Revolt stirs over women who die of shame

In Jerusalem Patrick Cockburn and Stephanie Nolen meet families that put death before dishonour

"SHE WAS frightened and wanted to escape," Ali Musrati later told police about the night he gagged and murdered his 16-year-old sister Amal to cleanse the stain on his family's honour. He said: "She started flinging her arms about and tried to drag the rag out of her mouth, but she didn't succeed."

Ali and a second sister,Yasmin, of the Arab village of Ramle in Israel, had decided to kill Amal after she twice ran away from the family. When she returned home the second time they tied her up and left her in the middle of the road, where Ali ran her over with his car several times until she was dead. The use of the car was a clumsy attempt to pretend that Amal's death was an accident, but police rapidly decided that her death was an honour killing. Amal, suspected of having sex with a man after she ran away, was judged by her family to have so shamed them that their reputation could only be restored by her death.

Nobody knows how many Palestinian women in Israel and the occupied territories are murdered for violating community standards. Sometimes bodies are hidden or deaths are reported as suicide or accidents, but one estimate puts the number of murders or attempted murders at between 20 and 40 a year.

The offence is not always sexual. Last year, Ikhlas Kana'an, a 38-year- old woman who belonged to the Druze sect, returned after 10 years in the United States for a two-week stay in the village of Rameh in northern Galilee. In the US she had worked in a hospital and a school for disabled children, and wanted to set up an orphanage and an old age home near where her parents lived.

Ikhlas did not play the retiring role expected of Druze women. She had dyed her hair blonde, wore a mini-skirt and appeared on television to talk about the lack of social institutions in the Arab areas of Galilee. The television appearance may have been the final provocation to her relatives. A few hours later her 21-year-old brother Hussam, who like other Druze in Israel served in the army, shot her 20 times in the chest with his assault rifle.

Her family approved of what Hussam had done. Her father said her death was like the amputation of a finger and refused to accept condolences for her death. Druze elders refused to pray at her grave and she was buried hurriedly at four in the morning. A group was formed to help the murderer, using the slogan: "She deserved to die."

Many Palestinian women believe the tradition of killing women to protect family honour is as prevalent now as in the past centuries. Jamileh Abu Duhou, who has produced a survey of domestic violence in Palestinian society, says: "Honour killing is widespread and is accepted by all religious communities and all social classes." Appalled by Ikhlas Kana'an's murder, she and some friends tried to place an advertisement denouncing honour killing in al-Quds, the Palestinian daily, but it was rejected.

Nevertheless, there are signs of growing resistance to honour killing among Palestinian women. In Galilee, Aida Touma-Soliman has organised a coalition of women's organisations which demonstrates in villages where a murder has occurred. They publicise cases and the short sentences handed down by Israeli courts. A father who tried to kill his daughter by forcing her to drink mosquito poison and then stabbed her got just eight months in prison.

In Jerusalem, Manar Hasan started Al-Fanar, a Palestinian feminist organisation, in 1991. She rejected the belief that improving the status of Palestinian women should be postponed until after the national liberation of all Palestinians. Al-Fanar decided to protest against the murder of 19-year-old Ibtisam Habashi, burned to death in a car after her family found out she was seven months pregnant.

At first support was limited. Palestinian society is deeply conservative. The Israeli government has long supported traditional tribal and clan leaders in preference to more progressive ones. The head of one Palestinian women's organisation would not join the protest because of Ibtisam Habashi's actions. Manar Hasan asked her: "What actions?" She replied: "That she was a whore, of course."

But agitation has made it less likely that a woman will disappear with no effort by the authorities to trace her killers.

Aida Touma-Soliman says the danger of the concept of family honour is that it "is so elastic, anything can be put under it". Young women can be forbidden to leave their homes alone or to go to school.

Even when a man is primarily responsible for harming a family, the victim is always a woman. Last year Taghrit Abu Khdeir, walking with her three children outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, was allegedly stabbed to death by her brother Nabil. The reason, says her surviving sister, Abeer, was a mixture of passion and politics.

Her sister had married a man whom the rest of the family believed was a collaborator with the Israelis. He had passed on information as a result of which Nabil was jailed for three years and another brother for seven. The family told their daughter to leave her husband. She refused even though she said said she had known he was a collaborator. Instead of killing the husband, who was the man who sent him to jail, Nabil decided his family's shame could only be ended if he killed his own sister.

Abeer, who works with a human rights organisation, is ambivalent about what happened. She says: "I wouldn't kill her, but she didn't deserve to live." Nabil didn't "save" honour, she says. Yet, when pressed, she insists: "He's not a murderer."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back