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Palestinian women's lives endangered by PA religious leaders' ruling

Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik  |
  • Top PA religious figures prohibit Palestinian women from submitting complaints over spouses to Israeli police
     
  • PA Ministry of Justice is working on improving legislation on family matters, including "ensuring punishment of those who commit crimes from a motive of honor"
     
  • The Israeli Arab party The Joint List has announced that it will boycott today's swearing-in ceremony of the Israeli Parliament in protest of what it calls the government's failure to address the rising levels of violence in Arab towns. Yet while Israeli Arab politicians are complaining that not enough is being done to tackle the growing problem of violence in Israeli Arab communities, the PA is telling Palestinian women not to go to the Israeli police with complaints over their husbands
The preacher of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Head of the Supreme Muslim Council Sheikh Ikrima Sabri recently issued a life endangering religious ruling (fatwa) prohibiting Palestinian Muslim women from submitting complaints to the Israeli police over their husbands' behavior.

Upon hearing this prohibition, the Mufti of the Palestinian Authority Sheikh Muhammad Hussein confirmed his support for the ruling:

"It is better to leave the matter to the good people and reliable figures [in our society] in order to deal with the issue."

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 3, 2019]

Palestinian women's rights groups and others have repeatedly complained about violence against women in Palestinian society and have demanded that the PA enact laws to protect the women from domestic violence.

This ruling by two top Palestinian religious figures prohibiting Palestinian women from approaching Israeli police is indeed life endangering for some Palestinian women as it may remove a major deterrent against violence that women need for protection.

The serious problem of domestic violence against Palestinian women has been a major concern of women's rights groups, for years:

"According to statistics recorded by the Center of Women's Affairs in Gaza about the cases of violence reaching the center, 63% of women suffer from marital violence... 73 % suffer from verbal abuse, 24 % from physical abuse, 29.5 % from mental abuse... Zainab Al-Ghneimi, head of the Women's Legal Counseling Center, said: 'Married women are not forthcoming with these details about violence at the beginning, probably out of shame, and because the prevailing culture forbids discussing such secrets...' Al-Ghneimi explained: "the main reason is probably that the man believes he has bought the woman and paid for her, and therefore she has become his property and must obey his orders. She clarified that unfortunately, this is the culture of the entire society, and that [Palestinian] laws give him the right of ownership, based on the man being the guardian, and he is the one who commands and prohibits."

[Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 29, 2015]

Yusuf Jabareen, an Israeli Arab lecturer, has explained the severity of the problem, stating that it is deeply engrained in Palestinian culture: 

"Part of our identity is to kill women, to beat women... Part of our identity is to attack women - we must acknowledge it. Every society has its defects and its charms. Palestinian identity has its charms, but there are things that we have adopted from Arab culture for centuries, which harm the individual and the woman. For example, in recent months, look how many women were murdered in Lod, in Ramle, and in Acre, and so on. That's part of our identity."

[Official PA TV, June 24, 2012]

It is for these reasons that the recent religious ruling is so dangerous for Palestinian women. The Palestinian preacher claimed that the Israeli police are trying to destroy the Palestinian families and therefore women should not contact the police with complaints:

"Female spouses must not contact the police because they [the police] encourage female spouses to contact the courts, and this destroys Palestinian families and scatters and separates the children. These are the dangers and disadvantages of submitting a complaint to the police..."

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 3, 2019]

The Mufti emphasized that "the gist of the law is that women should not contact the police centers because this has an impact on the family cohesion."

There was one part of the preacher's words that could enable an outlet for women to complain, when he instructed women not to go to the Israeli police "as long as the men are treating the women properly":

"Sabri told [the independent Palestinian news agency] Donia Al-Watan: 'The Jerusalem women must not contact the Israeli police to submit complaints against their spouses, especially when the police are attempting to separate spouses and destroy Palestinian families.' Sabri explained that as long as the men are treating the women properly, [the women] must preserve the family and not contact the Israeli police for complaints."

[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 3, 2019]

However, the preacher did not explain what he considers "proper" or "improper" treatment of a wife by her husband. This is especially problematic because Palestinian religious leaders have explained on PA TV that Islamic law permits husbands to use violence against their wives in certain situations. 

When a young Palestinian woman died in August in what is suspected to be an honor killing committed by her male relatives, Palestinian Media Watch commented that honor killings don't happen in a vacuum but in societies where leaders either do nothing or even legitimize domestic violence. Sabri's fatwa can be viewed as yet another sign that Palestinian leaders are not prepared to view domestic violence as a serious crime, but rather as a "family matter" that can be "mediated."

Following Sabri's ruling prohibiting Palestinian women to contact the Israeli police on family matters, Sabri was interrogated by the Israeli police. Upon his release, Sabri reiterated his opinion that family matters should be dealt with by the Muslim community and its "mediation committees":

"In our opinion, the topic is not suitable for this noise [to be made], because the topic is family-related. We are dealing with it with our consideration, with the mediation skills that Allah gave us. We are mediating and have mediation committees to preserve the family and protect the children from [the family] breaking apart... There is no justification for this artificial noise, and there is no reason for an interrogation. This is an internal family-related topic, and we are obligated to preserve our families and not uproot and lose the children, because any defect [in the relationship] between the spouses affects the children, and we will not allow the breaking apart of the family."

