pain. My pain became unbearable when he hurt my 4-day-old baby. My children are my world. It is here that I draw the line. (Interview with Ahrish)
When a mother, who is the primary caretaker of her children, is incarcerated, if members of her extended family are unable or unwilling to raise her children, the children are placed in the custody of social welfare services, with foster or adoptive parents, or in orphanages. Aware of this, Dalal is grateful to her parents for having raised her children properly.
Imprisonment is a traumatic experience, which, for mothers, is exacerbated by the distress brought about by the loss of their relationship with their children. This is especially true for women like Dalal, who come from a conservative traditional society that "identifies femininity with motherhood" (Shamai and Kochal 323). Dalal's separation from her children is a dominant motif in her narrative. In line with research on incarcerated mothers, Dalal's estrangement from her children is her primary concern. For instance, when she learned the Supreme Court's verdict of a life-sentence, the only thing that came to her mind were her children: "What would happen to them now?" (Kol Isha). Her 18 years behind bars deprived her of a life with her children: "I left them as children. Now they are adults. My son was 22 when I was released, my daughter 25. I could hardly recognize them." What she wishes is to go back in time and regain her life with her children; "raise them, guide them, and share their experiences" (Kol Isha). The separation of a woman from her children threatens her self-image and identity as a mother. This often leads to a state of depression that "requires psychological treatment" (Tal-Spiro 9). In Dalal's words, "my children's visits devastated me. After each visit, I could not get out of bed and resume my life for days" (Kol Isha).
Similarly prominent among incarcerated mothers is the guilt they feel for abandoning their children (Tal-Spiro 9). Dalal often tries to ask her son how angry he is with her for having left him. She answers Lucy Ahrish's question "do you really think that your children are angry with you?" saying: "Of course. It is not only that their father was taken away from them but also their mother. For a very long time" (Interview with Ahrish).
Whereas many women surrender to their circumstances, renouncing the idea of a life with their children, others continue to fight. Dalal is one of these: "I got up on my feet and fought like a lioness for my children, even from prison. I worked like an animal for very low wages. Nevertheless, I managed to save money for them" (Interview with Ahrish). Michal Shamai and Rinat-Billy Kochal, who interviewed incarcerated mothers in Neve Tirza, found that one of the recurrent themes in these women's narratives was their perception of motherhood as a motive for survival: motherhood "gave meaning to their lives in prison and some hope concerning their own existence" (328). When Dalal was arrested for the murder of her husband shortly after having given birth, she was in a frail physical and mental condition. However, as she remarks, "I don't know how I managed to gather my strength, but I knew that I needed to get up and stand on my feet. I have a 4-day-old baby and a 3-year-old daughter who need me" (Kol Isha). When 5 years later she was sentenced to life in prison, on the verge of breaking down, she made a conscious decision: "I chose to see my children and to become a very strong woman. This is what has always strengthened me and given me hope" (Interview with Ahrish). Her children were the reason she did not succumb to despair.
Some of the women who participated in Shamai and Kochal's study also claimed that "being a mother provided a defense against insanity, harmful behaviour [or] even death" (328). As Dalal recalls, the prison social worker greeted her asking whether she was contemplating suicide. Dalal's answer was: "Why would I contemplate suicide? My children are waiting for me. I need to be strong for them" (Kol Isha).
In Israel, there is a very small number of female prisoners, estimated to be approximately 200 in the entire country, which has a population of almost 10 million (Shamai and Kochal 326). They are all held in the Neve Tirtza women facility without being classified according to their age or offense. Unlike in some other countries, there are no dedicated facilities meant to enable female inmates to consider raising their children during their sentence. Although the Israeli Prison Service allows children under the age of 2 to live with their mothers in Neve Tirtza, the prison's conditions are "not suitable for accommodating babies and toddlers" (Yechimovitz-Cohen 4). This is mainly because the mothers living with their children are not separated from the rest of the inmates, who may be mentally ill, drug addicts, or both.
