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Honor killings don’t happen in a vacuum

Nan Jacques Zilberdik and Itamar Marcus  |
  • Suspected Palestinian honor killing in the shadow of PA leaders' continued justification of domestic violence
  • Palestinian human rights organization: "[Palestinian] women remain the most prominent victims of the male culture... and uncivilized mentality that stems from viewing women as bodies and private property."
  • Demands to "amend the laws that strengthen the culture of discrimination against and murder of women"

Honor killings don't happen out of nowhere but occur in environments in which they are legitimized by leaders turning a blind eye - or worse - when the leaders endorse domestic violence.

Palestinians are currently in an uproar over the death of a young Palestinian woman, Israa Ghrayeb, who died last month. It is suspected that she was the victim of an honor-killing carried out by male members of her family because she posted a video showing her with a man who had proposed to her but who she was not yet formally engaged to.

It has not yet been confirmed that this was an honor killing, but many Palestinians are treating it as such and if it was, it comes as no surprise. Palestinian Media Watch has reported on honor killings in the PA and the protests and demands by NGOs to change the laws and legal practices that discriminate against women. But even though some changes have been made, and some PA and Fatah officials have condemned violence against women, and the PA has joined international human rights conventions, it seems that the "male culture," which sees women as "bodies and private property," is alive and well in the PA.

The Palestinian Human Rights and Democracy Center "SHAMS" explained:

"Women remain the most prominent victims of the male culture and of the violence that grows out of it, while this culture elevates men beyond the culture of shame, appoints them the masters and guardians of morality - even when they act immorally - and grants them complete immunity. Reducing a woman's honor to her hymen indicates a superficial and uncivilized mentality that stems from viewing women as bodies and private property."

Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 2, 2019

The SHAMS center further emphasized that although laws have been changed and awareness has been raised, women's rights in the PA are "still at a standstill":

"The state of women's rights in Palestine is still at a standstill, and women are still being murdered. This is despite Palestine joining many international conventions in 2015... despite the elimination of mitigating circumstances from the Jordanian Penal Code that is in use, and despite the efforts of the women's organizations and NGOs to raise awareness, educate, pressure, support [victims], and struggle against  the male culture."

Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 2, 2019

The explanation for this standstill is not only that the PA is not doing enough to change things, but that some PA leaders actively preserve the status quo by legitimizing domestic violence. PMW has documented that senior PA official Mahmoud Al-Habbash - then PA Chairman Abbas' advisor - explained on official PA TV that it is OK for husbands to beat disobedient wives. PMW showed how this statement ran counter to a simultaneous PA campaign against domestic violence (see longer excerpt below):

"The one and only situation, which is very limited and very rare, in which a man is permitted to beat in a way that doesn't harm, doesn't injure, avoids the face, and doesn't cause strong pain - is the situation of disobedience. Only a situation of the woman's disobedience. The disobedient woman, the woman who is out of line, the woman who destroys the bonds of marriage, and the bonds of home and family. Aside from this, any type of beating, injuring, and cursing of the woman constitutes a forbidden act."

Official PA TV, Horizons, Dec. 1, 2018

What Palestinian society needs is for "the official bodies to take more serious and effective steps, amend the national legislative system so that it is consistent with Palestine's international commitments, legislate a law to protect families from violence, and increase the severity of punishment for criminals who murder women," the human rights organization SHAMS said.

Legal investigator Zeinab Al-Ghoneimi called on the PA government to revise the laws that still allow for discrimination against women:  

"Female legal investigator Zeinab Al-Ghoneimi emphasized that it is necessary to hurry and defend the family from violence, particularly in the shadow of women being murdered, which has cost the lives of 19 women within one year on the pretext of honor, suicide, or death under mysterious circumstances... Al-Ghoneimi demanded that Palestinian legislation be adapted to the human rights outlook and international conventions... and to amend the laws that strengthen the culture of discrimination against and murder of women."

Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 3, 2019

At a protest vigil held by the General Union of Palestinian Women, women's organizations, and human rights organizations, the PA Minister of Women's Affairs Amal Hamad promised that the PA government will work to better women's rights:

"The government will formulate a series of steps that will establish the basis for an entire system to defend our women, and that very soon the work on the law to defend the family will be completed."

Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 3, 2019

Minister Hamad also promised to "put the criminal on trial - if there indeed was a crime" once the investigation into the death of Israa Ghrayeb is completed.

Al-Habbash is not the only one justifying domestic violence. Read more about PA officials' justification of men's right to beat women and about women's status in Palestinian society in general.

The following are longer excerpts of the statements cited above and additional reports on the suspected honor killing:

Supreme Shari'ah Judge, PA Abbas' advisor on Religious and Islamic Affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash: In this noble verse Allah spoke about one situation in a woman's behavior... "As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly)" [Quran]... The meaning is that the noble Quran and Allah permitted this gradualness in dealing with wrong behavior by the woman... The man who is intended here is not only a husband. When Allah said: "Admonish them," it can be the husband, the father, the brother. It can be the society or the ruling authority...  "And beat them" - this too is not necessarily especially for the husband. In principle, do we recognize harmless beating, educational beating, as a means of education? ... Prophet [Muhammad] said... "Command them to pray when they are at the age of seven, and beat them for this when they are 10 years old" [Hadith]. The beating here is an educational beating, and not violent beating. ... There is merciful beating... As long as Allah permitted a certain type of beating, it is for the good. It is good for society and good for the woman and the man. However, regarding the question of why Islam permitted a man to hit and not a woman: Look, the woman is more sensitive, and this is a kind of preference for her by the way... You, the man, even if you were beaten, will repeat [the behavior] over and over because the man, let's put it this way, his sensitivity is tougher than that of the woman. However, the woman can be affected by anything. In addition, in general, beating is permitted against the man and against the woman. 'The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse - lash each one of them with a hundred lashes' [Quran]... Every man who beats his wife, his sister, or his daughter for no reason, he is committing a forbidden act... [If] he beats her only because he is angry at her, this is forbidden...The one and only situation, which is very limited and very rare, in which a man is permitted to beat in a way that doesn't harm, doesn't injure, avoids the face, and doesn't cause strong pain - is the situation of disobedience.  Only a situation of the woman's disobedience. The disobedient woman, the woman who is out of line, the woman who destroys the bonds of marriage, and the bonds of home and family. Aside from this, any type of beating, injuring, and cursing of the woman constitutes a forbidden act. The man must know that the woman is not his handmaid and not his servant. She is his partner."

[Official PA TV, Horizons, Dec. 1, 2018]

Headline: "SHAMS: Israa Ghrayeb is an additional victim of male culture"

"The SHAMS Center said that the murder of civilian Israa Ghrayeb (i.e., on Aug. 29, 2019, in an alleged "honor killing") is a grave violation of women's rights... and that it is a crime without honor, whose perpetrators deserve the maximum punishments.

The center said in a statement: 'Women remain the most prominent victims of the male culture and of the violence that grows out of it, while this culture elevates men beyond the culture of shame, appoints them the masters and guardians of morality - even when they act immorally - and grants them complete immunity. Reducing a woman's honor to her hymen indicates a superficial and uncivilized mentality that stems from viewing women as bodies and private property.' ...

The SHAMS Center emphasized that the state of women's rights in Palestine is still at a standstill, and that women are still being murdered. This is despite Palestine joining many international conventions in 2015... despite the elimination of mitigating circumstances from the Jordanian Penal Code that is in use, and despite the efforts of the women's organizations and NGOs to raise awareness, educate, pressure, support [victims], and struggle against  the male culture - something which obligates the official bodies to take more serious and effective steps, amend the national legislative system so that it is consistent with Palestine's international commitments, legislate a law to protect families from violence, and increase the severity of punishment for criminals who murder women."

