Marcia Freedman and the Fight Against Domestic Violence in Israel

Transcripts of the first-ever Knesset session dedicated to domestic violence against women reveals how indifferent, detached and even cynical Israeli politicians of the 1970s were when it came to this subject

Marcia Freedman, GPO

“The Knesset took a short break yesterday from the “heavy” topics to hear (with a half-grin, for some reason) about a particular kind of violence: ‘Women battered by their husbands’.”

Maariv daily, July 15th, 1976



Member of Knesset (MK) Avraham Givelber, the Deputy Speaker, who chaired the session:

Members of the Knesset, we move on to the next item on the agenda, presented by MK Marcia Freedman, regarding ‘women battered by their husbands.’ Permission to speak is granted to MK Freedman.

Marcia Freedman (Independent Socialist Faction):

Honorable Speaker, honorable Knesset – – –

Mordechai Ben-Porat (Alignment party):

What about the other issue, husbands who are battered by their wives?

Meir Pa’il (Moked party):

If a woman beats her husband, the husband should be arrested.

Marcia Freedman (Independent Socialist Faction):

I’m surprised you find this matter so amusing, and this proves exactly what I have to say today.


At the Knesset: ‘Women Battered by Their Husbands’… Discussion held in an unserious atmosphere…Davar daily, July 15th, 1976. Click to view the full article

Though it may be hard to believe, this was how the first discussion ever to be held in the Israeli parliament on the topic of domestic violence against women began. When MK Marcia Freedman raised the issue, she surely did not imagine her colleagues at the Knesset would find it entertaining. The minutes of the session show that instead of dealing with the problem, the MKs repeatedly responded with ridicule and laughter, raising “objections” by interjecting that women too, beat their husbands.


Minister of Health Victor Shem-Tov (Alignment party):

If a woman reports to the police that her husband beats her, do the police open a case file?

Minister of Police, Shlomo Hillel (Alignment party):


Pesah Grupper (Likud party):

And if the case is the other way around, and a man reports that his wife beats him, is a file opened then, too?

Meir Pa’il (Moked party):

There are some husbands it might do good to be beaten by their wives.

Minister of Health Shem-Tov:

MK Grupper, you don’t look like the kind of guy whose wife beats him.

Minister of Police Hillel:

You haven’t seen his wife – how do you know?

The minutes show how Freedman had to convince those present there was even a problem at hand. Even the minister responsible for these matters didn’t see what there was to discuss.

Minister of Police Hillel:

In all seriousness… I cannot say that there is a specific problem of violence inflicted by men against their wives.

Marcia Freedman (Independent Socialist Faction):

That’s the problem – that you don’t see it.

Yitzhak Golan (Independent Liberals party):

This has been a problem since the days of Ahasuerus and Vashti.

Minister of Police Hillel:

As I said, this problem is one of the many issues of violence in our society.

Mathilda Guez (Alignment):

It seems this is a very amusing topic.


‘The Knesset Discussed the Matter of Husbands Who Beat Their Wives’ Maariv daily, July 15th, 1976. Click to view the full article


Despite the “light” atmosphere and the common belief that the phenomenon was not one that required any special attention, Marcia Freedman did not hesitate, and  gave a riveting, shocking speech that created an opportunity to deal seriously with the matter for the first time in Israeli history:


In Shakespeare’s day, the law stated: ‘If a man beats a criminal, a traitor, an apostate, a villain or his wife – it is not considered a violation of the law.’ Today, the law and the police rightly protect all people from violent assaults, including criminals, traitors, apostates and villains. However, a married woman is still left forsaken, at the mercy of her husband, who may beat her more often than we may imagine.

Because of the conspiracy of silence regarding this issue, we do not have substantiated information as to the extent of the problem in this country. The police do not keep a record of most reports because, according to them, most injuries are limited to ‘bruises’, causing no bleeding or broken bones. Therefore, according to police policy, this kind of violence is not considered a matter of public interest.

