A women protests against so-called honor killings this week outside the Palestinian Authority prime minister’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

Alleged ‘Honor Killing’ Roils Palestinian Society, Wider Region

Three arrested in connection with August 29 death of Bethlehem-area woman

There has been significant progress in the investigation of the August 29 murder of Isra’a Ghrayeb in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, the Palestinian Public Prosecution announced on Thursday.

Three people have been arrested and dozens of witnesses interviewed in connection with the suspected “honor killing.” The prosecution said it was working to uncover the truth as quickly as possible.

Ghrayeb, a 21-year-old Palestinian makeup artist, met with a potential suitor in public and posted a video on Instagram. According to a friend, Ghrayeb’s mother knew of the meeting, and the suitor’s sister attended.

According to the friend, Ghrayeb was subsequently beaten by male relatives and fell from a second-floor balcony at her home in Beit Sahour as she tried to escape. She was hospitalized with what the Palestinian Health Ministry said were severe injuries to the spine and around the eyes, as well as bruises and severe psychological trauma.

The friend said male relatives came to the hospital and again attacked her for bringing “shame” to the family by being seen with a man outside the bonds of marriage, killing her.

Ghrayeb’s story highlights the phenomenon of so-called honor killings in Arab society, her death sparking outrage in the Palestinian territories and on social media across the Middle East and North Africa. Hundreds of rights activists have protested in Palestinian cities, demanding action against the alleged perpetrators and legal protection for women.

Ashraf Ghandour, a leading Palestinian rights activist based in Haifa, told The Media Line that men who see it as their duty to carry out honor killings are afraid to defend female relatives’ rights to freedom and self-expression. Instead, he says, they prefer to “defend their community” because it is easier to beat a woman than change public thinking.

“I find it absurd and quite pathetic,” Ghandour continued. “There is no honor in killing, and no honor in threatening or hurting the family that [real] honor demands you protect.”

He added that the key issue was the way children are raised, where people focus on teaching females to censor their thoughts and behavior while teaching males to monitor their sisters’ behavior rather than their own.

Ghandour stressed, however, that while the issue was not exclusive to Arab culture, Palestinian laws on gender equality needed to be changed, as laws are there to protect society and those under threat.

“Women make up more than 50 percent of our society,” he stated, “and we need a more accurate representation of women in our legislative bodies.”

If this happens, he believes, Palestinians will get fairer and more just laws.

“We cannot keep demanding justice as Palestinians while supporting or even ignoring acts of injustice done by Palestinian men toward women,” he said. “Our freedom as a people is linked to the freedoms we provide our people.”

Loai Zriqat, a spokesperson for the Palestinian police, initially declined to comment on the matter when contacted by The Media Line. However, he later sent out a statement denying that killing women was “a phenomenon” in Palestinian society.

“Murders occur in communities, but they vary in numbers from one community to the next,” Zriqat said. “Their circumstances and causes vary according to culture, customs and laws.”

He insisted that honor killings were a fading phenomenon in Palestine.

Many of the laws in the West Bank date back to Jordanian rule between 1948 and 1967. In 2018, however, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas approved a new law to prevent men who murder, assault or rape women from evading lengthy prison sentences based on claims of protecting family honor.

The Palestinian Council of Ministers abolished Article 308 of the Penal Code, which allowed a rapist to avoid punishment if he married the victim within five years. In addition, government officials amended another article that granted judges the ability to dramatically reduce sentences if there were “extenuating circumstances,” including the murder of women on grounds of family honor.

Eighteen Palestinian women died in what were attributed to honor killings in 2018, according to the Palestinian Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Amal al-Jobeh, a social worker at the Women’s Center for Legal and Administrative Guidance in Hebron, in the southern West Bank, says it is crucial to raise awareness of the plight of women in the Palestinian territories and to institute a comprehensive therapeutic program to establish a new culture that respects women and their full rights.

“We started feeling that there was a deterrent to killing women in the West Bank after the new law was approved,” she told The Media Line. “The lack of punishment before the year 2018 gave room for ‘honor’ to be used in crimes against women.”

Jobeh believes that that such murders are encouraged when there is minimal legal recourse available to victims.

“In so many cases, women have been killed for [other] reasons, such as inheritance issues,” she said, “and murderers took advantage of the law to get away with it.”

Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Jerusalem’s grand mufti − an Islamic jurist qualified to issue a nonbonding opinion on the matter − told The Media Line that murder was murder, and a murderer must be held accountable.

“In the Islamic religion, whoever kills faces death,” he explained.

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