The child pictured here was born Musa, and is now Moshe.

First in a series by Mayaan Jaffe

Esther [all names have been changed] escaped from her Arab husband two months ago. An immigrant from the former Soviet Union, she met her Palestinian husband of seven years while working in a factory just one year after moving to Israel. She says while they were dating he treated her like a queen, and despite the warnings from her parents and friends she saw nothing wrong in their relationship. But it was all a guise…

"The minute he convinced me to marry him, the restrictions began," she sobs. "When I became pregnant with my first daughter he persuaded me to 'convert' to Islam and to cover my hair like Arab women do. Once the keffiyeh went on he began to control me, to treat me dreadfully."

Before Esther's first child was even half-a-year old, her husband brought a second wife into their home, still in an apartment building in a mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city. He used to be intimate with the woman in Esther's own bed, and exploit the two against each other. As the years went by the ill-treatment increased, ranging from verbal abuse to physical beatings. Esther began to shut down.

"If you complained you were beaten," Esther weeps. "He would yell and then he would hit. If I said something to make him angry: beating. If a neighbor looked at me the wrong way: beating. If I opened the door for a male neighbor: beating. If I didn't do something or prepare something the way he wanted: beating. There was no speaking. There was no help with the children. If the children were sick: nothing. I was alone. I was silent and I was alone."

He told her he couldn’t make it financially and that they would have to move to his Arab village over the Green Line. Several children and hundreds of bruises later, Esther knew it was time to go. She says she did an accounting of her life, looked at how she and her children were living and knew she must escape before it was too late.

"I felt I couldn’t take it anymore. I was living with a person that I gave all the respect in the world and it was never enough. I had no worth. I did everything I could in the house, I shut my mouth, I shut my eyes, I ignored the fact that he was sleeping with another woman. But every second something set him off. Every minute he said something terrible to me.

Esther says Arabs bring a huge number of children into the world but they don't worry about whether or not the children are healthy, have clothes or their basic needs met. "They just want more and more and more."

Esther had heard of the Lev L'Achim organization years before, when her friend had tried to convince her not to marry the Palestinian man in the first place. She always saved the phone number, knowin in the back of her mind that she might one day need to call. A Lev L'Achim activist came to her rescue and Esther says she is grateful. However, the future looks far from bright.

"I can't see myself in five years," she whispers. "I can't even see myself in a month. I only see black – only darkness."

Esther remains cut off from her family, which she says holds her responsible for her mistake. She says she wishes she knew then what she knows now:

"You cannot make it married to someone of another religion. He will try to rope you into his beliefs and he will want your house to be run according to his ways. He will not understand you and you will not understand him. You can't. You can break your head over it, but you just can't make it work. He can't change; he received his worldview from his mother's milk. If you want to build a successful home, you can't intermarry! Even if you have the highest love for someone when you are dating, think before you institutionalize the relationship."

Lev L'Achim is an outreach organization working to bring the lost souls of Israel back to their roots. For more information, e-mail "[email protected]".

Mayaan Jaffe, of Jaffe Reporting and PR, can be contacted at "[email protected]".