Despite the conspiracy of silence, the estimated number of battered women in Israel is in the thousands rather than in the hundreds. A British parliamentary committee investigated the issue in England and found that one in a hundred men regularly assault their wives. There is no reason to assume our situation is any better. It is important to understand that violence against women is not a phenomenon restricted to poor neighborhoods or development towns.


Freedman did not hesitate to confront the police who demonstrated a forgiving approach to such violence:


When a woman turns to the police, she faces humiliating, belittling treatment. She is usually told, ‘This is not an issue of public interest. We don’t deal with domestic matters.’ Sometimes, if an officer considers himself something of a psychologist or moral keeper, he may say, ‘If you had behaved, he wouldn’t have hit you. Try to be nicer to him.’


Upon conclusion of the discussion, two proposals were put forth: The first, proposed by the Minister of Police himself, was that the topic not be included in the Knesset’s agenda. The second proposal was to assign the matter to the relevant Knesset committee. The result of the vote was 20:9, and Marcia Freedman’s proposition was accepted. And so, the issue of battered women went from being regarded as a matter “unworthy of public interest” to an official problem acknowledged by the Knesset and state authorities.

For MK Marcia Freedman, promises alone did not suffice. She was among the founders of Israel’s first shelter for battered women and a pioneer in the field of women’s rights in Israel.


If youe liked this article, try these:

The Rebel Woman Who Fell in the Battle of Tel Hai

The Hebrew Women of His Majesty’s Armed Forces

An Untold Story: The Bravery of the Women of the Damascus Affair

Israeli and Egyptian Soldiers in a 1948 Group Photo: The Story Behind a Picture

How an Israeli soldier risked his life to retrieve the bodies of fallen comrades from behind enemy lines, and the incredible photos that captured an unlikely encounter

Yaakov Yaniv in the center of the picture taken during the encounter between the Israeli and Egyptian soldiers, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The story of Operation Yekev (“Winery” in Hebrew) begins in October 1948, during Israel’s War of Independence; when an entire brigade comprising three battalions – the Beit Horon Battalion, the Moriah Battalion, and the 64th Battalion – was sent on a mission to conquer the town of Beit Jala, which lies south of Jerusalem and north-west of Bethlehem. The commander of the operation was Moshe Dayan.

The Beit Horon Battalion managed to get past the railway tracks, which served as the separation line between Israeli and Egyptian positions (near what is known today as Ein Yael and Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo). The 64th Battalion launched an attack on the village of al-Walaja. Our story’s hero, Yaakov Yaniv (Novak), was a squad sergeant in this battalion. He was 20 years old at the time and had arrived from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to serve in the Haganah only a few months earlier. The 64th Battalion did not engage in battle in this case, but the force was exposed to friendly fire by a mortar unit. Fortunately, none of the battalion’s soldiers were hurt. The Moriah Battalion launched its own attack during the night but was unsuccessful in crossing the railway tracks and advancing towards the hill occupied by the Egyptians. A single Bren machine gun persistently shot at Moriah’s vanguard unit, preventing its advance. Operation Yekev was a harrowing military failure.

Late at night, the brigade’s three battalions were given the order to retreat. Six soldiers from the Beit Horon Battalion were killed in action. The battalion’s soldiers managed to retrieve four of the bodies, but two remained in the field.


The Bodies

A month and a half later, on December 3rd, 1948, Yaakov Yaniv and his men were manning a position on Malcha Hill overlooking the railway line below, and observing the nearby Egyptian force. Today, the homes of Jerusalem’s Malcha neighborhood fill the entire area that was then a bare hilltop adjacent to an Arab village.

A few Egyptian soldiers suddenly stepped out of their post and shouted to Yaniv and his men: “We have two bodies. If you want, come and take them.” Yaakov Yaniv heard this and was stunned. He and a few of his men headed down the hill and reached the British Mandate railway which ran from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where the Egyptians waited for them. They agreed that Yaniv and a few of his men would go to the Egyptian post to retrieve the bodies while two Egyptian soldiers would remain at the bottom of the hill, in the custody of the other Israelis who would watch them until Yaniv and his men returned safely.


