Killing for Honor- A Deadly Part of a Larger Trend

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Palestinian women, like all Palestinians, know a lot about suffering. Life for them during the nearly 41 years of Israeli military occupation has not been easy. Between settler violence, Israeli military incursions, and mass Israeli arrest campaigns, Palestinian women know that every time they say goodbye to a loved one, it could be their last.

But the women of the West Bank and Gaza strip also face more a personal and hidden danger. This danger is far less documented than the ongoing Israeli human rights violations, and is a danger that Palestinian society is far less willing to challenge. It leaves Palestinian women humiliated, maimed, and sometimes dead. This danger is physical, sexual and psychological domestic abuse.

Violence against women in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) is widespread and chronic, yet it remains under the radar. Women find it difficult to report abuses because there is little or no legal framework in place to protect them – and because the “honor” of their families is considered more important than the crimes committed against them.

So-called “honor crimes” are a specific strand of violent crimes committed against women. They range from physical and mental abuse all the way up to murder. The latter, referred to as “honor killing,” is the murder of a woman by male relatives for a number of reasons, including, but not limited to, the suspicion of extra-marital affairs (not necessarily sexual), the unwillingness to proceed with an arranged marriage, or because the woman has been raped.

The gravity of this type of murder was reinforced on July 28th when the body of 16-year-old Nahed Hija and her two sisters, 19-year-old Suha and 22-year-old Lina, were found dead in Dir El-Balah, central Gaza. All three of them had been repeatedly stabbed in their faces, legs, and torsos.

These murders are shockingly reminiscent of the murders of three unrelated women who were slain within a 24-hour period in the Gaza strip last February. These were also attributed to ‘honor killings.’

These latest murders bring the total number of women apparently killed for “honor” in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the last three years to 51, with 12 having been killed so far in 2007.

Speaking immediately after the deaths of the Hija sisters, Islam Shahwan, spokesman for Hamas’ Executive Force, said the brother and a cousin of the Hija sisters are suspects in what is believed to be another spate of “honor killings.” Shahwan claimed the men would be jailed for their crimes.

“There is a law and no one should take the law into his [own] hands. The defendants will be jailed and brought to justice,” Shawan said.

But while Hamas claims that its military take over of the Gaza strip has brought “law and order,” there is little evidence that the perpetrators of this brutal crime will be adequately punished.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) “Palestinian women and girls who report abuse to the authorities find themselves confronting a system that prioritizes the reputations of their families in the community over their own well-being and lives.”

The human rights organization published a report at the end of last year highlighting the chronic issue of violence against women throughout Palestine. Human rights activists in Palestine supported its findings.

“The Palestinian judiciary does not take ‘honor crimes’ seriously. Perpetrators of ‘honor crimes are often given light sentences of a few years, whilst others convicted of murder under other circumstances are sentenced to death,” said Hamdi Shakkour of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

In addition to the substandard Palestinian Authority legal framework, Israel’s continued belligerent military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip has further weakened the Palestinian justice system and debilitated the government’s ability to handle even the most traditional of security concerns.

“Israeli army attacks, checkpoints, and closures have wreaked tremendous physical and functional damage on the criminal justice system during the second Intifada. As a result, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has a limited sphere in which it is able to effectively exercise governmental authority,” says Human Rights Watch.

The connection between domestic abuse and political violence is not unique to Palestine. Indeed, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has reported that violence against women in the home significantly increased since the beginning of the second Intifada.

This does not, however, excuse the PA from its larger and systematic dismissal of domestic violence.

Honor killings, such as those that brutally claimed the lives of the 3 Hija sisters last week, are a small but significant part of the overall pattern of violence against women and girls throughout Palestine: a trend that the PA has completely failed to confront.

“This is no excuse for inaction. There is much that PA officials could be but are not doing to end violence against women inside the family,” the HRW report stated.

Organizations like Human Rights Watch have issued a series of recommendations for the PA to start seriously tackling violence against Palestinian women, especially domestic violence. These include establishing more women’s refuges, and opening domestic violence hotlines. To date, there are no women’s refuges in Gaza, and only four in the entire West Bank. All of them are struggling for adequate funding.

What’s needed right now is a radical and courageous overhaul of the Palestinian legal system’s entire response to violence against women.

“The PA is denying victims their rights under international human rights law to non-discrimination and an effective judicial remedy for abuse” the HRW report concluded.

While armed gunmen walk the streets of Gaza and Palestinians continue to endure Israeli military incursions and brutality across the entire Occupied Territories, we cannot forget the other, locally-induced atrocities perpetrated with near impunity against wives, daughters and sisters. Palestinian women and girls need, and deserve, protection, redress and justice.

What is an honour killing?

An honour killing is a murder in the name of honour. If a brother murders his sister to restore family honour, it is an honour killing. According to activists, the most common reasons for honour killings are as the victim:

Questions about honour killings

  • refuses to cooperate in an arranged marriage.

  • wants to end the relationship.

  • was the victim of rape or sexual assault.

  • was accused of having a sexual relationship outside of marriage.

Human rights activists believe that 100,000 honour killings are carried out every year, most of which are not reported to the authorities and some are even deliberately covered up by the authorities themselves, for example because the perpetrators are good friends with local policemen, officials or politicians. Violence against girls and women remains a serious problem in Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Serbia and Turkey.

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