“And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.” (Genesis 1:27)
Twenty-seven women have been murdered this year in so-called “honor killings” in Palestinian-controlled areas. This is more than twice the number of victims last year. The latest victim, Rasha Abu Ara, a 32-year-old mother of five, was beaten to death and strung up in a tree in late November. Both her father and husband are being held currently in the investigation. Her alleged crime was adultery.
Some local residents believe that lax laws and a reluctance to identify suspects publicly lead to an environment in which would-be killers feel they can act with impunity.
In the town of Aqqaba, where the recent case occurred, Mayor Jamal Abu Ara, who is himself a distant relative of the accused, said, “This act has no religion – it comes from closed, tribal thinking left over from an age of ignorance. People here are walking around in a haze; they want to know who did it and why. Of course, it’s the first time it’s happened here.”
In neighboring Jordan, with a population of around 6.3 million, honor killings average roughly 15-20 per year, according to researchers. The Palestinian population numbers only 4 million by comparison. Of course, killings are underreported, so the numbers may not be accurate, but a study of young people conducted in Jordan in June by Cambridge University found that a third of respondents supported the practice. Low levels of education, “patriarchal and traditional worldviews, emphasis placed on female virtue and a more general belief that violence against others is morally justified,” were cited as possible reasons for this.
Some activists blame social and economic pressures for the rising figures, but Soraida Hussein of Muntada, the rights group which tracked this years figures, claims the practice has a long history with deep roots in the community.
“There is no balance in power relations between the genders. There is a patriarchal mentality…as always, the force and pressure in society is transferred from the strong to the weak,” she said.
The lack of a Palestinian parliament, which has not met since the 2007 civil war between Hamas and Fatah, certainly prevents any legal changes from improving the situation. Current Palestinian law confers a different status to domestic violence than other violent crimes.
“There’s been a deterioration, financial and psychological pressure on our society, poverty. But there are also certain backward cultural legacies that must be combated,” said Palestinian Minister of Women’s Affairs Rabiha Diab. She did not hesitate to blame Israel, however, saying, “The Israeli occupation is the one practicing the utmost violence … it’s the main thing keeping us from advancing.”
The topic of honor killings is rarely addressed in the press. “When you touch such stories, you’re up against a social taboo,” explains Palestinian journalist Naela Khalil.
“Here, the family is stronger than even the security forces. I might criticize Mahmoud Abbas more easily than a father or a brother who killed a woman. Doing this may mean a struggle with a whole family or village,” she said.