The Recovery

Yaakov Yaniv crossed the railroad and made his way to the Egyptian outpost on the mountain in front of him, carrying only his Kodak camera. A grove of trees covered the route up the mountain. Yaniv walked through the trees as one of the Egyptian soldiers followed him closely; he was a tall, thin soldier of Sudanese origin, armed with a Tommy gun. Yaniv would later learn that this was the machine gunner who had thwarted the Moriah Battalion’s attack. They proceeded to the Egyptian position known as “The White Trench”, an old Turkish fortification from the First World War, built as a defense against British attacks.

Who were the Egyptians who barricaded themselves there in 1948? These were units affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood organization. How did they get there? The Egyptian army had invaded Israel earlier in the year, heading for Tel Aviv, but they were stopped at Ashdod on the southern coast. From there some units headed east towards the Judean Mountains, eventually making their way to Jerusalem; the Muslim Brotherhood unit was among these.


Yaakov Yaniv in the center of the photo taken during the encounter between the Israeli and Egyptian soldiers, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

When he arrived at the trench, Yaakov Yaniv met the commander of the Egyptian force and was surprised to learn that he was in fact a local Palestinian Arab from the nearby village of Beit Safafa. They spoke in English and eventually, the Palestinian commander told him, “You can take the bodies,” gesturing toward the human forms sprawled on the ground a few dozen feet from where they stood. The sight of the completely exposed corpses was disturbing, but after taking a closer look Yaniv realized they had not been abused but were in dire condition as a result of the time that had passed since the soldiers were killed.

Yaniv sent for blankets and stretchers to carry the fallen soldiers’ bodies over to the Israeli side. Meanwhile, the Palestinian commander offered him a cup of tea, and they sat down to drink together. The commander told Yaniv he had led the force that attacked the Mekor Chaim neighborhood from Beit Safafa a few months earlier. Surprised, Yaniv told him that his commander, Danieli, a Palmach member who was born in Mekor Chaim, led the force that protected the neighborhood against the attacks.

Sitting in the Egyptian post, Yaniv was not afraid. He was treated decently, he said. After all, they had offered him tea, and  they were happy to drink along with him. Some might call it a miracle or perhaps just a moment of absurdity in the midst of the terrible battles of the War of Independence.

As they sat and drank, soldiers gathered around them, and when the stretcher and blankets arrived, the Palestinian commander stood up and said, “I’ll help you carry the stretcher.” He walked over and grabbed one end of the stretcher with both hands. Yaniv held it from the other end and together they walked down the hill towards the railroad. The second stretcher was carried down by other soldiers.


The Pictures

When they arrived at the waiting point with the bodies of the fallen soldiers, men from Yaniv’s unit had already arrived to receive the bodies. This was when Yaniv took out his Kodak camera, bought with his first salary when working at the Central Post Office on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv before the war. The moment was captured for posterity as soldiers from both armies posed for the photograph, enemies at war who were briefly partners in an operation to bring the bodies of IDF soldiers to burial in Israel – an operation in which all participants put their lives at risk.

After his return, Danieli, Yaakov Yaniv’s commander, confiscated the camera film and threatened Yaniv with a court martial. Danieli considered the operation initiated by his subordinate a grave violation of military procedure– though it had ended peacefully, Yaniv’s life and possibly the lives of his comrades had been endangered. Yaniv took on the operation alone, without asking anyone’s permission. Certainly, had he asked for it, he would never have been permitted to carry out such an operation in an Egyptian outpost in the middle of a war. To Yaniv’s surprise, the film was returned to him a few days later, and the court martial never materialized.

