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Women Break Silence on Honor Killings By: David Hardaker
Australian Broadcasting Corporation | Friday, April 20, 2007


A group of women in the Israeli city of Ramle has broken the code of silence on a string of honour killings within the city's Arab community. For one woman, it has meant giving police the evidence to charge her own son for murdering her daughter.

Transcript:

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now, a powerful story of family honour killings in the Arab community of a small Israeli city named Ramle. Where such killings are usually accompanied by an unbreakable code of silence, in Ramle, after a string of deaths, a group of women has broken ranks. For one woman, it has meant giving police the evidence to charge her own son for murdering her daughter.

Middle East Correspondent David Hardaker reports.

DAVID HARDAKER: This is the area of Joh Arish (phonetic), a tough Arab neighbourhood with a tradition of killing.

HAIM SCHREIBHAND, DETECTIVE, RAMLE POLICE: In this house, two girls in the family have been murdered.

DAVID HARDAKER: The Abu Ghanem family runs this part of town and has been killing its women in the name of honour. In all, eight young women have been murdered here in the last six years. The crimes and the killers protected by a code of silence.

INSPECTOR LIMOR YEHUDA, RAMLE POLICE: You come to a crime scene like this and all you meet is people which doesn't want to covert with you, doesn't want to talk, doesn't want to say what they saw, what they heard, what they know. They're just like ignoring the police. They are even ignoring the body.

DAVID HARDAKER: Limor Yehuda is part of a small police unit investigating the honour killings of Joh Arish. The area is part of an area of Ramle, in Israel, a mixed city of Muslims and Jews. It's a city where traditional Arab culture collides with the 21st century and where women who've looked the wrong way have paid with their lives.

INSPECTOR LIMOR YEHUDA: It is terrible to know that in the era of 2007 and such terrible murders happen. Women that get murdered for the way they dressed or the way they talked, maybe because they talked on the phone with someone or looked at some guy or even didn't look at some guy, for stupid, stupid reasons or for no reason.

DAVID HARDAKER: Last year, 19‑year‑old Reem Abu Ghanem was murdered. Her crime was to turn her back on the man that her family had picked for her to marry and fall for another. Her killer turned out to be her older brother, a respected paediatrician who Reem had trusted for protection. He smothered Reem in a cloth soaked with anaesthetic drugs from his hospital. He believed he'd killed her. His four brothers threw her body into the boot of a car. They drove to a field on the outskirts of town to a deserted and derelict house, where they would dispose of her down an old well, but when they arrived, it turned out that Reem was not dead after all.

So she was still alive. Do you know, did they do anything at that point before throwing her in?

INSPECTOR LIMOR YEHUDA: Yeah, yeah. After she cried, after she begged for her life, they used a stone to hit her on the head. And then she was still alive, she didn't die from the injury. And she was then thrown out into the well like this. Alive, semi‑injured, bleeding, I guess. It's terrible. It's so cruel, so vicious. But to throw someone alive when is your relatives, your own flesh and blood, right? It's, it's very, very difficult to bear.

DAVID HARDAKER: For weeks, no‑one breathed a word of what happened that night.

DR AUNI KHIL, RAMLE COMMUNITY: Some of the community see the killers as hero. True, as hero. And they are dealing with them as heroes and this is very, very bad.

DAVID HARDAKER: Dr Auni Khil is part of Ramle's Arab community and he's been working to stop honour killings, and he is not surprised that Reem Abu Ghanem's killer was a doctor. As far as he's concerned, the killings are all about power in a male‑dominated society.

DR AUNI KHIL: I think that there is the education in the university and there is the human being. The connection between the two things not in this case, there is no connection.

DAVID HARDAKER: Reem's older brother was arrested after a tip‑off from a prison informant. Despite the crime, the women of Joh Arish remained silent until the killing this year of another of their number. Hamda Abu Ghanem, also 19, was shot in the head nine times, as she lay in her bed upstairs alone in her house. Her killer was her own brother. This time, the women broke their silence. For the Ramle police, it was extraordinary.

INSPECTOR LIMOR YEHUDA: Wow - huge, huge step. When we are talking about this murder case, it's like a big step because we learned that among the years, there were like eight murders in the same family, Abu Ghanem family. The women are getting murdered one by one. All of a sudden, we're all like in shock - they decided to talk.

DAVID HARDAKER: The woman that went to the police was Imama Abu Ghanem, the mother of Hamda. She gave police the evidence to charge her own son.

IMAMA ABU GHANEM (translation): In the Koran, there is no order, murder your sister, and I've asked my son, “Why didn't you put the rest of your bullets in your own head?”

DAVID HARDAKER: Imama Abu Ghanem had lost everything and had nothing more to lose by speaking to the police.

IMAMA ABU GHANEM (translation): Over there where there are Christians, it's OK. Nobody bothers anyone. The war is in our own homes, not in the neighbourhood, really.

DAVID HARDAKER: It seems her daughter knew she would die.

IMAMA ABU GHANEM (translation): She knew, yes, but she was afraid to tell me. He called her "garbage" and said, "I'll get you, Hamda”. She said, "What are you waiting for?"

DAVID HARDAKER: What do you think about what she has done?

DR AUNI KHIL: Look, I think this is a very, very important step against the killing ceremony but she's now in really danger, and I hope that nobody will be able to touch her.

DAVID HARDAKER: Imama Abu Ghanem's move may have been a small triumph but another woman who gave evidence to police has been missing for close to a month and may be dead. Hamda Abu Ghanem's name is to be carried on by the women of the Joh Arish. Hamda's sister‑in‑law has just given birth to a baby girl. She tells Israeli policeman Haim Schreibhand her name is Hamda. It's intended as an act of defiance. But the tradition of killing is far from dying out. Men here keep a blacklist of the names of bad women and the police know to expect more bad news any time. The city's religious leaders and other community leaders have started to speak against honour killings but it's hardly enough.

DR AUNI KHIL: We have to try to start some action against this killing and we are trying to enter to the school or to the Arab schools here in Ramle to do something to educate, to learn the children that the women are our mothers, our sisters, our wives and daughters.

DAVID HARDAKER: It is a bit dangerous, isn't it? Because you are posing a threat to this established small community?

DR AUNI KHIL: Yes, there is a danger, some dangers, but somebody must say, “Stop, stop with these killings”.

DAVID HARDAKER: Limor Yehuda believes honour killings are a twisted version of killing and that it's time for Arab leaders to act.

INSPECTOR LIMOR YEHUDA: There is leadership, a religious and a scholarly leadership in the Arabic community and they should do more. They can progress this idea of fighting against this terrible, terrible phenomena. And they should do more. They shouldn't just talk.

KERRY O'BRIEN: As I said, a powerful story. And the reporter, David Hardaker.

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