For these reasons, Dalal's only way to maintain a relationship with her children, who were four and seven at the time of her incarceration, was through the visits allowed by prison regulations. However, even though the Israeli Prison Service recognises that these visits are vital for fostering mother-child relationships, "no special arrangements are made for incarcerated mothers" (Yechimovitz-Cohen 4). Incarcerated mothers are entitled to one 30-minute visit every two months, just like all other inmates. They can earn the privilege of receiving one biweekly visit contingent on their good behaviour, participation in prison programmes and progress in rehabilitation (25-26).
In other words, under optimal conditions, incarcerated mothers like Dalal are permitted to see their children for 30 minutes every two weeks. Unfortunately, the prison is also difficult to travel to for residents of southern and northern Israel – Dalal's hometown of Abu Snan is 142 kilometers away from Neve Tirtza. In the past, the Israeli Prison Rehabilitation Authority helped children with transportation to and from the prison facility, but this assistance is no longer provided (28). Moreover, prison visiting hours are at times when children are most likely at day-care or at schools, and when their caretakers are at work. Due to lack of manpower during weekends, the Israeli Prison Service stopped authorizing visits on Saturdays in 2014.
Furthermore, in some cases, inmates' families or the social welfare services object to bringing the children to prison to see their mothers. In other cases, the children themselves refuse to maintain contact. Some women also refuse to reveal to their children the truth about their incarceration or are unwilling to expose their children to images of prison-life. As Dalal recounts,
I could see my children once every two weeks. Each visit lasted for half an hour only. My parents and children had to make their long way to the prison facility, then to wait outside for 2.5 hours and be subjected to a humiliating body search in order to see me. All this for half an hour. My parents and children suffered immensely. I am very connected to my children, and it was very difficult for me to see them suffer. (Kol Isha)
This was Dalal's life for the first 12 years of her incarceration, during which she denied killing her husband and "tried to hide the truth from [her children] in order to protect them" (Kol Isha). However, hoping for a retrial, an early release, or a commuted sentence due to the circumstances surrounding the murder, Dalal eventually decided to confess. An unforeseen consequence of this decision was that her son stopped talking to her for seven years (Kol Isha).
Battered Woman Syndrome and Section 300.1.3 of the Israeli Penal Code
Aside from physical injuries and health complications, intimate partner violence has adverse psychological effects on the victim. As reported by various studies, these include anxiety, shock, intense fear, depression, feelings of helplessness and worthlessness, shame, self-blame, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, disordered sleeping, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The co-occurrence of battering and rape produces more severe damage than the occurrence of only one form of abuse: "wives who have experienced physical and sexual abuse tend to have higher levels of PTSD, depression, anxiety and fear" (Bennice and Resick 239). Moreover, contrary to common misconceptions, intimate partner violence has more devastating psychological consequences than abuse by a stranger, for two major reasons. First, being violated by someone whom they had presumably loved and trusted, the victims "may experience a more profound sense of betrayal and be traumatized at a more basic level" (238). Second, in domestic violence cases the abuse is repetitive and long-lasting since the woman lives under the same roof with the abuser. As Dalal was physically and sexually assaulted by an intimate partner, the psychological and emotional damage she sustained must have been severe.
In 2014, 17 years after killing her husband and 12 years after her conviction of premeditated murder, Dalal submitted a request for retrial "on the basis of new evidence" pertaining to her mental state at the time of the murder: she "killed her husband following severe abuse at his hands very few days after giving birth to her son, which placed her in a difficult psychological condition" (Retrial 4990/14, ז). According to her lawyers, the long-term trauma to which Dalal was subjected triggered a psychological defense mechanism of denial that made her repress her actions during her first trial, precluding her from "producing the necessary evidence to support her position while her trial was in process" (ז).
