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Steep rise in ‘honour killings’ as brothers assert their power

This posting has these items:
1) Al Jazeera: Upsurge in Palestinian ‘honour killings’, men often plead ‘honour’ as a cause of killing knowing they will receive a lenient sentence;
2) AP: Palestinian women seek tougher laws to combat honor killings, responses from political authorities and strong statement from Ashrawi;
3) Washington Post: a Honor killings rise in Palestinian territories, sparking backlash, March 2014;
4) AIC: Palestinians protest violence against women, it’s femicide not ‘honour killing’;
5) Notes and links, includes note on Germaine Tillion’s seminal book Republic of Cousins, and Bedouin women’s statement;

Hundreds of women from the West Bank town of Bethlehem march to protest against so-called “honour killings” and other forms of violence against women, November 16, 2013. Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

Upsurge in Palestinian ‘honour killings’

Rights groups demand new laws to protect women from family violence after a spate of deaths.

Lena Odgaard, Al Jazeera
March 25, 2014

Gaza City, Palestine – Two teenage Palestinian girls were killed in separate incidents last month in so-called “honour killings”, revenge attacks carried out most often by family members against women suspected of “immoral sexual conduct”.

The deaths sparked protests with more than 100 people assembling outside the general attorney’s office in Gaza on March 3, demanding violence against Palestinian women come to a halt. Five women died in honour killings in the Palestinian territories in 2011. That number rose to 13 in 2012 and doubled to 26 last year.

“For the past three years, the number of women killed has increased each year,” said Mariam Abu al-Atta, coordinator of the Amal Coalition to Combat Violence Against Women, at the recent demonstration. “Today we are here to stop these crimes. Criminals should be punished by law.”

But the day after the protest, another woman, Samah Bader, was stabbed to death by her husband in their apartment in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. She became the eighth woman killed in the Palestinian territories since the beginning of the year – raising concerns the deadly trend will continue to spiral upwards.

Honour killings are common in some Arab and South Asian societies, as unsupervised contact between an unmarried woman and a man can lead to social stigma on the family.

‘Atmosphere of sympathy’

Naser al-Rayyes, a legal consultant at the Palestinian human rights organisation Al Haq, estimated that 90 percent of honour killings are in fact carried out for reasons other than “dishonouring” the family, with the assailants aware that courts are more lenient when sexual misconduct is cited as a motive.

“It is to create an atmosphere of sympathy for the murderer and his family to mitigate the sentence,” Rayyes told Al Jazeera.

Al Haq has long pushed for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to ratify a new penal code that eliminates “family honour” as a mitigating circumstance, and instead mandates harsher sentences in cases in which it is claimed as the motive. Most of those convicted spend only a few years in jail.

The draft law was presented to Abbas in 2011 but still has not been passed.

Reacting to the recent killings of women, PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi called upon the judiciary, security forces and grassroots organisations to “eradicate this phenomenon in line with the principles of democracy”.

But even if Abbas signs the new law, it won’t help women in the Gaza Strip. Hamas came to power in Gaza in 2007, while Fatah remains in charge in the West Bank.

As a result, the two Palestinian territories have different legal systems which, according to Atta, creates an environment where it is impossible to implement one clear law. “We have to unite our voices towards both Hamas and Fatah to end the separation and put one law in force and take action against criminals,” she said.

Hiba Zayyan, of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, said the lack of legal clarity is a major reason for the increase in the killing of women.

“With the political split, you don’t have anyone in the Gaza Strip aiming to criminalise these offences or even to send an ethical, moral message – even if it is not put into effect. There is a complete silence from [Hamas] government institutions,” Zayyan told Al Jazeera. “It is very much connected to law and order – how people perceive the strength of duty-bearers and how they would feel about being punished or getting away with a crime.”

Economic strain

Zayyan also noted that Gaza is suffering from high unemployment and poverty caused by the ongoing Israeli siege and Egypt’s destruction last summer of tunnels running into the Palestinian strip. Lack of necessities such as fuel, electricity, water, food and not least money are bound to cause friction in Gazan homes, she said.

A survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics from 2011 showed that 35 percent of married women in Gaza had been exposed to physical violence by their husbands within the past year, and that 40 percent of unmarried women had been physically abused by a household member.

