Horrific Crime Against Woman Shakes West Bank
Weak laws, punishments blamed for gender-based offenses
Palestinian security forces arrested a man in Hebron suspected of killing his daughter more than a decade ago and dumping her body in a well in his home, where it was finally discovered on Sunday.
Noura Shaker al-Saeed, a divorced mother with a son, would have been 33 years old this year. She was living with her father after her parents separated.
Her body was found after her father moved out of the house he had been renting and the new tenant decided to carry out repairs to the absorption pit.
In the years since Saeed’s disappearance, her brothers and other relatives asked where she was. The suspect arrested on Monday once claimed she was living with her mother, and at other times he said she was in a psychiatric institution and had given her 1-year-old son to the boy’s father.
Women’s rights activists blamed this crime and the many others committed against women in the Palestinian territories every year in large part on the lack of adequate punishment or legislation to criminalize such acts and hold those who committed them accountable.
Maison Qwasme, a journalist and head of Hebron Feminist Society, told The Media Line that the delay in passing the proposed Family Protection Law was behind the proliferation of such crimes, “in addition to how society deals with issues of domestic violence, especially against women.”
Qwasme explained that in most cases of abuse, the parties’ tribes became involved and, given the conservative nature of Arab society, women were convinced to return to their husbands or their family’s home, without properly addressing the violence issue, because of a “defective” societal norm that women should not complain about relatives or husbands.
“Violence against women exists everywhere but because the options of separation and divorce are off the table in our society, men are given more space to do what they want,” she said.
“The prevailing culture of our society, in addition to the existence of the occupation and its practices against the people, has led to an increase in domestic violence in Palestinian homes,” Qwasme elaborated.
Men scold people in public and this practice continues into the home against their daughters, wives and sons, and the latter “will end up doing the same, in a circle of violence,” she explained.
Qwasme pointed to the absence of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the shrinking economy and the political situation as additional factors behind the increase of violence in the West Bank in general, and against women in particular.
The Palestinian legislature ceased to function following the Hamas-Fatah split in 2007.
“We have been unable to amend existing laws or pass new ones. And this year, with the global coronavirus pandemic and the repeated closures where most citizens are out of a job, stressed and locked in together, we are concerned that domestic violence has increased,” she said.
Qwasme stressed that the Family Protection Bill was almost passed, but because of objections by certain parties, such as the Islamic Liberation Party (Hizb ut-Tahrir), that had not yet happened.
“Part of that has to do with these parties’ beliefs that the law contradicts the Islamic Shariah, even though it doesn’t. But there are some certain parties and social media outlets that are spreading rumors about the bill without understanding it. They just want to object for the sake of objecting,” she said.
In 2019, following a wave of rallies against domestic violence in the West Bank and in an effort to put an end to physical, psychological, sexual and economic violence against women, the Palestinian Authority’s Women’s Affairs Ministry said that by the end of 2019, the PA would enact a Family Protection Law. However, that promise was not kept.
A member of the Islamic Liberation Party based in Hebron, who asked The Media Line to withhold his name for legal reasons, explained that the Family Protection Bill was rejected as it derived from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international treaty that was inconsistent the Islamic legal provisions regarding the guardianship of men over women. He added that other provisions, such as the demand for equal inheritance, also conflicted with Islamic law.
“The definitions in the draft law are in clear contradiction to Islamic law and relationships are organized on the basis of rivalry, not love and affection,” he continued. “The bill gives women space to file a case against their husband, or a son or a daughter against their father.”
He clarified that in Islam, the guardianship of men over women obligated males to sponsor and provide for females even after puberty. “Men have to take care of their women and daughters forever, unlike in the Western societies, where a woman moves out by 18 and nobody takes care of her.”
He added that the basis of the suggested Family Protection Law contradicted the Islamic cultural concepts prevailing in Arab societies.
We live in a conservative society and certain topics are more sensitive than others, especially when it’s related to females. We don’t challenge prevailing traditions but we work according to the needs of women.
Last December, the Palestinian street split over the commitment the PA made in 2014 by signing the CEDAW. Some Palestinians reject the treaty, saying it contradicts local norms, religions and divine law, while others support it, especially supporters of the feminist movement, because it aims to eliminate discrimination against women and achieve equality between the sexes.
The treaty was instituted in 1981 and has been ratified by 189 states. More than 50 of them did so with certain reservations, as it provides for equality between men and women with respect to fundamental rights and freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil and other spheres.
Bassam Khatib, undersecretary in the PA Women’s Affairs Ministry, told The Media Line that there were departments and committees formed to follow up on the Family Protection Bill, which was in the last stages before passage by the competent authorities, but that some parties had objected and took the discussion to another direction.
“We live in a conservative society and certain topics are more sensitive than others, especially when it’s related to females,” Khatib said. He explained that the ministry was constantly working on amending existing laws and advocating new ones to protect women. “We don’t challenge prevailing traditions but we work according to the needs of women.”
Khatib also said that crimes such as that discovered in Hebron this week had to do with the lack of sufficiently deterrent sanctions, in addition to the murderers’ lack of morals and values. “It has to do with the family and upbringing; that’s why we focus on working with the families to spread awareness and educate them on women’s rights.”
He added that people were raised in Arab societies to think that unjust, discriminatory and marginalizing practices against women were normal; the issues and the need for legislation related to females were endless; and that it took a great deal of time to convince people to change.
“When families start by discriminating between their children based on gender, their children will do the same when they have families of their own. And so, we as a ministry focus on spreading awareness among families, in addition to legislative work,” Khatib said.
The ministry had carried out campaigns targeting families, schools, religious people and judges in all Palestinian governorates, to support and protect women, including home visits and establishing a hotline to enable women to report violence, he said.
Moreover, the ministry focused on the media as an important tool to play a positive role in empowering women and establishing a new supportive culture for them, in order to break the negative stereotypes about females, Khatib said.
He said the PA was a democratic country that did not allow silencing opposition but that some parties objected to the Family Protection Bill because they did not understand it and “in addition, because of the spread of rumors that the law is ‘Western’ and contradicts Palestinian and Arab norms. Therefore, we formed committees to properly explain the bill and its terms.”
Last year, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s government passed a law setting the minimum age for matrimony at 18 for both genders, in an effort to reduce early marriage. The legislation was meant to protect families and ensure the advancement of women, as the government stated when it announced the law last summer.