BLOOD AND HONOUR

ARAB WOMEN PROTEST ‘FAMILY HONOUR’ KILLINGS

Arab women demonstrated at the weekend opposite the PLO Authority police headquarters in Ram'Allah, against the phenomenon of “family honour murders”.

The protest focused on the case of 36-year-old Amira Mugrabi, a Ram'Allah hospital worker, who was murdered recently, ostensibly for bringing “dishonour” on her family

Mugrabi's body was left in the street near her home, as an example to other women, Arab civil rights groups said.

Demonstrators said that at least 10 Arab women had been killed or had “disappeared” from their homes in the area over the past few years, apparently for “dishonouring” their families.
(HA'ARETZ)

BLOOD AND HONOUR, a three-part feature on the subject of "family-honour killings", appears below. It was first published in the MIDDLE EAST DIGEST, February 1995.

FEATURE: BLOOD AND HONOUR

by Patrick Goodenough
(Middle East Digest, February 1995)

BY Middle Eastern Muslim standards, Saana's arranged marriage was not unusual. Nor was the fact that her family forced her into a lifetime commitment to a man she did not love. The 18-year-old bride was beaten and maltreated almost every day. On several occasions, she fled from him, running back to her family home in a small West Bank town. But each time, her father or a brother returned her to her husband's house. F

inally, Saana could take no more. She ran away one last time, this time ending up with a group of friends in Tulkarm. Word quickly reached her family, who tracked her down in just six hours. She was dragged back to their home.

Early the following morning, one of Saana's brothers set out to restore the family's honour, which they felt had been compromised by her behaviour. He killed his own sister, decapitated her, and paraded his grisly trophy through the town's streets for two hours. Townsfolk, who had heard of the “shame” Saana had brought upon her family, praised the killer for saving the family name. No-one protested the brutal ending of a young life.

Ichlas Bassam, a Druse woman originally from a Samarian village called Rama, returned to her family home in July last year, after many years of living in the United States. A successful businesswoman with a desire to help her poor community, Ichlas was interviewed on a Israel Television programme. She shared her plans to raise funds for an orphans' home and other social welfare projects for the Druse community.

But her altruism brought no pride to her family, who were incensed by her adopted Western habits, her dress and what they saw as her lack of modesty. On July 8, she was murdered; her brother admitted the deed, in defence of the family's honour.

HORRIFICALLY, these two cases are not unique in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Towards the end of last year, The Jerusalem Post reported that seven women had been killed in similar circumstances during the preceding six week period alone. Palestinian women's organisations report that about 40 cases of "family honour killings" are reported each year. Many aren't.

Women wanting to fight the phenomenon have found it an uphill struggle. As The Jerusalem Post reported, "Arab women inside the green line and in the [disputed territories] are trying to co-ordinate an effective strategy against family-honour killings", says Nawal Assis, head of the Al Fanar (Lighthouse) organisation, whose aim it is to fight this phenomenon.

“Nawal says there have been meetings and demonstrations, and attempts to get religious and community leaders to condemn such murders. So far, their efforts have been virtually fruitless.

Women in Islamic societies have long been regarded as chattels, while the men are deemed the guardians of their sexuality. Marriages are arranged, tertiary education is frowned upon, and independent or headstrong women are not appreciated.

The main thrust of the pressure placed on a woman is to remain a virgin until marriage, then to remain with her husband irrespective of his treatment of her. However, it seems women in such circumstances cannot win either way. Consider the case of Taghrid Diyab, a 27-year-old mother of three:

TAGHRID's crime had not been unfaithfulness toward her husband. On the contrary, she had been “too faithful”. Married to a man who turned out to be a criminal, a drug-abuser and a suspected "collaborator", she came under massive pressure from her family to divorce him.

She refused, on the grounds that she loved him despite his faults, and wanted to keep the family together. Unimpressed, her family struck a deal with the husband's family: he would divorce her in return for 1,000 Jordanian dinars -- and custody over the children.

Taghrid rejected the plan, insisting she keep her children. Her unbecoming behaviour signed her death warrant.

Walking down a road near Jerusalem's Damascus Gate with her children on June 20 last year, Taghrid was seized from behind and stabbed 16 times in the head and shoulder. Her throat was slit. Police issued a warrant of arrest for her brother, Nabil ...

THE PLO GETS IN ON THE ACT

SOUHA Araf, an Israeli Arab, has investigated the murders of 107 Palestinian Arab Muslim women between 1988 and 1993. But these “family honour killings” were different from the norm. The culprits, she says, were “decency squads” comprising members of Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.

In an interview on a feminist programme aired on Radio Sweden last year, Araf explained how many young Arab women had taken on political roles during the intifada. These female activists forgot the place they were expected traditionally to take in society, and soon became a problem for their communities.

Thus were born the Fatah “decency squads”, which assumed the role of family honour enforcers, looking for and often inventing pretexts for sorting out troublesome women. A common excuse was that the suspect women, by luring the men off the streets, were keeping them away from fighting against the Israeli “occupiers”.

She recounted two such incidents:

Significantly, Araf said she was only able to do her job of following up reports of such killings because she lived in Israel, and had Israeli citizenship. In investigating the murders, she has worked together with an Israeli human rights organisation, Bezelel.

MURDER IN THE NAME OF THE FAMILY

Researchers of "family honour killings" have identified certain characteristics: (MIDDLE EAST DIGEST, FEBRUARY 1995)
*****
Compiled by Patrick Goodenough

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