In a small garden away from the noisy Gaza city streets, Al Jazeera spoke to a middle-aged woman, “Umm Mohammed”. Afraid of how her family would react to the telling of her story, she asked that a pseudonym be used.

Umm Mohammed explained how she lived with an abusive husband for 20 years. When she was 17, her father-in-law tried to kill her after a cooking accident left her with severe burns. She left to live with her parents, but moved back after four years because of pressure from her family.

“It was the worst years in my life,” Umm Mohammed said, tears streaming down her cheeks. Although her husband beat her, she decided to stay to protect their three children. “He was horrible to me. When I heard him come home, I felt a pain in my body even before I could see him.”

‘Man’s society’

When Umm Mohammed was 36, her husband divorced her after beating her badly. She was forced to leave the children behind because she was afraid and unaware of where to turn for help, she said.

Today she works with a women’s rights centre, where she helps wives caught in abusive marriages to try and get divorced. “It’s a man’s society,” she said. “I tell them you have to be stronger than anything.”

After her divorce, Umm Mohammed moved in with her brother and sister-in-law, who tried to stop her from continuing her education or working, and forbade her from going anywhere on her own. She was able to move freely only after she moved in with her son and daughter-in-law.

Women in Gaza are extremely dependent on their family and husbands, Zayyan, of the UN, said – preventing many from leaving an abusive or bad marriage.

“They face the possibility of losing their children, their property and their economic security within the domestic sphere. And then there’s the social stigma. A divorced woman would start to become censored by her immediate family.”

Zayyan said she hopes for more initiatives from government and civil society to support women seeking help – before it is too late.

Palestinian women seek tougher laws to combat honor killings

‘Honor’ murders doubled in 2013 to 26.

By The Associated Press / Haaretz
February 27, 2014

A Gaza teen stabbed to death by her brother while she prayed in her room has become the latest addition to a grim statistic: Palestinian women killed by relatives, often for allegedly shaming the family.

Twenty-six women were slain by relatives in the West Bank and Gaza in 2013, twice as many as the year before, according to official figures. The rise stems from mounting economic difficulties in the Palestinian territories, compounded by ongoing leniency for those killing in the name of “family honor” and social acceptance of violence against women, women’s rights activists said Wednesday.

gaza women protest honour kiling
Women in Gaza protest lack of action on honour killings

They urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to repeal sections of a penal code that allows for short sentences of at most a few years for the perpetrators. Abbas suspended one article of the code in 2011, but others remain on the books, said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official and former legislator.

Ashrawi said she repeatedly has urged Abbas to adopt legal reforms, especially of articles that discriminate against women, but so far to no avail. She said she last met with Abbas in November, but that he referred the matter again to his legal adviser.

She said that male politicians often brush aside women’s concerns, with the argument that more important issues are at stake, such as ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.

Ashrawi said archaic laws harming women also undercut Palestinian aspirations. “We are fighting for freedom and human dignity,” she said. “How can you deprive women of all these things?”

Abbas aides, including his adviser on legal affairs, did not return requests for comment.

Perpetrators punished lightly

So-called honor killings are committed regularly in traditional Arab societies that enforce strict gender separation and view an unmarried women’s unsupervised contact with a man as a stain on the family reputation.

honour killing protest bedouin
A demonstration  organised by Bedouin women’s groups outside Tel Sheva , November 2012, in protest against the killing of a 14-year-old girl by her brothers for “desecrating the family honour.”

The most recent killing was carried out Saturday in the town of Bani Suheila in southern Gaza, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which cited a police report.

The victim was identified as 18-year-old Islam al-Shami. The girl was stabbed in the neck with a kitchen knife while she was praying in her room, the rights group said. Her 21-year-old brother was arrested and later told police he killed his sister to defend the family honor, according to the rights group.

In the West Bank, a mentally disabled 21-year-old woman was strangled by her brother in September, ostensibly over family honor, according to the Independent Commission for Human Rights, another Palestinian group. Her brother is in prison over the killing.

In all, 26 women were killed by their relatives in 2013, compared to 13 the year before, according to Palestinian government statistics. All were labeled “honor killings,” though in some cases, the motives appeared less clear-cut or ambiguous.