These claims were based on the expert testimony of clinical psychiatrist Dr. Giladit Ofir, who contended that at the time of the killing Dalal suffered from "extreme psychological distress brought about by her post-traumatic state, which resulted from her abuse at the hands of her husband." Her "actions were governed by a dissociative disorder characteristic of a complex post-traumatic condition" (יד). Dalal's lawyers alleged that during the years 2005 and 2006, while serving her prison sentence, Dalal received psychological treatment which led her "to cease denying her involvement in the killing of her husband and to assume responsibility for her actions" (ט). In Dalal's words,
Thanks to the theatre classes run by the rehabilitation programme at Neve Tirtza, I came to terms with my predicament. Although this was not easy, I revealed my true story. Each time I told a little bit more until, eventually, everything was out. This was the first time that my children heard my story from me. (Kol Isha)
Prior to her incarceration, Dalal was a traditional veiled Muslim woman. In a conservative Muslim village, a hijab is demanded by the prevalent social and religious norms. Once a Muslim woman starts wearing a veil, it is extremely difficult for her to take it off. Dalal dutifully wore the veil in prison until the day she decided to reveal her story:
I took my headcover off and never put it back again. Once I removed it, I started to fight my own battle. I revealed my story to the world although I had to pay a very high price. My family stopped talking to me. However, opening up helped me cope. I want people to accept me for who I am. I do not want to hide anymore. (Interview with Ahrish)
Taking her headcover off is a symbolic act: there would be no more hiding. Along with the hijab went the lies, the secrecy, and the denial. Ostracized by her village and knowing that she would never go back there, Dalal stopped complying with the demands of her society.
Once the truth came out, Dalal was able to actively participate in the prison rehabilitation programmes. After conducting weekly meetings with Dalal, Ms. Ofir Frenkel, at the time a doctoral student of clinical criminology, concluded that Dalal was "a victim of severe physical and psychological abuse and thus suffered from mental distress as a wife, a mother and a member of a minority group" (Retrial 4990/14, ט). According to Dalal's lawyers, based on such expert opinions and on concrete evidence pertaining to the long-term abuse to which she was subjected, "it is reasonable to assume that she suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome, which had a substantial influence on her sense of judgment at the time of the killing. Disconnected from reality, she acted out of panic and fear for her and for her children's lives" (טז). Therefore, the consideration of the circumstances surrounding the murder would lead to a reduced sentence according to Section 300א(ג) of the then Israeli Penal Code.
The term "Battered Woman Syndrome" (BWS) was advanced by Lenore Walker in 1979 in an attempt to rationalize battered women's actions and to reach legal recognition of violence against women. Walker also sought to correct misconceptions regarding women who suffer from domestic abuse. The syndrome, which is today a recognized psychological disorder classified as a branch of PTSD by the World Health Organization, consists of a cycle theory and a theory of learned helplessness. In short, according to the cycle of domestic abuse, male violence against their intimate partners follows a common pattern that repeats itself: a period where tension builds up over common domestic issues, a sudden eruption of acute battering which is usually not triggered by the victim's behaviour, and, finally, a period of reconciliation in which the abuser expresses remorse and exhibits affectionate feelings towards his victim. Learned helplessness occurs following constant exposure to an uncontrollable negative situation, when a woman internalizes her helplessness and therefore stops trying to change her circumstances even when she has the ability to do so: "the randomness and apparent unavoidability of a woman's beatings lead her to accept her fate and to develop low self-esteem, self-blame for the violence, anxiety, depression, and fear" (McPherson 385). However, some women, in a moment of despair, are likely to commit a single fatal act to break free from their vicious cycle of abuse.
With the growing understanding that "domestic abuse is an international problem" (McPherson 382), seeking to do justice to women who have suffered intimate partner violence, the penal codes of various judicial systems have resorted to different methods of accommodating BWS and female perpetrated homicide into the context of partial defenses against murder charges. Battered women can plead diminished responsibility, coercion, self-defense, or duress, or they can get a reduced sentence. The introduction of the syndrome into evidence allows the court to understand the defendant's past abuse and to examine her mental state prior to or during the act of murder.
In 1995, following the case of Carmela Buhbut, there was an official attempt in the Israeli legal system to recognize the special circumstances and mental state of a battered woman. In 1994, Carmela Buhbut, a 40-year-old mother of three, killed her husband, who had been physically and verbally abusing her throughout their 24 years of marriage. Following a severe beating, which included breaking objects on her body, Carmela escaped to the room of her son, who was at the time serving in the Israeli military. She took her son's rifle and shot her husband. He was struck by at least 20 bullets. Carmela confessed her actions and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where she remained throughout her trial. In the District Court, she was convicted of manslaughter rather than premeditated murder on the grounds of extreme provocation by the deceased, and she was sentenced to seven years in prison. Carmela later appealed her sentence to the Supreme Court, upon which Justice Bach and Justice Dorner reduced it to three years.
