10 Oct 2021
Zehava died in hospital two days after trying to take her own life. She had fled the West Bank to escape abuse and prostitution but was denied even basic rights in Israel.
Zehava’s body was found by police in a public park in Haifa on Friday, October 8. The 22-year-old transgender woman was found hanging, in grave condition, and was rushed to the hospital. She died two days later. The police believe she [died by] suicide.
Zehava’s life and tragic death have turned a spotlight on the hard lives of members of the LGBTQ+ community who lack permanent residency status in Israel. Life as a transgender woman in Israel is full of difficulties in any case, and there is a shortage of frameworks where members of the community can find support. But for those who lack residency status, life is nearly impossible, given the lack basic rights such as work permits, health insurance or the ability to open a bank account. All of these concerns, compounded by the fear that her residency status would not be renewed, brought Zehava to the edge of the abyss, welfare activists say.
“The state of Palestinian LGBTQ+ asylum seekers is shocking,” says Nina Halevy, an activist in the Gila project for transgender empowerment in Israel, who was working with Zehava. “The state allows them to stay here grudgingly and under impossible conditions, but they have no way to live. They’re allowed to be in the country, but they have no rights. What can they do? How can they survive? It’s the government that pushes them into prostitution. They deliberately provide insufficient aid.”
Zehava was already living in the street as a child. As a teenager she was sexually abused and exploited several times. A field worker who aided her recounted that Zehava had been forced into prostitution at a young age and had been blackmailed and threatened when she tried to object. In 2018, when she was 19-years-old, Zehava fled from a Palestinian city to Israel, and asked to be recognized as a victim of human trafficking. She was arrested several times for illegal residency and indicted four times. She was deported back to the Palestinian Authority, returned to Israel and was arrested again. A social worker attempted to get her a residency permit given her at-risk status as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“I want a permit to work in Israel. I’ve asked everyone, the police, the court – three times – but no one will help me,” Zehava said in court in January 2020, after being charged with living in Israel illegally. “I can’t go back to the [Palestinian] territories. If I go to prison, I’ll stay there for several months. When I’m released I’ll go back. I want to enter Israel. Nobody can give me a permit, everyone says they can’t help me, so who can help?” Her plea went unheeded, and the court sentenced her to three months in prison.
Zehava is gone. A few days ago, phones and messages started going around in the small group that surrounded her, and had tried to accompany and assist her in her difficult way of life over the past year.
In her short life, Zehava managed to experience infinite difficulties: a poor and dysfunctional family, violence, abuse and street life, numerous attempts to escape and find refuge on the so-called enlightened side of the wall, which repeatedly ended in Abu Kabir arrest and deportation back to her trauma districts in Tulkarm.
Confirmation of who she was? Hardly achieved, and before any recurrence of depression, anxiety, alcohol and suicide.
Shelter? At times, with great difficulty, with a lot of despair on the way (well-being? Your transphobia screams to heaven, most of all, a sham on your part)
Medical rights? No.
Work permit? No way?
She did not give up, she fought. In our last conversation, she was optimistic, she had found a job, earns some money, maybe she will save and rent an apartment - but not really, as she is also not allowed to open a bank account ...
Despite all this, Zehava was a rare flower: a very special young woman, open-eyed and dreamy, sensitive, curious, undecided, wondering about life and its meaning, wanted to study psychology, philosophy, religions and spirituality, find meaning and do good in the world. She was proud and noble-minded, and smart enough to experience in full force the understanding that the world simply does not want her, and does not assign her any place under the sun
How awful that she was eventually broken, and in order to stifle the pain and despair that filled her, she turned towards her body is the violence that the world directed at her
How terrible, how sad, how angry and frustrating !!!!
We can never be defeated,
Let her remembrance be a revolution.