Right to left: The Egyptian force commander, Yaniv (the camera strap on his shoulder) and the Sudanese machine gunner. Sitting: A Haganah soldier, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The Pardon

Years later, Yaniv asked Commander Danieli why he had not been put on trial at the time, and Danieli replied that the day after the incident, Moshe Dayan, the regional commander, arrived in the sector. Danieli told Dayan what happened, and the latter replied with a typical dismissive gesture and instructed Danieli to let the matter go. It seemed that to Dayan, Yaakov Yaniv’s heroic act outweighed the offense. When the film was returned to him, Yaniv hid it and had the pictures developed as soon as he could. He kept them with him ever since. One day, he received a phone call from military historian Dr. Nir Mann, who heard of Yaniv while conducting historical research on Operation Yekev. When they met, Mann saw the photos and suggested that Yaniv donate them to the National Library of Israel due to their great historical value.


The Fallen Soldiers

Many years had passed, but Yaakov Yaniv could not stop thinking about the soldiers whose bodies he brought to burial in Israel. He wished to know who they were. He began to investigate and search for answers but encountered many difficulties as he was not from the same battalion as the fallen and had very little information about them. He contacted the Department of Families and Commemoration at the Ministry of Defense and told them his story. The information he received included the names of the soldiers and some documents but it was only partially accurate. According to the ministry’s records, only one body was retrieved that day.

Finally, Yaniv decided to go to the cemetery himself and look for the graves. At the Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl, where the fallen soldiers’ graves are arranged by war and date, he searched for the graves with the names he received. He discovered that one of them was located at the top of the mountain and the other closer to the bottom. Both graves had the same date on them. Yaniv could not understand why two people who were killed in the same place, who served in the same unit and whose bodies were recovered together, by him, were buried in different places. He told the Ministry of Defense about this and asked that they be buried side by side; the Ministry officials promised this would be done.

Finally, Yaniv was able to discover the identities of the two fallen soldiers whose proper burial he had risked his life for: They were both Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel shortly before being sent to the frontline. Neither had any known relatives anywhere in the world. They were the last survivors of their families.

Since then, every year, on the eve of every Israeli Memorial Day, Yaniv goes to the Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl and places flower wreaths on the two graves.


צבי קנר

Zvi Kenner was born in the city of Iasi in Romania. He worked as a carpenter and was waiting to immigrate to Israel when World War II broke out. He survived the war, unlike the rest of his family. In 1948, he arrived in Israel on an illegal immigration ship that was caught; he was detainedin Cyprus for a few months before enlisting in the Israeli army on August 8th, 1948. He was killed on October 20th, 1948 at the age of 21.



שמואל שימנסקי

Shmuel Szimanski, born in Poland, was a young tailor recruited to the Polish army. He later fought with the Russians, making it all the way to Berlin, receiving honors and medals for his service and courage. Before the war, he was a member of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, and after the war, when he discovered that none of his relatives had survived, he again contacted members of Hashomer Hatzair and joined a kibbutz to which he immigrated on one of the last illegal immigration ships to arrive in Israel. He arrived in Israel in 1948, enlisted in the IDF, and was sent on Operation Yekev to join the battle against the Egyptians, during which he was killed at the age of 29.


If you liked this story, try these:

Is This What the First Temple Looked Like?

A beautiful book featuring a special dedication from Baron Edmond de Rothschild walks us through the corridors of the Temple in Jerusalem


In the municipality storeroom of the northern Israeli town of Rosh Pina, a unique book sat undisturbed for years, its ornate illustrations and French text ignored by all. It would still be lying there, had the town’s former archivist, Hanna Chopin, not come across it one day. Once she began leafing through the pages, Chopin instantly knew she had a very special book in her hands.

One copy of the rare book is kept in the Louvre in Paris, another is preserved in the Rothschild family vaults, while yet another can be found here in the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection at the National Library of Israel. Two more copies  can be found in the towns of Rosh Pina and Zichron Ya’akov in Israel.