Both judges based their opinions on an understanding of the severity of the violence that Carmela had endured. Justice Bach held that "it would be against the principles of justice to incarcerate for a long time a woman who has suffered such extreme abuse" (Criminal Appeal 6353/94, 9). Justice Dorner highlighted the social context of the killing:
Carmela Buhbut was a battered woman. For 24 years, her husband abused her. In the small village where she lived, this was an open secret. Her husband's parents, his brother, his sisters and the community all knew and remained silent. (1)
Justice Dorner blamed "those who knew about the abuse and did not report it to the authorities, and the law enforcement agencies who did not intervene" (6). Referring to contemporary research on battered women – "the battered wife, frustrated and unprotected by an ineffective legal network, often sees no choice but to kill or be killed," she concluded that "the appellant did not plan to kill her husband to avenge her abuse but shot him in a moment of despair" (6).
Carmela's story contributed to a 1995 amendment to the Israeli Homicide Law (Amendment 44): among other changes, Section 300(ג), to which Dalal's lawyers would refer, was added to the penal code. According to this section, in cases of murder, contingent on the court's judgement, it is possible to inflict a punishment less severe than life imprisonment "when the accused was in a state of severe mental distress brought about by long-term abuse, to her or to her family member, at the hands of the person whose death the accused has caused." In this section, "severe mental distress" pertains to a state of mind bordering on insanity, characteristic of a traumatized individual. Mental illness is not a required condition of lenience, but there must be a substantial impairment to the accused's ability to control her actions or to understand their consequences. Although diminished responsibility "is likely to be the most relevant choice of defense" in such cases (McPherson 382), the Israeli law opted for a reduced sentence on moral grounds.
Following the introduction of this amendment to the Israeli Penal Code, the court began to apply Section 300א(ג) in cases of battered women. In fact, Justice Dorner resorted to BWS to set a precedent in negligent homicide cases: in 1996, Galina, a 31-year-old mother of three who had been abused by her husband for the eight years of their marriage, jumped to her death from her 4th-floor apartment window. Consequently, the District Court convicted her husband of negligent homicide. In 2001, rejecting the husband's appeal, Justice Dorner asserted:
[Galina's] reaction was not extreme, but characteristic of that of a battered woman. Research shows that a woman who suffers extreme long-term abuse with no assistance from her community or with no intervention by the authorities, succumbs to profound despair, which is likely to culminate in her taking her own life or that of her violent spouse. (Criminal Appeal 7832/00, 15)
Justice Dorner concluded her statement, saying "Indeed, in recent years, Israeli society has been aware of the phenomenon of battered women, of its harsh consequences and of the need to treat it" (16). Yet despite this awareness; despite the fact that Dalal had suffered severe long-term abuse at the hands of Ali; despite the fact the she was trapped in Walker's cycle of domestic violence; and despite the fact that her mental distress was established by experts, it was decided that Section 300א(ג) does not apply to Dalal's case.
According to the prosecution, Dalal's version of mental distress brought about by long-term abuse "is one of many versions" and therefore cannot be trusted (Retrial 4990/14, יח). Another factor proposed against Dalal's credibility is the significant delay in her diagnosis by experts: "With all due respect to Dr. Ofir's professional opinion, expert testimony provided nearly two decades after the commission of the act" is not reliable (לג). Dalal's lawyers emphasized that Dalal was "hospitalized 2 months before the murder" due to a severe beating, and that "the deceased threatened to kill her right after she had given birth" (כד), but the conclusion was drawn that the violence against Dalal did not "reach in its degree the violence required for granting a reduced sentence" (כג).
