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Clan Ruling in Woman’s Murder Raises Palestinians’ Ire
Palestinian women protest in support of women's rights outside the prime ministers office in the West Bank city of Ramallah on September 2, 2019, after a young woman, Israa Gharib, died in a suspected "honor killing." (Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images)

Clan Ruling in Woman’s Murder Raises Palestinians’ Ire

PA slammed for tribal custom prevailing over state law in killings of women

After three women were found murdered in the West Bank in less than a month, Palestinians have become increasingly critical of the PA government for the failures of law enforcement and the role of clans and tribal customs in depriving women of basic rights and protections.

Killings of women in the West Bank have increased rapidly over the past five years.

At a meeting in Jerusalem last week, Palestinian tribes agreed to pay about half a million shekels (approximately $150,000) as compensation to the family of Razan Mukbel, a young woman who was strangled by her fiancé and left dead in a car in the Beitunia industrial zone, west of Ramallah, on July 28.

Mustafa al-Shinar, a professor of social studies at An-Najah National University in Nablus, explained to The Media Line that Arab society, despite the establishment of the so-called nation-states and modern societies in the early 20th century, was heir to previous stages of development and Islamic civilization.

“Human societies and Arab communities originated in tribalism. While some societies managed to employ tribalism to serve laws and legislation, such as Greek societies,” Shinar elaborated, “the Arab region, where tribal behavior and practices are more intense, has remained unaffected by the modernity and development that has been taking place in surrounding regions.”

He added that Islam, as a powerful influence on behavior and legislative, had long undermined the power of the clans, but the region had remained ruled by the clans under the Umayyads (661-750), Abbasids (750-1258) and even the Ottoman Empire (1299-1922).

“This led to the continued consolidation of the values of the tribal system and of the tribal judiciary as well. Today, in Palestinian and Arab cities, despite the existence of Islam and the civil state, the ‘tribal state’ monopolizes internal issues based on tribal custom and not the state legislative system,” Shinar said.

Arab states bore the responsibility for this because they employed this form of administration, he said. “Many studies indicated that modern Arab countries are despotic states that monopolize power, where the easiest way to do so is to build the system on the basis of the tribe and not on the basis of law.”

In many Arab countries, particularly in the Gulf, the heads of tribes morphed over time into the rulers of states, where power was divided among certain families, Shinar said.

“In general, tribes exist in all Arab countries, but there is a theory that the north within a country is [often] more developed than the south. For instance here in Palestine, Hebron’s tribes and their roles are more effective, and major disputes are resolved through clans.”

Shinar added, “Unfortunately, we don’t have a modern state, and our laws don’t rise to the level needed for an effective civil state, nor have we preserved the role of religious guidance, both of which stand against the killing of women. Therefore our society is in crisis; men are in crisis and women are in crisis as well.”

Moreover, he pointed out that the legal structure in the West Bank was inherited from Jordan back when it ruled the area, where the kingdom had merged the role of tribes and the role of the ruler. “But Amman has since amended these rules and punishments and empowered women. Meanwhile, these old laws from the ‘50s remained in the West Bank, and this has to do with the absence of our legislative council that would go over these laws and evaluate them.”

The Palestinian Legislative Council ceased to function following the Fatah-Hamas split in 2007.

“The tribal court in Jordan was abolished in 1974, where the tribal judiciary was limited to basic cases such as murder and honor,” Mahmoud Kharabshe, a Jordanian lawyer and former legislator, told The Media Line. A modern country should have a single judicial system as it moves toward enforcing laws on all citizens equally, without exceptions, he said.

“But since tribes have continued to contribute to solving social and clan disputes, they should to work within the state’s laws, and not in contradiction to them,” Kharabshe continued. “Tribes’ role shouldn’t infringe on human life, as murderers must be punished.”

He clarified that clans represent a social heritage in Arab societies and hence their influence is great, but should be used to achieve what is right within the law, without exceptions or inflicting injustice on the weaker party in a dispute.

“The involvement of tribes comes after both disputing parties agree, and then usually a third party or a third clan intercedes for compromise and to achieve a meeting of minds, in order to come up with an agreement that pleases all sides,” Kharabshe said.

He confirmed, however, that if a party to a dispute rejected the clans’ role, he could turn to the courts.

“The judgment of the clan doesn’t interfere with the civil judiciary, because even if the [disputing parties’] clans agree, this would override the personal rights, but not the general authority of the state,” he said.

Sahar Qawasmeh, a Hebron-based women’s rights activist and the head of ADWAR − Roles for Social Change, told The Media Line that in the West Bank, there was no effective state protection of women’s rights, and no enforcement of state laws to support battered women or to fight against the practice and against the killing of women. “It [such protections] is not applied by law and is not acceptable to society,” she said.

Qawasmeh said that tribes deprived women of their rights because those who controlled the clans were men, and therefore decisions were taken in favor of men at the expense of women.

“Tribes don’t work to protect women’s interests, and let’s not forget that men are well-connected to the tribes and provide them with gifts and money, which is something women don’t do. Thereafter most rulings serve men and not women.”

Moreover, she explained that there was a lack of trust between females and the Palestinian Authority, as the government procedures and laws usually took a long time, sometimes years, in cases related to women, “not to mention previous failures in protecting women, which have escalated this gap between women and the government.”

Qawasmeh indicated that women did not trust law enforcement to protect them. “For instance, I have so many women who can’t see their children despite an official court decision, and the police that are supposed to implement that order from the prosecution do not do so, sometimes because men approach them through a senior connection in the PA. So we can say that there is a trust crisis between women and their national leadership.”

The PA government was doing better recently, more often meeting with and coordinating with women’s organizations, but the issue remained that the leadership in Ramallah thought in one way, and the judges or the officials in the Palestinian governorates worked in a different way, she said.

“Let’s say there is a ministerial order on a decision supportive of women: Government departments in the Palestinian cities implement it based on the mood of the judge or the [government] employee involved,” Qawasmeh said.

She added that in some cases where men were attacked, authorities could not do anything but clans could. “Sometimes people shoot at men and the police can’t even find out who was behind it.

“In general, there’s no punishment for murderers or deterrence by law when there are connections, favoritism and money. As a consequence, violence against women has increased,” Qawasmeh said.

After the formation of the PA in 1994, a department was established under the Interior Ministry called the General Administration of Tribal Affairs and Reform.

Tribal litigation is still applied in the West Bank today, including aspects related to “tribal evacuation,” which means, in cases of willful killing and “honor” cases, the removal of an offender’s family from his area of residence to another region in the same governorate, and sometimes outside the governorate, which is a pure Bedouin custom. And sometimes it entails compelling the offender’s family to pay a sum of money as compensation to the victim’s family, to establish a truce until a solution is found, or as a permanent solution.

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