The Tribunal on Gender Justice
An invitation for a Transformational Gender Justice
"... we initiated the Tribunal out of moral and civil responsibility for communities and victims as an independent community initiative that is not part of the state authorities”, Tribunal’s Statutes (2019).
Four years ago, on November 2018, we gave birth to the vision of the Tribunal for Gender Crimes in a first interview published in the independent feminist site, Politically Coret, the first media channel that served as our mouthpiece.
Maya Roman's comprehensive interview with Jessica Nevo, the founder of the Tribunal and recipient of the Emil Greenzwaig ACRI's Lifetime Achievement Award, was published to mark the 2018 International Day Against Violence against Women entitled: "What after #why_I_didn't complain: Truth Commissions on Violence against Women.The title of the article re-defined the concept of the tribunal: To imagine and understand the next stage in an era of a flood of testimonies of women survivors in the media and social networks. In 2018, the exposing and sharing occurred at an intense and dense pace: a woman, and another, and yet another exposed our experience of gender abuse. We stopped for a moment and tried to understand the potential to bring about collective change beyond expressing each woman individually.
In early December 2019, we engaged with Isha L'Isha, The Haifa Feminist Center, to hold together in Tel Aviv-Jaffa a first of its kind 'Public Hearing" demanding accountability from the Israeli government regarding their policy towards women without civil status in Israel who are victims of violence by their Israeli partner. A panel of feminist women, including a jurist and a retired judge, served as '"alternative judges" - called by the Tribunal -Responders-Witness – whose job was to listen to women whose civil status and that of their children in Israel depends on an Israeli citizen who acts violently towards them. Because "stateless" women are at risk, their anonymity was maintained so women theater's students presented their demands in either Arabic, Russian, and Tigrinya, the mother tongues of the women victims themselves and they share with a supportive and believing audience community, about the helplessness and the institutionalized harm that builds up and increases men's terror against them.
In March 2020, during the first pandemics lockdown, a steering committee made up of women lawyers, sociologists, caregivers, artists, facilitators, and more, all social activists. Most of us survivors. We partnered to challenge the law enforcement and judicial systems—and in the second stage, the institutions of psychiatry, welfare, and health—and to design alternative and complementary procedures and channels for the establishment. As the founders of the Tribunal ourselves, we have come to challenge the dominant perception among organizations that are divided - a professional team that treats the clients – the victims. More on the Tribunal's premises and values see below.
"Open Doors": We launched the Tribunal with the "Open Doors" Public Hearing that was broadcasted on Facebook and was watched by over 6,000 people (December 2020). Following the testimonies of the women participants of the "Heroines" exhibition, two women from the Tribunal's committee presented their "justice claims" in public. Malki Drori demanded justice and presented her demands for the rape of her daughter Ella. Nina P.'s claim for her childhood abuse in the family was presented by actress Lee Dan. Nina P. together with the Tribunal, sent her list of demands to the Ministry of Health for the injuries she experienced during psychiatric hospitalizations. Dr. Lavi from the Ministry of Health responded to Nina with a letter that included acknowledgment of the injustices caused to her by teams, acceptance of responsibility and an apology. Public hearings held during 2021 and 2022, included collaborations with the Association of Rape Crisis Centers and the Department of Theater at the Hebrew University.
During two years since the Tribunal's formal launching, 117 women approach the Tribunal. Among them, 5% started criminal legal procedures about the abuse; none of these files became indictments. Two of these women appealed to the High Court of Justice regarding the closing of the cases. Both appeals were rejected.
While the #Me_Too campaign has demonstrated the alarming frequency of abuse in the public sphere, the lack of trust and disappointment with the judicial system has led to a situation in which our options boil down to silence and/or failure to report to the authorities or sharing on social media under the threat of libel suits. In the vacuum between these two extremes, the Tribunal expands the spectrum of responses through community practice, a restorative and non-contrasting approach.
The questions and dilemmas that led us to the establishment of the Tribunal
To date, most of the efforts and resources of state institutions and civil society organizations are invested in a minor percentage of complaints that reach the police – only 10% of the injuries. Of these, the percentage of cases that will become an indictment is 0.00085. The rest are closed at the police or prosecutor's office stage, or in a plea bargain with the offender over our very heads.