The rare books were given as gifts to the Jewish settlements of Rosh Pina and Zichron Ya’akov by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the late 19th century. It is unknown whether there were additional copies donated to other Jewish agricultural settlements established by the Baron. Here we shall tell the story of the copy that is currently in the Rosh Pina archive. The book contains the following dedication: ‘Dedicated to the Rosh Pina colony by Sir Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, September 21st, 1898.’ It is unclear exactly why the gifts were sent or for what occasion. In fact, we know very little at all about these books. We can tell you, however, that after Ms. Chopin found the Rosh Pina copy in its deteriorated state, the book underwent restoration at the National Library laboratory in 2013, with assistance provided by the Prime Minister’s Office. It was later transferred back to the Rosh Pina archive, where it remains to this day.

What is so special about this book that makes it important to restore and preserve? Well first of all, as a general rule, if Baron Rothschild gives you a gift, it’s probably a good idea to keep it in good shape and even display it proudly, just in case he decides to stop by. Secondly, as previously mentioned, this is a unique work, one of only a handful which exist worldwide. Lastly, the book contains vivid illustrations of the most significant architectural structure in Jewish history: The Temple.

A view from above – the Temple and the Temple Mount, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

The book was written by two French scholars: Charles Chipiez and Georges Perrot. Chipiez was an architect and architectural historian and Perrot an archaeologist. They wrote a number of books together which were dedicated to the history of the ancient world: Assyria, Persia, Egypt, Rome, Greece, and of course – Judah and its surroundings. Most of their findings regarding the Jewish Temple – which they saw as an architectural milestone in the history of the world – were published in a book printed in France in 1889, “Le Temple de Jerusalem et la Maison de Bois-Liban”. Rothschild, who took a special interest in Jerusalem and the Temple, discovered the book when it was put on display at an exhibition in Paris, and immediately purchased a number of copies which made their way to the farming colonies in the Land of Israel which were so dear to him.

Ascent to the Temple, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive
Views from different angles, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

The highlight of the book is its appendix – large, magnificent illustrations of the Temple and the ‘House of the Forest of Lebanon’ built by King Solomon, according to the First Book of Kings. The first chapter of Chipiez and Perrot’s book describes the history of the Temple, the structures that surrounded it and the local topography. In the second chapter, the authors explain which sources were used to reproduce the appearance of the Temple. The third chapter describes the Temple itself according to verses found in the book of Ezekiel, and the fourth and final chapter describes what the authors believed to be the palace of the kings of Judah (the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon) – according to their own knowledge. The authors also included sketches of architectural elements such as pillars, domes and capitals.

The House of the Forest of Lebanon, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

Dr. Smadar Sinai, a historian and the director of the Rosh Pina Restoration Association, says that Baron Rothschild had a special and understandable interest in Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Dr. Sinai, this stemmed from his traditional Jewish education, as well as from the growing interest in the scientific study of the Bible during the late 19th century. Other evidence suggests that the Baron sought to build a “hall” on the ruins of the Temple and even obtained plans from architects to integrate modern and ancient elements in the construction of a grand new building. The Turkish Sultan refused, for obvious reasons, to authorize the ambitious project.

The “hall”, inside the Temple, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

Did Rothschild really dream to restore the Temple in its original location? Did he intend to disseminate architectural instructions for the construction of the Third Temple? Was he simply fond of the book because of its unique art? For now, we do not know the answers to these questions. But thanks to the Rosh Pina archive and the Archive Network Israel project, we can still enjoy the beautiful book today.

This article was written in collaboration with the Rosh Pina archive and with the help of the archive director, Yehoshafat Pop.


If you liked this article, try these:

Newton’s Temple

The Rescue of One of the World’s Most Beautiful Haggadot

The Man Who Would Be King: Delusions of (Royal) Grandeur in Mandatory Palestine

The Black Hebrew Exodus, 50 Years On

Rare images reveal the group's first days in the Promised Land

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge

One day while working at a foundry in Chicago, the man who would become known as Ben Ammi Ben-Israel had a revelation.

“I realized that I was the Messiah,” Ben-Israel later recounted.

In 1967, hundreds of his followers sold all of their belongings and followed him to the Liberian jungle where they built a village for themselves, pursuing a process of spiritual purification after hundreds of years of slavery and racism.