“There is a clear increase in so-called honor killings in Palestinian society,” said Rabiha Diab, the women’s affairs minister in the West Bank.

In some cases, perpetrators claimed to have killed in the name of family honor, when in effect they appeared to have had financial or other motives and hoped to benefit from relatively lenient punishments, she said.

Some human rights groups provided slightly different figures, depending on their classification of killings of women by relatives.

Perpetrators spend at most a few years in prison.

In Gaza, the longest sentence has been three years, said Anam al-Inchasi, a judge.

“Judges are members of the same society in which honor killings take place,” she said, referring to the prevailing attitude that violence against women is an internal family matter.

Honor killings rise in Palestinian territories, sparking backlash

protest honour killings
A Palestinian woman holds a sign that says “Protecting women from violence is an official and social responsibility” during a 2012 rally held at the spot where a woman’s throat was slashed by her husband.Photo by Majdi Mohammed/AP

By Anne-Marie O’Connor, Washington Post
March 03, 2014

AQQABA, West Bank — The news spread at dawn, and people in the village made their way to the olive tree where the bruised body of a young mother of six was hanging, her veil torn off. She had been killed in the name of honor.

“For two weeks, her children were incapable of sleeping, crying for their mother,” said Ahmad Abu Arra, a cousin of the victim. “We want justice.”

Here in this northern West Bank mountain town of breathtaking views, the relatives of Rasha Abu Arra, 32, who was killed in November after rumors spread that she had committed adultery, are adding their voices to an outcry against honor killings in the Palestinian territories.

Twenty-seven women are thought to have been killed last year in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by family members claiming reasons of “honor” — more than double the 13 cases documented in 2012. The age-old rationale can serve as a cover for domestic abuse, inheritance disputes, rape, incest or the desire to punish female independence, according to Maha Abu-Dayyeh, the general director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, a Palestinian human rights group that tracks the killings.

Honor killing, once hidden behind a curtain of silence and shame, is beginning to generate condemnation of its perpetrators, public support for its victims and vows to stop the practice.

“The entire society is incensed by the increase,” said Rabiha Diab, the minister of women’s affairs in the West Bank. “It is a very worrying situation, not just in the occupied Palestinian territories, but all over the Arab world.”

There is no agreement on whether this increase reflects an uptick in killings or better reporting of incidents by the news media, activists and authorities. Some suggest that urbanization and technology have fueled social tensions in the deeply traditional Palestinian society.

In December, the Palestinian Authority, which governs much of the West Bank, began training police and hospital staff to detect and report such abuses and threats as part of an effort to combat violence against women. Diab is pushing to require prosecutors to involve her ministry in investigations of suspected honor crimes, and she is seeking to purge the Palestinian legal code of laws that guarantee light sentences for honor killings.

A slow groundswell

The suspected honor killings of two teenage girls in Gaza in recent days drew a rebuke from Hanan Ashrawi, a top official with the Palestine Liberation Organization, who called for immediate legal amendments that impose “maximum sentences” for those convicted of killing women.

“The woman is not an emblem of honor for the man or her family,” Ashrawi said in a statement. “The categorization of such crimes under misleading labels constitutes the exploitation of women, and in turn, it safeguards the offenders and promotes more crimes of this nature.”

In recent years, other suspected victims have included a young Gazan mother of five who was bludgeoned to death by her father because he suspected she was using her cellphone to talk to a man. In September, a mentally disabled 21-year-old in the West Bank city of Hebron was allegedly killed by her mother after she was sexually assaulted. Another West Bank woman, who had divorced an abusive husband, allegedly was strangled by her father after being accused of “disgraceful” acts in a petition that news reports said was signed by a legislator from the Islamist militant movement Hamas, which rules Gaza.

Muslim clerics have become some of the most vocal critics of the killings, women’s groups say. Sheik Yousef Ideis, head of the Palestinian Islamic-law court, has warned that “innocent women” were being killed by relatives on the basis of hearsay that would be ignored if they were men. He also said that the killings are a discriminatory practice that violates the teachings of the Koran.

“Citing honor as a justification to kill is completely rejected in Islam,” Ideis wrote in an article published on his court’s Web site, according to the Palestinian news agency Maan. “This tradition was spread during the pre-Islamic
pagan era, and Islam fought it.”