For over forty years, feminist activists in Israel – as all around the world - we have invested time, energy, and money in trying to raise the awareness of police officers, judges, welfare, care, education, health, decision-makers and the general public, on how to treat and respond sensitively to women survivors, and not to "blame the victims". Despite this great investment, those in charge of the various junctures of the legal and public proceedings (police investigation, forensic examination in a hospital, court hearings, etc.) continue to treat us, with judgment and responsibility for the injury, which we could have prevented if we had behaved "correctly". A few weeks ago, I accompanied two victims to file a complaint at a police station that I knew at the beginning of my work supporting women survivors. I was pained to discover that nothing had changed in the attitudes of the police station' team towards women filing complaints.
After forty years of working with representatives of the establishment we have been left with evidence of a misunderstanding and mismatch of the situation, from the diarist at the police station who asks the complainant why she "remembered after two years", through the distrust and blaming of the victim in the investigations, in the emergency treatment in the hospitals and in the court. At the Tribunal we decided that we #don't_wait. That is why we started developing channels of justice with our own hands.
Strategies for Change in a Historical Context
The first wave of feminism, the "liberal feminism", in the Western world was characterized by reforms comparing women's rights to those of men, including women's suffrage, and in general, suggested how to improve women's status and representation. The second wave, which developed in the United States and Europe starting in the 1960s and in Israel from the 1970s, expressed a radical criticism of society in contrast to the "reforms" proposed by the "liberal feminism". Radical feminists focused in the creation and establishment of an innovative network of shelters, rape crisis centers, grassroots initiatives dealing with health, education, care, all from a new and feminist perspective; an impressive array of alternative spaces that challenge the existing systems and offer not only a redistribution of the 'cake', but a change of recipe.
The first Rape Crisis Center in Israel, founded in Tel Aviv by feminist women, was established in response to a suicide letter from a woman who was raped, in which she wrote that the police and the hospital, to which she turned for help, were the continuation of the rape. Over the years, the radical concept of establishing external alternative spaces has declined and most of the efforts and resources, as well as the new knowledge accumulated from the alternative-feminist system, has been directed to the retraining of established professionals with the aim of improving their attitudes towards victims and motivating legislative amendments. But even today, the legislation relating to offenses against women and the barriers built into the law are not adapted to the needs of the crime victims and to our expectations of justice.
"We are tired and disillusioned by the false impression that legislative reforms and the training of police officers and judges would benefit us, we decided to create an alternative and permanent platform = The Tribunal.After 40 years of creating alternatives to the welfare and health system, the Tribunal proposes alternatives to the legal system"
Sources of inspiration of the Tribunal
Restorative Justice: The criminal procedure, based on the retributive justice model, aims to punish whoever commits an offense, meaning disturbing the "public order". Those harmed by the offender/s, including gender crimes, are the 'witnesses' of the crime. Criticism about the dominance of retributive justice in the criminal system, refers to, among other things, it ignores the social contexts, creates a situation where most offenses do not exceed the threshold of a criminal offense, ignores the victims/survivors and is seen as responsible for the mistrust of victims in the system and for the low report incidence. As a response to this criticism, new models had developed, mainly "restorative justice".
Transitional Justice: In addition, Retributive justice treat each offender individually and each offense separately. How, in this situation, can society deal with such large amounts of violence against women and an unimaginably wide scope of abusers? The model of 'transitional justice' provided us with inspiration to deal with this dilemma. This model is based on the attempts of countries and communities to do justice to a large number of victims after mass violations of human rights in transitional periods, especially after military dictatorships in South America, with the end of apartheid in South Africa, the genocide in Rwanda, the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia and much more. Truth commissions, public apologies, compensations and more, are the main practices used in transitional situations.
Women's Tribunals: In this context, we see our tribunal as a continuation of the tradition of the first international tribunal on gender crimes, which took place in 1976 in Brussels, initiated by Diana Russell, a feminist researcher. Dozens of women from all over the world met in order to expose crimes against women. It was a one-time event, which did not become a tradition. In 2000, at the initiative of feminists and survivors, the tribunal was established in Japan for the crimes of sexual slavery of women that occurred during World War II. The tribunal in Japan was founded out of public pressure, which demanded an apology and even compensation from the Japanese government for the events that took place. Although the Japanese government apologized for the crimes, to date the promised compensation has not been distributed.
Inspired by transitional justice, we form a tribunal to deal with the broad social contexts and the broad number of offenders and offer to produce an alternative and demonstrate to public institutions how to do it differently.