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 2, 2019]

Headline: "Ramallah: A [protest] vigil in front of the [PA] government building in Ramallah against the murder of Israa"

"The General Union of Palestinian Women, women's organizations, and human rights organizations held a [protest vigil] in front of the [PA] government building in Ramallah yesterday [Sept. 2, 2019], during the weekly meeting [which addressed] the issue of late Israa Ghrayeb (i.e., died Aug. 29, 2019, in an suspected "honor killing").

[PA] Minister of Women's Affairs Amal Hamad said that the government will formulate a series of steps that will establish the basis for an entire system to defend our women, and that very soon the work on the law to defend the family will be completed.

Hamad emphasized: 'The government discussed the circumstances of Ghrayeb's murder. All conclusions of the investigation will be brought before the Palestinian society, and the truth will be clear to all. We will put the criminal on trial - if there indeed was a crime.' ...

She explained that the government is a partner of the civil society in fighting violence and defending women...

Dozens of women from women's organizations and various human rights organizations participated in the vigil in a demand to expedite the passage of the law to defend the family from violence. They waved signs demanding to fight violence and provide defense for women...

[PA] Security Forces Mufti Muhammad Salah, who participated in the vigil, said: 'Evil spirits possessing people is a controversial matter among the learned, but the greatest religious scholars think that it is impossible, because people are made of mud while spirits are made of fire, and it is impossible that people (sic., fire) adheres to mud' (refers to claims by Ghrayeb's family members that she died after being possessed by an evil spirit -Ed.)."

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 3, 2019]
 

Headline: "Female activists called on the [PA] president to approve the law to defend the family from violence"

"Female legal investigator Zeinab Al-Ghoneimi said that the case of Israa Ghrayeb (i.e., died on Aug. 29, 2019, in a suspected "honor killing") is inflaming the public's emotions, not only on the Palestinian level but also on the global level...

Al-Ghoneimi emphasized that it is necessary to hurry and defend the family from violence, particularly in the shadow of women being murdered, which has cost the lives of 19 women within one year on the pretext of honor, suicide, or death under mysterious circumstances...

Al-Ghoneimi demanded that Palestinian legislation be adapted to the human rights outlook and international conventions... and to amend the laws that strengthen the culture of discrimination against and murder of women."

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 3, 2019]
 

Text posted on the official Fatah Facebook page, written by Secretary of Fatah's Poland Branch Khalil Nazzal

Posted text: "The problem of violence in the family is not a sudden or new issue, but what is new is its spread in such a manner despite the cultural and scientific development that has taken place in society. It may be that women are the first victims of the mentality of using violence to resolve all of the problems that the family is dealing with. Women are still the weak link, despite the empowerment of their role in all fields of life. They are the side that is exposed to a demand for an accounting and to accusations of bringing shame upon the family, while the family defends the men against the same accusation...

Whoever raises his hand against his sister, daughter, or wife loses the right to be called a 'man'...

We will not be able to advance even one step as long as we are seeking a solution within the same moral system that has permitted burying girls alive immediately after their birth, thereby getting rid of the 'shame' that they are likely to cause if they stay alive! There is no honor for one who does any wrong to his sister, daughter, or wife on the pretext of hollow bravery and in order to avenge 'the family's honor.' If there is anything that necessitates demanding an accounting from someone... no one has the right to take the law into their hands and impose the law of the jungle on our society, which is surrounded by enemies on all sides."

[Official Fatah Facebook page, Sept. 2, 2019]

"[PA] Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh said at the start of the weekly governmental meeting... that the investigations in the framework of the case of young woman Israa Ghrayeb (i.e., died Aug. 29, 2019, in an suspected "honor killing") continue, and that a number of people have been detained for interrogation while waiting for the investigation results, lab tests, and forensics tests. He added that the investigation results will be published immediately after their completion."

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 3, 2019]

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