As police become more vigilant, and neighbors even in small, close-knit villages such as Aqqaba speak up, the perpetrators have begun to disguise the killings as accidents, such as falling off a roof, Abu-Dayyeh said.

Palestinian news media have begun to report more on honor killings, adding to the sense of outrage over the crimes.

In 2011, Palestinians were shocked by the television coverage of the killing of a popular university student, Aya Baradiya, 20, allegedly thrown into a water well in Hebron and left to die by an uncle who disapproved of her suitor. There were protests, with some students describing her as a “martyr.”

In the fallout, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas annulled a law dating to Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank that allowed sentences of no more than six months for honor killings.

But similar laws remain, some dating to the Ottoman Empire. And pardons and suspended sentences are common, according to women’s groups that are publicly demanding a legal overhaul to end honor pleadings. Some activists blame the slow progress on a reluctance to offend conservatives.

A close-knit community

The killing of Rasha Abu Arra shocked Aqqaba. In the village, most families share one of three last names and steer their daughters through tradition-bound lives even though they live just a few miles from the Arab American University, a private institution where thousands of young Palestinian women study for careers.

The local imam, Sheik Mustafa Abu Arra, denounced the killing, saying that those who suspect religious violations “should respect the rule of law.”

The victim’s husband and brother are jailed as suspects, and other family members have been detained for questioning, according to Aqqaba Mayor Jamal Abu Arra.

“People were outraged,” he said. “This is not accepted by our religion or our traditions. We need legislation to support and protect women.”

The mayor said the killing should be pursued as first-degree murder, without the pleas of honor that can shorten a prison sentence to less than a year. In the past, honor killings didn’t even make it to the courts, he said.

“It was a terrible shock for all the children,” he said. “Every child has a mother. She represented all the mothers of the town. It had a very destructive psychological impact.”

It was no secret here that Rasha Abu Arra and her husband, a police officer, weren’t getting along. Some townspeople said the victim’s in-laws spoke maliciously behind her back.

People saw her talking on her cellphone. They began to whisper that she was secretly carrying on with a man, who has since disappeared, though some of her relatives deny there was adultery.

She left the house with her brother one day in late November and didn’t come back, the mayor said. Her husband told his family that she had disappeared, but he waited two days to report it to the police, the mayor said.

Rasha Abu Arra’s oldest son, Adham, 13, waited for hours with townspeople under the olive tree for investigators to arrive and collect evidence. The victim’s mother took to her bed, paralyzed by grief.

Baker Abu Arra, 43, a cousin of the victim, said the killing brought back terrible memories of two local girls who were raped when he was a boy and then killed by their families to cleanse the stain on their honor; the rapists went unpunished.

“This killing has destroyed a whole family,” he said.

Nisreen Abu Zayyad contributed to this report.

Palestinians protest violence against women

By Alternative Information Centre (AIC)
November 25, 2013

EXTRACT from AIC report on violence against women globally

According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 37% of Palestinian women experienced some form of violence by their husbands in 2011.

In addition to direct violence committed by Israeli forces against Palestinian women, economic pressure due to the occupation is one reason for high levels of domestic abuse. Al-Haq released a statement earlier this year declaring that:

The phenomenon of violence against women is a severe human rights violation and precludes women from playing a central role in society. In addition, the difficult socio-economic conditions, a result of Israel’s ongoing occupation, have contributed to increasing levels of violence against Palestinian women in the private sphere. Al-Haq firmly condemns all violations of women’s rights by Israel and any act of violence perpetrated by the Israeli military against Palestinian women.

protest violence against women
Women march past Palestinian Authority government buildings in Bethlehem, November 2013. Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler

In an earlier statement, Al-Haq also declares:

Al-Haq is equally mindful of failures by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) in respect of protecting and promoting women’s rights. The legislative and institutional framework recognising and enforcing the equal status of women in the enjoyment of all rights must integrate all relevant international human rights standards, especially those relating to non-discrimination.