Direct and personal political justice
We associate with the 'direct justice' movement, actions that do not depend on mediation and the definitions of the law such as the statute of limitations, ban on publishing the names of the victims and a general conduct of mistrust and blaming the victims. Openly or anonymously, on video or in writing, and with the support of the revolution of social networks, a movement of justice has formed that demands recognition, acceptance of responsibility and justice. More and more of us are shedding the veil of self-blame and shame, as well as the suppression and silencing that are imposed on us. Each reveal and challenges the method according to its strengths and the support resources available to it. The tribunal was also created from this inspiration.
At the Tribunal we asked ourselves whether, beyond the personal exposure of each of us, there is a way to call for collective-social-political responsibility of the community and the state for the entire issue? We wondered how the Tribunal could be part of another radical incarnation of this concept, "the personal is the political", the core of the revolution of the second feminist wave, which is gradually weakening in Israel and the world, and leverage a radical turning point in the way we deal with gender terrorism. We treat crimes against women as an overall political phenomenon - at a level that requires the attention of an international court.
The tribunal can be used as an alternative to the retributive justice model and exist alongside it as a complement to official procedures, while we place emphasis on the victim and the collective responsibility of the perpetrators, the communities and the state, as well as on the roots of the violence and the contexts within which it takes place.
Against the background of the dilemmas presented here and sources of inspiration - we established the Tribunal. It is a permanent and warm platform for victims to develop alternative channels of justice. We, the victims, design all the procedures for ourselves. There is no cross-examination in the Tribunal's procedure, no evidence and proof of injury is required. Women who applied to the Tribunal are invited, according to their choice, to involve relevant communities in the process, to summon direct and indirect abusers, as well as representatives of an establishment that may not have prevented the harm or intervened poorly.
- allows a platform to demand and receive a response to the needs created as a result of the injury such as recognition, validity, acceptance of responsibility, apology, material/symbolic compensation and more. We invite the involvement of the communities and state institutions, as directly and indirectly responsible for violence against women.
- provides a platform from which to demand and receive a response to the needs created as a result of the injury such as recognition, validity, acceptance of responsibility, apology, material/symbolic compensation and more. We invite the involvement of the communities and state institutions, as directly and indirectly responsible for violence against women.
- we challenge the separation between the different types of violence by treating all expressions of exploitation and gender terrorism without separation, the common division between legal and therapeutic discourse by connecting the worlds of law, therapy, art, activism, etc. And we embrace political discourse and collective therapy.
- provides guidance and support when filing complaints and justice claims at the Tribunal. Our procedures take place in a participatory space to design procedures for ourselves to deal with the barriers and failures of the justice system.
The Tribunal's channels of justice
Registration of harm is done in an alternative reporting system: Women applying to the tribunal are invited to register/report violence or exploitation they experienced in the system for alternative reporting of gender-based crimes. The option is open to all victims - both those who never initiated legal proceedings against the offender and those who filed a complaint that did not go to trial. In fact, the Tribunal makes order in 90% of the injuries that are not recorded in any police computer and therefore are not included in the statistics that later shape public policy. It is possible to report to the alternative system on regular registration days, face to face as well as by e-mail and social networks. It deals with the ongoing documentation and analysis of these vulnerabilities, which have no other documentation.
Filing a justice claim:
The justice claim procedure takes place on several tracks. Each victim can choose from them or design a new route that suits her. The existing tracks consist of a hearing in the living room of someone's home in an intimate manner, in the presence of a circle of supporters, which, according to the justice claimant's choice, can include women and representatives of institutions that supported or remained silent and a public hearing acting in an alternative space for women who apply to the Tribunal to present their case and receive recognition of attack to harm. The hearing can take various forms according to the subject or the case, call expert witnesses, include the offender or not, take place publicly or privately and be documented on video, recording or published as an anonymous transcript. At the hearing, the actresses can be used to present the evidence, if the victim wants it. A witness-respondent panel and alternative judges listen, respond and validate the claim.
The Tribunal provides a “Dress Rehearsal’ for women who are considering filing an official legal procedure, a path of justice based on artistic expression: theater, writing, etc.
In addition, victims are given the opportunity to file a complaint with the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. The Tribunal supports submitting complaints to the UN.
These channels grew out of desires and in response to the needs of women who contacted us. Everyone can create their own way, by themselves and with others. At the Tribunal they speak in the first person, without mediation, and thus demonstrate to the establishment that there is another possibility to initiate systemic changes that will change our lives in the future. We invite you to exercise justice in the community.
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