Palestinian women call for protection from domestic violence

August 9, 2012
Sarah Benton

A Palestinian woman holds a sign reading in Arabic “Protecting women from violence is an official and social responsibility” during a rally held at the spot where a woman’s throat was slashed by her husband on Monday, in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed

Women Activists Appeal to Palestinian PM: It is Time to Act
By PNN, Exclusive
August 10, 2012

On Thursday, 9th of August, a group of female activists from Al Muntada, a coalition of Palestinian NGOs against domestic violence, held a protest action in Ramallah demanding changes in legislation that would ensure better protection of women’s rights.

Four coffins arranged neatly in rows in front of the protesters, symbolized the most tragic cases of violence against women. One of them bore a name of Nancy Zboun who was brutally murdered last week in Bethlehem. Zboun, a 29-year old mother of three, was stabbed to death by her husband in an open-air market.

“This is a protest action to deliver a message of anger. We are saying. The Palestinian Authority must provide laws that would give women their rights” – said Sabah Salameh, the coordinator of Al Muntada, whose was joined at the protest by Knesset MP Ahmed Tibi and Hannah Attalah, Archbishop of Sebastia from the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Demanding an end to horrifying criminal acts against women, the activists called upon Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to provide laws that would introduce harsh punishments for such crimes. According to the them, stiff sentences would also act as a crime deterrent.

Currently, the personal status law in Palestine is based on the pre-1967 religious laws inherited from Jordan.

Salam Fayyad, who approached the protesters in front of the Ramallah Cultural Palace, expressed his support for legislation changes.

“Why are you just nodding your head, it’s time for action!” – one of the activists challenged the prime minister.

Palestinian women oresenting their protest to Salam Fayyad

One of the banners held by the protesters read a quote from the poem “On Earth” by the leading Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose death was commemorated today.

“We have on this earth what makes life worth living: a woman”.

Palestinian facilities battling gender violence face similar challenges across divide
By Thayer Hastings, AIC
August 08, 2012

Palestine-Israel exists in extreme political conditions in which the Palestinians face varying degrees of oppression. Due to deep gender inequalities, Palestinian women are doubly marginalized. Violence against women has been called “the most pervasive yet least recognized human rights abuses in the world,” by the United Nations.

On 5 August Haaretz reported that a facility for Palestinian victims of domestic violence in Israel’s northern city of Haifa is at risk of losing government funding. Ohaila Shomar, a women’s rights advocate who has worked in several Israeli women’s domestic violence support centers and currently directs the Sawa domestic abuse hotline in Ramallah, said that the Israeli government provides approximately 90% of funds for domestic violence organizations in Israel. Government financial support vastly increases the capacity of NGOs such as Assiwar in Haifa or Women Against Violence in Nazareth.

Israel’s cabinet approved the bi-annual budget last week. The Social Affairs Ministry accused Assiwar of neglecting to submit proper financial documentation although the facility contends that the problems are fundamentally bureaucratic and not their fault, reported Haaretz. Halting funds will effectively incapacitate the organization. Assiwar provides important services to Palestinian women including counseling and an emergency hotline, although it does not have an overnight shelter.

In the West Bank and Gaza, three women were murdered in cases of domestic violence during the past two weeks. The violence of Israel’s occupation exacerbates conditions of violations, Shomar told the Alternative Information Center (AIC). However, there is a drastic deficiency of responsibility for domestic violence in Palestinian society, particularly amongst men. “We need to change behaviors and attitudes,” she said.

In Bethlehem, a man murdered his wife in the marketplace streets last week. The 27 year-old victim had suffered repeated acts of domestic violence that were reported to the police.Police did not arrest the husband, but, rather, instructed him to sign a paper promising not to attack his wife. She was killed following a hearing in her divorce case.Murders were also committed in Gaza City and Tulkarem.

Shomar says that the main weaknesses in preventing gender violence in the West Bank and Gaza are an underfunded protection system and weak laws. Unlike Israel, the Palestinian Authority does not have a separate budget to support NGOs. As for Palestinian laws, they treat domestic violence differently from other forms of violence and often leave resolution as an internal affair for families to solve on their own. Furthermore, Palestinian judges and police are under-trained in issues of domestic violence, she says.

