As order slides, Palestinian women face honor killings
Rights activists say such murders have increased as a result of the worsened security situation, and press for a new law.
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"Her children are extremely affected by this, especially with people gossiping and saying things that aren't true," she says. "They tell her 9-year-old girl, Noura, 'You're the daughter whose mother was killed because of honor.' And to the 12-year-old son, 'Your mother was killed because she was messing around.' "Skip to next paragraph
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Just days after Wahdan's murder, two other young women – sisters Sima and Eman el-Adel – were killed. Under questioning, police say, their brother confessed to having killed both of them in defense of the family honor. The word around this town of 60,000, however, is that they were having an inheritance dispute.
Women's rights activists say that nearly any perpetrator of a female relative's murder can make an "honor killing" claim, when in fact quite different motives may be present.
"We consider the law here to be permitting these crimes, and whoever commits these crimes knows that he will only be punished with six months in jail," says Margaret Ir-Rai, spokeswoman for Qalqilya's Jafra Center for Women. "Therefore, our battle is with the law, which we need to change. Many people ... hide behind the killing by saying it had an 'honor motive,' and [are] exonerated."
Ms. Ir-Rai says that while it is possible for victims' survivors to press charges in a civil court, they rarely do so because of the fear it will unleash a cycle of continued vengeance-taking and bloodshed.
The Jafra Center has launched a new awareness campaign on this issue and holds workshops throughout the West Bank for women, who often contribute to the phenomena. They place ultrastrict expectations on other women and accuse others of unchaste behavior, sometimes assisting in and even committing honor crimes as well. That's why the law needs to push ahead, she says, pulling societal norms with it.
"The only way for women here to get their rights is through a change in the law, not through societal pressure," she says. "We started a petition all over the West Bank to have people condemn this." The women's groups are also lobbying members of the Palestinian Legislative Council to pass legislation that would carry much heavier sentences for men who commit honor crimes. "Unfortunately, the political situation is not helping us to make this happen," Ir-Rai says.
The Palestinian parliament rarely meets these days, its functionality cast into doubt since the violent Fatah-Hamas split over the summer. She points to the ensuing uncertainty as a reason for the increase in honor killings.
Call to religious leaders: speak out
Jafra counts 21 such murders in the West Bank so far this year. There have been 25 honor killings in Gaza since the beginning of the year, says Maryam Abu Daqqa, the head of the Union of Women's Committees.
"During these hard times Gaza is going through, it is difficult for women's organizations to do anything more than condemn," she says. "And with a lack of clear judiciary oversight, with the confusion created by Hamas and Fatah, people are taking the law into their own hands and directing their anger against the weak link: women."
Other women here complain that religious leaders should be more vocal about Islam's view on the matter.
"We haven't heard anyone from any group go to the mosque and condemn it. If you ask people on the street, you'll find they support it, and that the families are happy when they've cleansed the family honor," says another women's activist who asked not to be named. "I cannot go to the street and condemn this based on women's rights. They'll say whoever is defending her is just like her."