The prosecution also pointed out that Dalal confessed to murdering her husband in 2004, before she started receiving psychological treatment. Therefore, the claim that her dissociative disorder led to the repression of memories which could only resurface subsequent to her treatment is deceptive (כא). The prosecution maintained that Dalal "exhibited particularly manipulative behavior during the investigations after the murder, when she gave a false version that distanced her from the crime" (כז). In addition, the sequence of rational choices that she made during and after the murder, such as the deliberate concealment of incriminating evidence, reinforced the argument that she was being manipulative, leading to the conclusion that "it is not repression that prevented the appellant from admitting the truth but a calculated conscious choice" (כ).
Dr. Ofir countered the prosecution's allegations:
Seemingly manipulative defense mechanisms point to the victim's need for survival […] the appellant's actions do not indicate cold-bloodedness or premeditation but are characteristic of psychological distress. (כה)
The judge remained unconvinced.
It is also interesting to note that although Dalal fits the profile of a battered woman, her conduct showed no traces of learned helplessness. Dalal had not submitted to her predicament. On the contrary, she tried all in her power to put an end to her abuse. As Justice Rubinstein remarks, she was "assertive," which is evident in her "turn to the social welfare services" and in her "return to her parents' house after filing complaints against her husband" (כג). This may have been one of the reasons leading to the conclusion that Dalal did not suffer from BWS.
Dalal was released in 2019, after having spent 18 years behind bars in the Neve Tirtza women's facility. A prison parole board authorized her "early release at the recommendation of the State Attorney's Office and the Committee for the Prevention of Domestic Violence" (The Times of Israel). Her life sentence was commuted owing to pressure from the media and campaigns led by feminist movements and women's organizations, as awareness of the Battered Woman Syndrome was on the rise in the Israeli society. Hundreds of women demonstrated outside the Ramla Court while the Israeli Prison Service parole board debated Dalal's early release. On the day of her release, Dalal was greeted by women holding slogans of "Release Dalal," "Sister, you are not alone," and "Enough of violence against women."
Knowing that the people in her hometown would never accept her, Dalal moved to Jaffa, an ancient port-city next to Tel-Aviv:
I am very happy that I have never returned to my village. This had a positive influence on my relationship with my children. Now, my son and I speak 2-3 times a day. He gradually came to accept me. Even though all the women in my village are veiled, my parents must learn to accept me for who I am. (Kol Isha)
Dalal's difficult circumstances did not break her, neither did the 18 years she spent in prison. As Lucy Ahrish maintains, Dalal should be held as an example of perseverance. She told her:
I think that you are an amazing person. I know how difficult it is for a woman to endure what you did, especially in the Arab society. You got up and stood on your feet after all that you have gone through. You chose to live. You chose to fight. You chose to return to society. This is not taken for granted. I admire your strength. The battle you fought is not only yours, but also that of other women – women here in Israel; women in the whole world; and particularly women in the Arab society. (Interview with Ahrish)
After her release, Dalal joined the feminist organizations that had supported her and became an activist:
I want to give women hope. I want to tell them to be as strong as I was, as I still am. I want to tell them that I had an extremely difficult life, but nothing could devastate me. We can. Women can manage. If a woman wants something, she can achieve it. Even if she wants to get up and leave, she can do that without having to think about what people would say. What I want to tell women is never to think twice, just get up and leave. My dream is to stop violence in the Arab community. You don't understand what is happening there. Every day we hear that someone is murdered. (Kol Isha)
The Arab society is in desperate need for campaigns that raise public awareness about women's rights as well as for sexual educational programmes that have the power to reduce violence, marital rape, and crime. As feminist activists and authors point out, raising consciousness on domestic abuse, speaking out against violence against women, and challenging patriarchal systems are crucial for eliminating violence against women, especially in conservative societies.
Appendix – MEMRI Clips and Reports About Wife-Beating in the Arab and Islamic World
The following are selected examples from MEMRI's archives of clips and reports on the subject of wife-beating and domestic violence in the Arab and Islamic world.
