Dramatic increase in the number of divorce cases among Muslims in Israel

Few Israeli Jews have probably noticed, but in the last decade, there has been a significant change in the lives of Israeli Muslim women. The percentage of Muslim Arab women (the proportion of Christian Arabs in Israel is much lower) going on to higher education has risen, as has the percentage of those entering the labor market – as pharmacists, nurses and many other professions, not only as teachers). 

In addition, they are having fewer children, getting married later – and more are remaining single in their 20s. Alongside these, there was also a significant increase in the divorce rate in Muslim Arab society. 

Dr. Maha Karkabi-Sabah of the sociology and anthropology departments of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) in Beersheba investigated the depths of the changes in this sector from which she herself came to understand the reasons for this significant increase.

Maha is currently a BGU post-doctoral fellow and has recently finished her post-doctoral fellowship at Tel Aviv University and at the Center for Gender Studies at the University of London. Her current works concentrate on family, gender and inequality. 

Recently, she received Truman Researcher Grant- The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for her study: Ethno-mixed marriages in a divided society: The case of Palestinian women married to Jewish men in Israel.

Karkabi-Sabbah worked together with Prof. Adital Ben-Ari, head of the Center for Research and Study of the Family in the Faculty of Social Welfare and Health Sciences School of Social Work and of the Jewish-Arab Center in the University of Haifa.  A Fulbright fellowship recipient, Ben Ari completed her doctoral and post-doctoral studies at the Mental Health Social Welfare Research Group of the University of California at Berkeley. She researches changes that are occurring in modern families and family structures, including families led by same-sex partners; inter-cultural families and the emotional health of modern families. She is founder and director of “Haifa Meets Frankfurt,” an international exchange program where students have the opportunity to meet and accept the “other.”   

The two researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 44 divorced Israeli Muslim women from different social backgrounds as well as seven group interviews and in addition, data reflecting 22 years (1995 to 2017) prepared by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. They found that the number of divorces among Muslims in Israel has doubled in these years (from 922 to 2,140 cases annually).


The statistical analysis of the data shows that the highest chance of divorce is among couples without academic education. Although being more educated than her partner does not undermine the stability of the marriage, the more money the woman earns than her partner, the lower the stability in the marriage. The asymmetric economic power in favor of women undermines the normative order of division of roles in the home and the status of the Arab male as a main breadwinner and thus also marital stability. However, the chance of divorce decreases with increasing age and with an increase in the years of marriage, they found.


From the moment an Arab woman decides to divorce, a long and winding road faces her. Many of them seem to fear the reaction of their family, friends and environment in the face of their decision to divorce. Therefore, many continue to live in violence and unhappy relationships for years – until they have the courage to separate from their partner. Numerous Muslim women also suffer from economic violence around divorce, which usually begins during the marriage but in many cases continues even after it ends, along with social stigma and refusal to accept a new relationship.


“Once he beat me terribly, but at the hospital, I was afraid to speak about it. What will they say? That because of me, my husband was arrested? ?? My mother-in-law once said to me: ‘We will throw into the street any woman who goes to the police to report her husband complain about a violent husband.’ So I just dropped it,” one woman who was interviewed said.


Another woman complained: “Only in the first year did he pay me alimony; then he started doing all sorts of tricks to get out of this requirement, but I was exhausted. I just wanted to be quiet and not be dragged by him into the courts, lawyers and so on. I just gave up!”


The social discourse surrounding divorce tends to blame divorced women, said the researchers, as those who went against the integrity of the family were blamed for it. All these changes disrupt social conventions and accordingly cause instability in marriage and increase the divorce rate in Muslim society here, they concluded. 



Israel in the News