Four years ago, however, a special team in the Palestinian police force called the Family Protection Unit was created to handle domestic violence cases. Sawa, the Ramallah-based hotline and center, conducts special training on domestic violence with the Unit. The Unit undergoes privacy and sensitivity training in order to practice intervention and mediation tactics. The Unit aims to solve domestic disputes, utilizing important community members as arbiters.

Whether in Israel or Palestine, working with Palestinian women and gender issues is very similar: “We are talking about the same community, the same culture of Palestinian society,” says Shomar, who has worked extensively in both Israel and the West Bank.

Taboos surrounding domestic violence are challenges for overcoming gender inequality within Palestinian society, said Linda Jarayseh of the Mehwar Center in Beit Sahour. Jarayseh said it is difficult to get women away from an abusive environment because of resistance from families and the women themselves, who suffer from a deep sense of guilt and low self-esteem. In addition to halting state-sponsored violence in Palestine-Israel, promoting gender equality also depends on nurturing the Palestinian community’s response to domestic violence.

Across political borders, several shelters operate specifically for rehabilitating Palestinian victims of domestic violence. They are located in Gaza City, Bethlehem, Nablus, Nazareth, Taybeh (Israel) and Kufr Yassif.

Public slashing death of Palestinian woman prompts calls for protection from violent husbands

By Associated Press
August 2, 2012 

The brutal killing of a battered wife in front of horrified witnesses in an open-air Bethlehem market prompted angry accusations Wednesday that Palestinian police and courts ignore violence against women.

Nancy Zaboun, a 27-year-old mother of three, had her throat slashed Monday after seeking a divorce from her abusive husband of 10 years. The husband was arrested at the scene and is the prime suspect, West Bank officials said.

The case reverberated across Palestinian society because of the brutality of the attack. However, violence against women continues to be tolerated — similar to attitudes in other parts of the Arab world — and women’s rights activists say abusive husbands are rarely punished.

Zaboun was regularly beaten by her husband, 32-year-old Shadi Abedallah, at times so severely that she had to be hospitalized, said Haula al-Azraq, who runs a West Bank counselling centre where Zaboun sought help.

Even so, Abedallah was never arrested. Police only made him sign pledges he would stop hitting his wife, said al-Azraq, adding that Abedallah himself is a former police officer.

Zaboun was killed after attending a hearing in her divorce case. She was walking on the steep paths of an open-air market — not far from the Church of the Nativity, marking the traditional birthplace of Jesus — when she was fatally slashed.

On Wednesday, several dozen women staged a memorial for Zaboun in the Bethlehem market alley where she was killed, holding signs and chanting, “No to violence against women.” One sign read, “Shame on us Palestinians for killing our women.”

Women have scored some breakthroughs in traditional Palestinian society in recent years, including gaining a greater role in public life. However, tribal laws still remain strong, and violence against women is generally viewed by police as an internal family matter.

Al-Azraq said violence against women appears to be on the rise because of a deteriorating economic situation and because abusers don’t fear punishment.

Last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree that ended a long-standing practice of treating killings within a family with leniency. Justice Minister Ali Mohanna said such killings are now treated as any other slaying, and claims of assailants that they were protecting “family honour” are no longer taken into account.

Zaboun’s husband could face life in prison if convicted, the minister said.

Thirteen women were killed by family members or in suspicious circumstances blamed on relatives in 2011, said Farid al-Attrash of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights. In 2012, 12 women were killed by relatives, including three in so-called “family honour” cases, he said. Those include suspected adultery and similar cases.

Zaboun was married at age 17, and the couple has three children, ages eight, six and three. Al-Azraq said the beatings began immediately after the wedding.

Abdel Fattah Hemayel, the district governor of Bethlehem, said the authorities stepped in at some point, attempting to solve what he described as a family dispute. He confirmed that the husband was asked to sign pledges to stop beating his wife.

Rabiha Diab, the women’s affairs minister in the Palestinian self-rule government, said the killing of Zaboun, and the failure to prevent, it were troubling.

“Every once in a while, there is a case that makes us feel worried and afraid that we are going back to square one (as women),” she said, noting that law enforcement agencies need to look at what they can do to protect women.

She called for harsh punishment of Zaboun’s killer. “We should set an example because … he slaughtered her like a sheep,” she said.

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