This week, after months of perseverance, I finally finished Roberto Bolaño’s “2666.” Those familiar with the book will understand why I am so smug. At a cool 1,000-plus pages, “2666” is no easy read. It is also deeply violent. At its centre lies the Mexican fictional border town of Santa Teresa, which is plagued by a stream of murders of women. For hundreds of pages Bolaño catalogues the deaths in cold, forensic language, each morbid detail blurring into the next.
The cases, more often than not, remain unsolved. But littered among them are cases of husbands, or boyfriends, or lovers, who killed the woman they had professed to love.
If you look at statistics on victims of sexual assault and rape, the majority are victims of relatives, love-ones and acquaintances. The same, it would seem, can be said of murder. Last month, Haaretz published an interactive feature, in Hebrew, on the 102 women murdered in Israel since 2011. In more than half of the cases the perpetrator was a husband or partner.
Israeli Arabs, who make up only 20 percent of the general population, took up a large proportion of the data. Some 37 per cent of the victims were Arab Israelis, 22 percent were from the former Soviet Union, 24 percent were “veteran Israelis” (a strange category used by the editors that I can only assume means broadly “Jews born in Israel”), 9 percent were foreigners, and 3 percent were unknowns. Ethiopian Israelis, who make up only 2 percent of Israel’s population, made up 7 percent of the victims.
At least 15 women were murdered each year since 2011. 2016 already looks to be following suite, with five murders recorded at the time of publication.
Israel’s female murder rate pales in comparison with countries in Latin America, which is the most violent continent for women. According to a recent report, seven out of the ten states with the highest female murder rate are in the Americas. These include El Salvador, which saw 8.9 murders per 100,000 women in 2012, Colombia with 6.3, and Guatemala with 6.2. Also in the top ten were Russia with 5.3 and Brazil with 4.8. Bolaño’s dear Mexico also makes that list. There, according to UN figures, 740 women were killed in Ciudad Juarez, the inspiration for his Santa Terera, between 1993 and 2009.
The general homicide rate in Israel is far lower - only 2 per 100,000 in 2012 - but when it comes to murders of women at least some of the issues are the same: domestic abuse and general levels of violence. Honor killings are another issue. In one well-known case in the town of Ramle, 10 women from one extended family were murdered, with only two convictions to date.
According to the UN, across the world, intimate partners are responsible for the deaths of women. “The most common form of violence experienced by women globally is physical violence inflicted by an intimate partner…. Several global surveys suggest that half of all women who die from homicide are killed by their current or former husbands or partners,” the organization says. In Australia and Canada, the rate is between 40 and 70 percent. In America, one-third of women are killed by partners. In the UK in 2013, 86 women were killed by lovers or former lovers.
It is no coincidence that, in disparate corners of the globe, women are murdered by men who profess to love them. This is a trend that crosses boundaries and historical periods. Underlying it is a gap between the genders that is often filled by violent hatred.
But this is not just a question of lofty ideas about feminism and misogyny. Even in the countries where women have the most opportunity and equality, there is clearly still a problem that stems from the way men and women relate to each other. If a detective were to spot a pattern in a series of murder case files, they couldn’t just ignore it now, could they?
Haaretz’s recently published statistics are a reminder that, in a country where the violence of the conflict and the occupation dominate the discussion, there is another kind of violence that affects women on both sides. It should be addressed as a matter of urgency.