Some ultimately went back to America, while others – largely inspired by the words uttered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. just prior to his assassination – decided to journey on to their own Promised Land, the Land of Israel.

In December 1969, some three dozen members of the community, officially known as the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem and generally referred to as the Black Hebrews, completed their exodus, settling in the Negev Desert. Ben Ammi Ben-Israel stayed behind in Liberia to tie up some lose ends before coming with an additional group and joining his own family and the community in the small town of Dimona in March 1970.  According to Ben-Israel, once he came to Israel he received an additional name:  “Nasi Hashalom”, Hebrew for “The Prince of Peace”.

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge

The rare photographs appearing here were taken in January 1970, just a few weeks after the community was established in Dimona, and prior to the arrival of the group’s charismatic leader. The images are part of the Dan Hadani Archive, from the National Library of Israel’s Pritzker Family National Photography Collection.

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge

The Israeli authorities did not know how to handle the Prince of Peace and his followers, self-proclaimed descendants of the lost tribes of Israel who appeared to practice some form of Judaism, yet also had customs and a belief system all their own. In an unprecedented move, the government granted the African Hebrew Israelites tourist visas, yet also afforded them all of the benefits to which immigrants are entitled, including education, public housing, employment assistance and full medical coverage.

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge

One early report tells of the curiosity and warmth exhibited by Dimona’s Indian and North African Jewish residents towards their new neighbors. According to another report about the Black Hebrews, “Anyone who comes in contact with them is full of praise: hard-working people, pleasant, put together, clean. Great citizens.”

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge

Nonetheless, their arrival was also accompanied by significant suspicion and even antipathy, largely driven by their unusual origins and practices. When Meir Kahane moved to Israel in 1971, his first public appearance was in Dimona, where he accused the group of insulting the honor of the Jewish people. African Hebrew Israelites who came in smaller groups throughout the 1970s and 1980s were deported. Upon landing in the country in 1977, three community members even tore up their tickets and American passports in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent deportation. At one point, a high-ranking Egyptian official somewhat ironically offered to settle the African Hebrew Israelites in his country, then still officially at war with the Jewish state.

Nonetheless, Ben Ammi Ben-Israel had no intention of continuing his community’s exodus on to Egypt or anywhere else for that matter. He urged his flock to be patient. After enduring inner city Chicago and the jungles of Liberia, certainly a little perseverance could best the bureaucratic and cultural challenges they faced in Israel, as well.

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge

Sure enough, in 1990, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri of the Ultra-Orthodox Shas party established guidelines that would ultimately ensure that the vast majority of the community be allowed to stay in Israel permanently.

While Ben Ammi Ben-Israel passed away in 2014, his teachings live on in the “Village of Peace” urban kibbutz in Dimona, where most African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem still live. Over the years, the strictly vegan community has thrived and become increasingly integrated into Israeli society and culture. They have opened a number of successful vegan restaurants, as well as factories for both vegan foods and natural fiber clothing. Many serve in the IDF, wearing special boots made from synthetic materials so as not to violate their religious prohibition against wearing leather.

Most members of the community today were born in Israel, yet the influence of 1960s Black America lives on in the cadence of the English they speak, as well as in the music and dance for which they have become legendary. Community members twice represented Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest: 1999’s “Yom Huledet/Happy Birthday” by Eden, and 2006’s “Together We Are One” by Eddie Butler.

Though it took some time, it now seems hard to deny that the vision Ben Ammi Ben-Israel expressed in a newspaper interview shortly after arriving in Israel half a century ago has largely been fulfilled, “We only really want one thing: that you will understand that we love the Land, want to be good citizens, to be the friends of all people.”

Photo by IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel. Click to enlarge


If you liked this article, try these:

What Did Martin Buber and His Friends Write to President Johnson about Martin Luther King Jr.?

Gandhi’s 1939 Rosh Hashanah Greeting to the Jewish People

100 Years of Ford and the Jews – From Anti-Semitism to Zionism