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PA Official: We only keep Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women when "consistent with Islamic law"

Nan Jacques Zilberdik  |

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the official Palestinian Authority daily published various statistics on violence against women in the PA.

The Palestinian Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling documented 76 murder cases of women in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip over a 3-year period. A researcher at the center, Nabil Dweikat, explained that "in the great majority of the cases of murder about which there is confirmed information – 22 cases – the murderer was from the murdered woman's close surroundings, from her family." – A fact that might indicate these murders were so-called "honor killings."

Dweikat further explained that these murders happened regardless of efforts having been made to protect Palestinian women:

"These numbers were recorded despite the effort being made by many official and unofficial institutions in order to provide protection to women and young women whose lives are in danger."

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 3, 2020]

But it is not surprising that the efforts have not been entirely successful, considering the PA’s official stand on women’s rights. Recently, the PA's Supreme Shari'ah Judge and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Shari'ah Justice Mahmoud Al-Habbash emphasized that the PA is not committed to the international Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) "at all" – even if it signed it – "except for what is consistent with Islamic law." Al-Habbash claimed this view has been endorsed by both PA Chairman Abbas and the PA Parliament: 

Supreme Shari’ah Judge and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Shari'ah Justice Mahmoud Al-Habbash: "President [Abbas'] ratification in 2009 (sic., 2014) of the CEDAW convention was a ratification conditioned on what is consistent with the Palestinian constitution, with the Basic Law… We have a Basic Law that says: 'Islamic law is the source of legislation' … Truthfully, even if we signed the CEDAW convention we are not committed to it at all, except for what is consistent with Islamic law… We are committed to the international laws in what does not contradict our national heritage, religious heritage, and our faith. The president has said this, the [PA] government has said this, and we [the Supreme Council for Shari’ah Justice] have said this."

[Facebook page of Supreme Shari’ah Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash,
Jan. 9, 2020]

Palestinian Media Watch has exposed numerous statements by Palestinian clerics and lecturers – including top PA official Al-Habbash - endorsing domestic violence and arguing that it is permitted by Islamic law and the Quran. These statements prove that Palestinian domestic violence and honor killings don't happen in a vacuum. On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women in November, for example, PMW reported on two interviews with Palestinian experts who explained that Palestinian culture accepts marital rape and domestic violence, and that the laws don't protect women:

"The concept of ‘marital rape’… For us, this concept is not present in our social consciousness. When I teach at Birzeit [University] about violence against women and I speak about marital rape, some of the students are amazed at the very concept itself. How could someone rape his wife?"

[Official PA TV, Gently, Nov. 20, 2019]

Al-Habbash, who is also PA Chairman Abbas’ former advisor on religious affairs, has stressed repeatedly that Shari’ah and religion are “the supreme source of authority” and overrule any other laws:

Al-Habbash: “We [the Palestinians] have our source of religious authority, and we have a constitution and law that govern. Even the Palestinian basic law has a clear and unambiguous clause that Shari’ah and the religion are the supreme source of authority for legislation and law, and this matter removes all controversy and leaves no room for any claim… Our source of authority and constitution are ruled by the Quran and the Sunna (i.e., Islamic tradition)… There are [political] controversies… but for the foundations, for the principles, for the important matters – the source of authority is the Quran and the Sunna.”

[Official PA TV, Dec. 20, 2019]

Note that the Palestinian Basic Law, clause 4, only states that Shari’ah is “a main source” of authority, not “the supreme source” as Al-Habbash stated:

"1. Islam is the official religion in Palestine…

2. The principles of the Islamic Shari’ah are a main source of authority…"

Another recent Palestinian survey found that Hebron is the West Bank town with the most domestic violence – 37% –followed by Jenin with 27%, and Jerusalem with 11%. [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 6, 2020]

The following are longer excerpts of the statements cited above:

Headline: "Report: 76 cases of murders of women and young women between 2016 and 2019 (sic., 2018) in the West Bank and Gaza"

"Researcher at The Women's Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling Nabil Dweikat said that the center has in the last three years documented 76 cases of murders of Palestinian women and young women in the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

The murder cases were distributed as follows: 40 cases in the West Bank, as compared to 36 in the Gaza Strip. The number of murder cases in 2016 reached a total of 23: 12 in the West Bank and 11 in the Gaza Strip. In 2017 the total number was 29: 14 in the West Bank as compared to 15 in the Gaza Strip. In 2018 the number of murder cases in the West Bank was 14 as compared to 10 in the Gaza Strip, a total of 24 cases.