MEMRI Special Dispatches
MEMRI TV Clips
Saudi Expert on Family Affairs Dr. Ghazi Al-Shimari Explains Wife Beating in Islam and States: If a Wife Licks Pus and Blood Coming Out of Her Husband's Nose - She Still Would Not Have Observed All His Rights
U.K. Islamic Scholar Tim Humble: Women Must Completely Obey Their Husbands; Even Licking a Pus-Covered, Bleeding Ulcer That Covers Their Husband's Body Would Not Fulfill Their Obligations unto Him; Husbands Have the Right to Immediate Sexual Gratification
Wife Beating Guidance by Qatari Official Dr. Ahmad Al-Farjabi on Jazeera TV: Some Women Must be Subdued by Muscles; Women Almost Unanimously Agree That Beating Is Better Than Letting the Wives Ruin Their Families
Ahmad, Yusuf Al-Hajj. Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence Concerning Muslim Women. Ed. Abdul Malik Mujahid, 1st edition, vol. 2. Maktaba Dar-Us-Salem, 2010.
Ajzenstadt, Mimi. "The Relative Autonomy of Women Offenders' Decision Making." Theoretical Criminology 13.2 (2009): 201-25.
Anderson, Kristin L. "Theorizing Gender in Intimate Partner Violence Research." Sex Roles 52.11/12 (2005): 853-65.
Bennicke, Jennifer A., and Patricia A. Resick. "Marital Rape: History, Research, and Practice." Trauma, Violence & Abuse 4.3 (2003): 228-46.
Bergen, Raquel Kennedy. "Marital Rape: New Research and Directions." National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women (2006): 1-13.
Burgess-Proctor, Amanda. "Intersections of Race, Class, Gender and Crime: Future Directions for Feminist Criminology." Feminist Criminology 1.1 (2006): 27-47.
Gross, Joseph J. "Marital Rape – A Crime? A Comparative Law Study of the Laws of the United States and the State of Israel." International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 15 (2011): 207-16.
Haney, Lynne. "Motherhood as Punishment: The Case of Parenting in Prison." Journal of Women in Culture and Society 39.1 (2013): 105-30.
McPherson, Rachel. "Battered Woman Syndrome, Diminished Responsibility and Women Who Kill: Insights from Scottish Case Law." The Journal of Criminal Law 83.5 (2019): 381-93.
Ono, Erika. "Reformulating the Use of Battered Woman Syndrome Testimonies in Canadian Law: Implications for Social Work Practice." Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work 32.1 (2017): 24-36.
Pogrebin, Mark R., and Mary Dodge. "Women's Accounts of their Prison Experiences: A Retrospective View of their Subjective Realities." Journal of Criminal Justice 29 (2001): 531-41.
Shamai, Michal, and Rinat-Billy Kochal. "'Motherhood Starts in Prison': The Experience of Motherhood Among Women in Prison." Family Process 47.3 (2008): 323-40.
Susila, Muh Endriyo. "Islamic Perspective on Marital Rape." Jurnal Media Hukum 20.2 (2013): 317-32.
"Woman who Killed Abusive Husband Released from Jail After 18 Years." The Times of Israel, 20.6.2019, https://www.timesofisrael.com/woman-who-killed-abusive-husband-released-from-jail-after-18-years/.
"My Fear Is the Wounding of Innocents," Maariv Zman Sharon. Sigal Ben David. 23.6.2023.
"דלאל דאוד בראיון עם לוסי אהריש על הדרך שעברה עד ששוחררה מהמאסר בגין רצח בעלה המתעלל." YouTube, דמוקרטTV, Oct 13, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNxBWdprZI4
"הגוף התרגל לאלימות: סימונה מורי ודלאל דאוד מתחילות מחדש." YouTube, כאן חדשות, Sept 11, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjvscMcK1cM
"המאבק הציבורי לשחרור דלאל דאוד – ראיון באולפן עם ספיר סלוצקר עמראן והאלה עבדהאדי."YouTube, Ynet, Jun 19, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hq9zPa9FggM
הנחיות פרקליט המדינה 1.1 "אי פתיחה בחקירה או ססגירת תיק בעילת 'נסיבות העניין בכללותן אינן מתאימות לפתיחה בחקירה/להעמדה לדין.'" (13.2.2019)
זיו, אפי. "פוליטיקה של אלימות נגד נשים." חברה ורווחה כ"ב4 (2002):417-32.