After a Bethlehem woman was murdered in 2012, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours reported that despite attempts to amend archaic Jordanian and British Mandatory-era laws, impunity in such cases remains a problem:

[V]arious human rights groups have pointed to the fact that the PA left other tenets of the law in place, which allow for violence against women to continue unpunished. Articles 97, 98, 99, and 100 of the Jordanian penal code deal with mitigating circumstances can be used to justify “honor killings,” — Article 98 allows perpetrators to avoid punishment if they can prove that they acted in a “state of rage.”

Women hold hands near the end of the march. NGOs such as the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) exist to advocate on behalf of Palestinian women.Women hold hands near the end of the march. NGOs such as the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) exist to advocate on behalf of Palestinian women.

Journalist Amira Hass of Haaretz recently highlighted the work of the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), specifically addressing the phenomenon of so-called “honor killings”:

When a woman is murdered, people immediately ask “what did she do,” said an activist with the organization. “They don’t ask that when a man is murdered.” The center refuses to use the term “honor killing” or “family honor killing,” generally referring to the murder of a woman blamed for sexual conduct contrary to social codes. Attorney Latifa Swekhell and Nabeel Dweikat of the center say the murderer, or whoever is behind the murder, often use the term to cover up the real motive. This could be an inheritance dispute, or a bid to conceal the fact that the perpetrators (sometimes the victim’s father or brother) had raped the woman and this fact became known after she became pregnant or was about to be married. In some cases malicious rumors about a woman, or her refusal to marry the man her family chose for her, are sufficient motive for murder.

The name for such murders is femicide – the killing of women by men for being women, center activists say. These murders are motivated directly or indirectly by misogynist and sexist motives and stem from women’s inequality in patriarchal society, where they are seen as the man and family’s property.

Notes and links

A republic of cousins
One of the best books to explore honour killings was written by French anthropolgist Germaine Tillion. Called The Republic of Cousins, she charted how south and east Mediterranean societies were policed by ‘the cousins’, who are thought to have first right of sexual access to their cousins (hence the high rate of first cousin marriage). As the brothers of the family, a powerful brotherhood is created whose status comes from controlling women.

Statement by Bedouin women’s groups, November 2012:

We denounce the barbaric and abominable murder which stole the life of Aisha, a minor who had not even lived 15 years and whose life was extinguished by her brothers for what is called “desecrating family honour”.

Aisha is a double victim: of terrible social conventions and the criminal neglect of the state authorities.

This crime is one of the harshest signs of violence taken against young Arab girls and women and it is obligatory to act to end this affliction and a determined and uncompromising manner in all of its manifestations. And to create a comprehensive support and defence system for women victims of violence.

Don’t wait for the next murder! Break the conspiracy of silence!

Organisations signed onto this statement, feminist Bedouin organizations: Sidreh, Desert Princesses Association, Women of Rahat, Alnuhud: Association for the Promotion of Bedouin Women’s Education in the Negev, Women for Themselves, Yasmin Al Naqab, Bint Albaadia, Laqiya Women’s Association

The Women’s International Zionist Organisation states that of the 19 women murdered by family members in Israel over the past year, four were Arab women.

From The Crime wave that shames the world, Robert Fisk, Independent, 7 September 2010

In “Palestine” itself, Human Rights Watch has long blamed the Palestinian police and justice system for the near-total failure to protect women in Gaza and the West Bank from “honour” killings. Take, for example, the 17-year-old girl who was strangled by her older brother in 2005 for becoming pregnant by her own father.

He was present during her murder. She had earlier reported her father to the police. They neither arrested nor interrogated him. In the same year, masked Hamas gunmen shot dead a 20-year-old, Yusra Azzami, for “immoral behaviour” as she spent a day out with her fianc饮 Azzami was a Hamas member, her husband-to-be a member of Fatah. Hamas tried to apologise and called the dead woman a “martyr” to the outrage of her family. Yet only last year, long after Hamas won the Palestinian elections and took over the Gaza Strip, a Gaza man was detained for bludgeoning his daughter to death with an iron chain because he discovered she owned a mobile phone on which he feared she was talking to a man outside the family. He was later released.

Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling; this Palestinian NGO has a number of items on violence against women in its March 2014 bulletin.

100% rise in Palestinian ‘family honor ‘ killings report from hostile Israeli group, Palestine Media Watch, February 2014.

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