[Ma'an, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 26, 2019]

At the same time, the PA Ministry of Justice is working on amending existing laws to the standards of international conventions that the PA has signed. PA Minister of Justice Muhammad Al-Shalaldeh announced earlier this month that these amendments of the current penal code will include "ensuring the punishment of those who commit crimes from a motive of honor" (i.e., "honor killings").

"Minister Al-Shalaldeh emphasized that the amendment of the law will include:

- Increasing the punishment for criminals in a manner that will ensure that they are consistent with the international conventions, and as part of this, creating equality between men and women

- Ensuring the punishment of those who commit crimes from a motive of honor (i.e., "honor killings")

- Criminalizing human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and young women

- Criminalizing violence against children, exploitation of children in pornographic material, and child trafficking, and increasing the punishment for crimes committed against them

- Criminalizing torture...

- Increasing the punishment for crimes committed against people with disabilities, and criminalizing hysterectomies [for women with disabilities]"

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 10, 2019]

The following are longer excerpts of the reports cited above:

Headline: "The Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher bans Jerusalem women from contacting the Israeli police and the [PA] mufti responds"
"Blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher [and Head of the Supreme Muslim Council] Sheikh Ikrima Sabri has prohibited Jerusalem women from contacting the Israeli police, and especially with complaints against their spouses.
Sabri told [the independent Palestinian news agency] Donia Al-Watan: 'The Jerusalem women must not contact the Israeli police to submit complaints against their spouses, especially when the police are attempting to separate spouses and destroy Palestinian families.'
Sabri explained that as long as the men are treating the women properly, [the women] must preserve the family and not contact the Israeli police for complaints.
Sabri added: 'Female spouses must not contact the police because they [the police] encourage female spouses to contact the courts, and this destroys Palestinian families and scatters and separates the children. These are the dangers and disadvantages of submitting a complaint to the police.'
He continued: 'The Israeli police encourage women to rebel against their spouses in order to break up the family and the children.'
And in this context, [PA] Mufti of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories [and Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council Chairman] Sheikh Muhammad Hussein responded to the Al-Aqsa Mosque mufti's religious ruling, and emphasized that the gist of the law is that women should not contact the police centers because this has an impact on the family cohesion.
Sheikh Hussein said: 'It is better to leave the matter to the good people and reliable figures [in our society] in order to deal with the issue, especially when contacting the police complicates matters and breaks apart the family.'"
[Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 3, 2019]

Muhammad Hussein also serves as Deputy Secretary-General and acting Secretary-General of the PLO Popular National Conference of Jerusalem.

Headline: "An interrogation of Sheikh Sabri due to his call on women not to contact the police"
"The Israeli police released Head of the Supreme Muslim Council and blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher Sheikh Ikrima Sabri today, Monday [Aug. 26, 2019], after his interrogation concerning things he said in a Friday sermon.
Attorney Hamza Quteineh said: 'The police released Sheikh Ikrima Sabri after he was interrogated on accusations that in a sermon last Friday at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, he advised women not to contact the occupation police regarding problems in the family.'
He added that 'This great accusation confirms the occupation authorities' harassment of Sheikh Ikrima and the Al-Aqsa Mosque preachers.' ...
Sheikh Ikrima Sabri said after his release: 'In our opinion, the topic is not suitable for this noise [to be made], because the topic is family-related. We are dealing with it with our consideration, with the mediation skills that Allah gave us. We are mediating and have mediation committees to preserve the family and protect the children from [the family] breaking apart.'
He added: 'There is no justification for this artificial noise, and there is no reason for an interrogation. This is an internal family-related topic, and we are obligated to preserve our families and not uproot and lose the children, because any defect [in the relationship] between the spouses affects the children, and we will not allow the breaking apart of the family.'"
[Ma'an, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 26, 2019]
 
Headline: "The Committee to Adapt Legislation begins work on amending the penal code"
"The Committee to Adapt Legislation held a meeting yesterday [Sept. 9, 2019] in the presence of [PA] Minister of Justice Muhammad Al-Shalaldeh, in order to begin work on adapting [Jordanian] Penal Code No. 16 of 1960 to the international conventions, and particularly those that are related to human rights and the war on crime. This was after the [PA] government ordered the minister to submit an amended draft of the penal code.
According to a statement from the [PA] Ministry of Justice, the Committee to Adapt Legislation will work on the necessary amendments to the penal code, and after formulating the official vision regarding the necessary amendments, the recommendations and amendments will be raised before the civil society institutions. The necessary consultations on the matter will also be held, and in conjunction an internet portal will be established to receive legal comments from everyone in society and the institutions regarding clauses that they wish to amend.
Minister Al-Shalaldeh emphasized that the amendment of the law will include:
- Increasing the punishment for criminals in a manner that will ensure that they are consistent with the international conventions, and as part of this, creating equality between men and women
- Ensuring the punishment of those who commit crimes from a motive of honor (i.e., "honor killings")
- Criminalizing human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and young women
- Criminalizing violence against children, exploitation of children in pornographic material, and child trafficking, and increasing the punishment for crimes committed against them
- Criminalizing torture
...
- Increasing the punishment for crimes committed against people with disabilities, and criminalizing hysterectomies [for women with disabilities]"
[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 10, 2019]
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