חוק העונשין, תשל"ז – 1977
חוק סדר הדין הפלילי [נוסח משולב], התשמ"ב-1982
טולצ'ן, אירה. "לרצוח או למות." זמן ישראל, 5.3.2020, https://www.zman.co.il/86486/.טל-ספירו, אורי. "תנאי הכליאה של אסירות." מרכז המחקר והמידע של הכנסת (2010): 1-30.
יוכט, עדי. "טענת אתי-גונה: פרפסקטיבות מגדריות על פרשת המעילה של אתי אלון." משפטים מט' (2019): 619-73.
יכימוביץ-כהן, נורית. "היבטים בכליאת נשים בישראל." מרכז המחקר והמידע של הכנסת (2017): 1-40.
יסעור- בורוכוביץ דלית ויעל לביא-אפרת. "עמדות של שוטרים ושופטים: משוכות בדרכן של נשים מוכות לקבל עזרה." חברה ורווחה כ"ב4 (2002): 481-501.
מ"ח 4990/14 דלאל דאוד נגד מדינת ישראל (נבו 28.4.2015)
ע"פ 7832/00 בוריס יעקובוב נגד מדינת ישראל, נו(2) 534 (2002)
ע"פ 6353/94 כרמלה בוחבוט נגד מדינת ישראל, מט(3) 647 (1995)
"קול אישה: סיפור 2 – דלאל דאוד מספרת מה גרם לה לרצוח את בעלה." YouTube, No Filters, Nov 2, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fhoTf9CtZo0
רימלט, נויה. "כאשר נשים נעשות אלימות." פלילים 10(2001): 277-326.
"العسال: مواقعة الزوج لزوجته رغما عنها لا يعد اغتصابا." موقع صدى البلد, حزيران 2021, https://nabd.com/s/89736444-.
"المحاميه سيما كنانه: اغتصاب المراه من قبل زوجها." وكالة عمون الاخباريه. صوت الاغلبيه الصامته, December 2006, https://www.ammonnews.net/article/303.
"معاشرة الزوجه بغير رضاها." Islamweb.net, October 2010, https://www.islamweb.net/ar/fatwa/141469.
*Dr. Venus Bargouth teaches at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Since its publication, this article has been used as a reference article in criminology and other courses.
 All the translations from Hebrew and Arabic are the author's, and MEMRI is not responsible for any inaccuracies.
 See Encyclopedia of Islam entry "Bayt al-ta'a."
 Mufid Ali was tried separately, and the court's decision on his case is unavailable to the public. Dalal never mentions him in any of her interviews. Whether the two were having an affair remains unknown.
 In Western law, the notion of marital rape exemption originates in 17th-century English common law. In 1736, Sir Mathew Hale, chief justice in England, stated that "the husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual matrimonial consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto the husband, which she cannot retract." The marital rape exemption remained largely unchallenged until the 1970s, when, demanding women's rights to personal integrity and autonomy over their bodies, human rights and feminist movements sought to criminalize forced sexual intercourse in marriage. Consequently, the marital rape exemption was gradually eliminated in almost all developed countries. In some countries, marital rape was explicitly criminalized while in others the law did not distinguish between rape by a stranger and rape by a spouse: a woman has the right to refuse sexual intercourse with any man, including her intimate partner. In 1991, the marital rape exemption was abolished in England. In 1993, the United Nations established marital rape as a violation of human rights. In the same year, marital rape became a crime in all 50 states of the United States.
 The 2019 reform was partly driven by the need to distinguish between murders committed following careful planning or the weighing of one's actions, and those triggered by an impromptu decision.
 Although Hebrew uses the generic masculine, in my translation I use the feminine pronoun because this section mainly applies to battered women.
 In the 2019 reform to the Israeli Homicide Law (Amendment 137), it was decided to regard cases in which the accused was in a state of severe mental distress brought about by long-term abuse as fit for a diminished responsibility charge with a sentence of 15 years – Section 301ב((א.