When Israel began erecting a separation barrier in late 2003 to protect its citizens from the seemingly endless procession of suicide bombers, Palestinian society responded by redirecting its destructive urges inward. All revolutions are said ultimately to turn upon themselves and devour their own children. And, when suicide bombing became an increasingly difficult means of enhancing family prestige, Palestinians shifted the focus onto their female offspring to restore the balance.
Suicide bombings in Israel had developed into a bloody and lucrative industry for Palestinians who carried out 39 attacks in 2002. But, since Israel began constructing its anti-terrorist fence, the Palestinian human-bomb industry has been reduced to bankruptcy by producing only 11 attacks in more than two years.
Honor killing, on the other hand – which has always been an integral aspect of Palestinian life – began gathering momentum. With horrifying zest, weapon-wielding fathers, brothers, uncles and sometimes mothers, hunt down their daughters and sisters and commit shocking acts of violence for real and imagined immoral transgressions.
The Arab motivation for murdering their own daughters flows from the same cultural wellspring that produces suicide bombers. The defensive form of honor, called ird, is consumed with female sexual purity and manifests itself in the murder of its own to restore family honor, whereas the offensive manifestation, sharaf, requires positive actions implemented to heighten social status and increase family honor. As Palestinian society retreats from its failure to infiltrate the daily life of Israeli citizens with death and destruction, it compensates by killing its own and depositing ird in its honor bank.
Soraida Hussein, head of research for Jerusalem’s Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling said, “Honor killing is nothing new... what is new is the whole wave of killing in 2005.”
In May 2005, the BBC reported, “In recent months there has been an increase in honour killings in the West Bank and Gaza...Women's rights activists say they cannot explain the upsurge.”
During a particularly brutal spate of honor killings in early 2005, five Palestinian women were murdered in four separate incidences over a short period of time. Faten Habash spent six weeks in hospital after she threw herself from her family’s fourth floor apartment window. Upon her return home, her father bludgeoned her to death with an iron bar.
Two days later, Maher Shakirat attacked his three sisters. The eldest, Rudaina, was eight months pregnant and had been admonished by her husband after he claimed she’d had an affair. Maher forced his sisters to drink bleach before strangling them. The youngest, Leila, escaped but had serious internal injuries from the effect of the bleach.
Rafayda Qaoud shared a bedroom in her Ramallah home with her two brothers. After they raped and impregnated her, she gave birth to a baby boy who was adopted by another family. Her mother then gave Rafayda a razor blade and ordered her to slash her own wrists. When she refused to commit suicide, her mother pulled a plastic bag tightly over her head, sliced open her daughter’s wrists and beat her with a stick until she was dead.
Palestinian feminist Abu Dayyeh Shamas claims that: "Men feel they have lost their dignity and that they can somehow restore it by upholding the family's honour. We've noticed recent cases are much more violent in nature; attempts to kill, rape, incest. There is an incredible amount of incest." One women’s group reported over 400 cases of incest in the West Bank alone in 2002.
Anthropologist James Emery explained in 2003, how “among Palestinians, all sexual encounters, including rape and incest, are blamed on the woman.” Men are always presumed innocent and the responsibility falls on the woman or girl to protect her honor at all costs. When 17-year-old Afaf Younes ran away from her father after he allegedly sexually assaulted her, she was caught and sent home to him. He then shot and killed her to protect his honor.
And when a four-year-old toddler was raped by a 25 year-old man in 2002, her Palestinian family left her to bleed to death because her rape had dishonored the family.
Emery described a Palestinian merchant explaining this cultural view of femininity as "A woman shamed is like rotting flesh, if it is not cut away, it will consume the body. What I mean is the whole family will be tainted if she is not killed."
Recently in Gaza and the West Bank, Hamas has defined a new role for itself in guarding the morality of young Muslim women. A group of men who identified itself as a Hamas “morality squad” attacked 19-year-old Yousra al-Azam after she had sat at the beach with her husband-to-be and another couple. She was shot in the head and died in the street as her murderers beat her with batons. The growing influence of Hamas with its fundamentalist interpretations of Islamic law is concerning women’s groups, which fear it will gain power and moral legitimacy in the coming elections.
The Guardian, reported official figures from the Palestinian Women’s Affairs Ministry in 2004, where it claimed 20 girls and women were honor-killed and a further 50 committed suicide. Another 15, it claimed, had survived murder attempts. And in 2005, the official figures reached 33. However, this official recognition of the sharp rise in reported honor killings is a limp excuse by a society that condones, camouflages and ignores most of its crimes against women.
According to Dr Shalhoub-Kevorkian, a criminologist from Hebrew University, the real figures are much higher with almost all murders in the West Bank and Gaza most likely to be honor killings. In a two-year period between 1996 and 1998, Shalhoub-Kevorkian uncovered 234 suspicious deaths in the West Bank alone, which she believes were honor killings. Palestinian police do not record these deaths as murder but as deaths due to "fate and destiny.” Shalhoub-Kevorkian believes the real number of honor killings may in fact be 15 times higher than the official figures.
In 2005, Amnesty International issued a public statement that called for the Palestinian Authority not to resume executions of those convicted of murder, rape or collaborating with Israelis. It simultaneously called for an end to the “impunity so far afforded to those responsible for certain crimes” including “honour killings.”
A man convicted of killing his daughter or female relative can expect to serve a six-month sentence due to a 45 year-old Jordanian law still upheld in the West Bank and Gaza. More often than not, the woman’s murder is reported as suicide or accident or is simply not reported at all. Anthropologist Emery claimed that many murdered women are buried in the desert: “The secret of their fate... entombed with them in the sand.”
Human rights groups, amongst others, have claimed that the surge in serious crime, including honor killings, is the result of poverty and hardship created by Israel. And, while the barrier must have made life more difficult for many Palestinians, Israel cannot be seen to be responsible for the burgeoning crime rate and developing lawlessness of the Palestinian population.
In Britain, there is no physical barrier separating people and no Jewish government to blame for the dilemmas of the Muslim community. Yet a sharp increase in Islamic honor killings has been reported since the July 7 London bombings, last year.
Nazir Afzal, director of Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service, told Reuters, there has been at least a “dozen honor killings in the country in the past year.” This, he claims, is just a glimpse of the real problem. “There are other crimes, like rape, abduction and physical violence...”
Afzal claims that a number of Britain’s 1.6 million Muslims are “turning in on themselves...When communities perceive themselves to be under threat they tend to turn in on themselves, regardless of whether that perception has any basis in fact.”
This unprecedented cultural phenomenon in Britain demonstrates the senselessness of blaming Israel’s Jews for the barbaric and primitive behaviour of Palestinian society. In Britain – just as in the West Bank and Gaza – “They try to restore and reinforce their own social norms,” Afzal explains, “ They put pressures on their own members to conform and if they don’t...there is sometimes some kind of retribution.”
Since Israel diminished the capacity of Palestinian human-bomb-making by building a barrier, the honor-making potential of the Palestinians has been considerably depleted. As they turn inward and commit savage and pitiless crimes upon their own women in order to achieve anamorphic honor, it is clear that the problem is one of cultural depravity rather than Israeli oppression.
Because Arabs employ the two societal poles of honor and shame to govern their behaviour, actions are dominated by the avoidance of shame and the acquisition of honor. Thus, every relationship and experience emanating from other, unchartered sources are inhibited and suppressed. Both honor and shame require an audience in order to become activated concepts. And the loss of the suicide bombers’ audience has created a chaotic shift in focus while the perpetrators seek a new audience to restore their lagging sense of sharaf.
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