I GREW UP IN A FAMILY that was what you’d call “problematic.” My parents were always fighting and never had the time or energy for me. They never knew
whether I was in school or on the street. One day, Ben walked into my life. He sensed that I was under a lot of emotional pressure and gave me just what I needed: attention. He showered me with gifts of clothes, jewelry and flowers. I couldn’t have been happier; finally, someone was paying some attention to me.
When he proposed marriage, promising to provide me with a warm, supportive home, I didn’t hesitate. I thought, who would want to marry me — with my family background? At some point during the marriage proceedings, the Muslim court notified me that I would, from then on, be considered a Muslim. As soon as we were married, Ben’s attitude toward me changed. He closed me up in the house, day and night. “Now you are married,” he said, “and you are not allowed to go out.”
It didn’t take long for the beatings to begin. If he decided that I hadn’t prepared his food to his liking, my punishment was painful and swift in coming.
When my parents discovered that I had married an Arab, they sat shiva for me. They instructed my brothers and sisters to cut off all contact with me. I knew that even if I could escape, there was no place for me to go. I had no one in the world besides my Arab husband. When I gave birth to my oldest son, my husband informed me that, in accordance with Muslim tradition, the boy would be named after his grandfather. When I gave birth to my daughter, he and his family again gave her a name, but I added a Jewish name to her birth certificate. When we returned from the hospital, my husband’s sister looked at the birth certificate and began screaming at him: “What’s this? You gave your daughter a Jewish name?”
All eyes turned to me. I tried to explain that she had also been given an Arab name, but no avail. He beat me mercilessly. The newborn was in my arms and my young son was holding on to me crying, while my husband pummeled me with his fists. His parents, brothers and sisters watched, but no one tried to calm him down or even to take the baby from my arms so she wouldn’t be hurt. To the contrary, they egged him on, telling him to beat me harder so that I would “understand.” And then, when I was hurting from head to toe and thoroughly humiliated, he told me to bring them some coffee and cookies and “then we’ll see what we will do.”
During these years, I tried to return to my family, but they acted as if I didn’t exist. At one point, after I’d
given birth to my fourth child, my husband came up with a new system of punishment. Knowing how much my children meant to me, he would take them away to his parents for a month at a time. This was torture for me, not to see my children.
One day, when my daughter was 15, he decided that I wasn’t doing a good enough job educating her. He transferred her to his parents’ care, and told me that he was severing my relationship with her permanently. When I called the house and asked to speak to my daughter, my sister-in-law picked up the phone and said, “What are you talking about? You have no daughter.” I was in shock. I felt as if they had murdered me. I called my in-laws’ house and insisted on knowing what had happened to my daughter. My husband was furious. He went to the kitchen, took two long knives used to slaughter sheep, and began sharpening them against one another. “That’s it,” he swore, “you’re finished.”
My young son began to plead for my life, “Father, enough, father enough,” but my husband wouldn’t listen. I stood transfixed, too frightened to move. Just then, a car showed up and the driver began honking the horn. A friend of my husband’s had come to take him somewhere. He put down the knives and said, “Go upstairs now. We’ll settle this later.”
As soon as he left, I grabbed my son and ran out the back door. I ran as hard as I could, not knowing where I was going. I knew I had no family to turn to, but I also knew that I had to get away. I couldn’t stay any longer. At some point I reached an Arab house in the middle of nowhere. I knocked on the door and made up a story that they believed. I asked them to drive me to the main road, and once there, I stopped a cab and took it to my sister in Netanya. It was late when I knocked on her door. She answered very coolly and said that I could stay the night, but would have to leave first thing in the morning. She said she wasn’t looking for trouble. The next day, at 6 a.m., we left. I phoned a hot line for battered women and we were given a place to stay in one of their shelters.
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I contacted the police and, two weeks later, my daughter was returned to me. When she arrived at the shelter she was frightened and in shock. It took two months before she could speak. For eight months we moved from shelter to shelter. The situation was intolerable. One day, I saw a small ad in the paper about Yad
L’Achim helping Jewish women trapped in Arab villages. I called the number, and a woman named Devorah answered. Right after we spoke, she arrived and took us to a hotel. Since then, we have been in daily contact.
Within a short time, Yad L’Achim rented an apartment for me in Bnei Brak and furnished it with an oven, refrigerator, beds, towels, blankets, sheets ... everything we needed. I still hadn’t made contact with my parents, but I felt like I had a new mother and father. It was just before Pesach, and Tzipporah asked me where I was planning to spend the holiday. When I answered that I didn’t know, she said, “You and your children are going to spend fifteen days in a hotel.”
For me, that Pesach felt like what our forefathers must have felt in leaving Egypt. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of freedom I felt after so many years of suffering, of not being able to experience the holiday or share it with my children. We were acclimating to Bnei Brak and my children were attending school. But then he found us. He kept us under surveillance and one day, when my daughter was coming home from school, he kidnapped her. I went to the police, but it wasn’t easy getting her out of his hands. Yad L’Achim hired two lawyers who got a court order forcing him to release my daughter, but it took two months until she was returned to me, and much more time until she recovered from the trauma. My connection with my two sons who were left in the Arab village was severed. He wouldn’t allow me any contact with them.
My youngest son will celebrate his bar mitzvah next Rosh Hashanah. Thank G-d, he was very young when we left the village and feels like a Jew in every way. A year ago, thanks to the difficult legal battles waged on my behalf by Yad L’Achim, I received a divorce. My daughter is still having a hard time, torn between the two worlds she has known. I am grateful to G-d for the day I connected with Yad L’Achim and received a new family. At the same time, I know that there are many other Jewish women who are suffering in Arab villages.
For their sake, I turn to you with a heartfelt plea: Please, help Yad L’Achim help them.