Dweikat said while he presented the conclusions of his research on the topic of the murder of women in Palestinian society, [in a study called] Discrimination and Violence against Women – Fertile Ground for Femicide: 'These numbers were recorded despite the effort being made by many official and unofficial institutions in order to provide protection to women and young women whose lives are in danger, by providing housing services at shelters, both those affiliated with the center and those affiliated with other institutions such as the [PA] Ministry for Social Development.

During 2015, 560 women and young women turned to receive assistance and legal and social guidance regarding the violation of their various rights.' …

Dweikat said: 'In the great majority of the cases of murder about which there is confirmed information, - 22 cases - the murderer was from the murdered woman’s close surroundings, from her family. In 27% of the cases the murderer was a brother or brothers. The number of cases in which the murderer was the husband or father were equal, 23%. Afterwards, at a rate of 14%, the murderer was the son or daughter.'"

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 3, 2020]

Headline: "On the eve of International Women’s Day, Palestinian women in numbers"

"The statistics of the 2019 violence survey showed that the Hebron district is the West Bank district where violence by husbands against their wives or ex-wives aged 18 to 64 is the most prevalent, as this rate has reached 37%, and after [Hebron] is the Jenin district with 27%, with the last district being Jerusalem with 11%. However, in terms of the Gaza Strip districts, in the Khan Yunis and Gaza districts violence by husbands against their wives or ex-wives is the most prevalent, at rates of 41% and 40% respectively, with the lowest rate being in the Deir Al-Balah district with 30%."

[Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 6, 2020]

Supreme Shari’ah Judge and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Shari'ah Justice Mahmoud Al-Habbash: "President [Abbas'] ratification in 2009 (sic., 2014) of the CEDAW convention was a ratification conditioned on what is consistent with the Palestinian constitution, with the Basic Law… We have a Basic Law that says: 'Islamic law is the source of legislation' … Truthfully, even if we signed the CEDAW convention we are not committed to it at all, except for what is consistent with Islamic law. We support all of the international laws on the condition that they are consistent with the Palestinian people’s religious, national, and cultural heritage. There is a constitutional provision. There is a decision of the Constitutional Court that settles this dispute. We are committed to the international laws in what does not contradict our national heritage, religious heritage, and our faith. The president has said this, the [PA] government has said this, and we [the Supreme Council for Shari’ah Justice] have said this."

[Facebook page of Supreme Shari’ah Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash, Jan. 9, 2020]

CEDAW - The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Consisting of a preamble and 30 articles, it defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination. [UN.org]

Posted text on Facebook page: "[Supreme Council for Shari'ah Justice Mahmoud] Al-Habbash on the CEDAW Convention: Committed only to what is consistent with Islamic law"

Supreme Shari’ah Judge and Chairman of the Supreme Council for Shari'ah Justice Mahmoud Al-Habbash: "We [the Palestinians] have our source of religious authority, and we have a constitution and law that govern. Even the Palestinian basic law has a clear and unambiguous clause that Shari’ah and the religion are the supreme source of authority for legislation and law, and this matter removes all controversy and leaves no room for any claim… Our source of authority and constitution are ruled by the Quran and the Sunna (i.e., Islamic tradition)… There are [political] controversies… but for the foundations, for the principles, for the important matters – the source of authority is the Quran and the Sunna."

[Official PA TV, Dec. 20, 2019]

The Palestinian Basic Law, clause 4, only states that Shari’ah is "a main source" of authority, not "the supreme source" as Al-Habbash stated:

"1. Islam is the official religion in Palestine…

2. The principles of the Islamic Shari’ah are a main source of authority…"

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