Chesler Chronicles

Major Arab Demonstration Against Palestinian Honor Killings. Never Heard About It?


While Vice President Joe Biden played the part of a dishonored diplomat in Jerusalem, his wife, Jill Biden, was visiting the Bedouin Women’s Empowerment Project in the Negev.

I hope she understood just how “empowered” these women really are. Sixty of these Israeli Arab Bedouin women recently came in busloads from the Negev to Nazareth to join a total of 500 Israeli Arabs in a protest against honor killings in their communities. They constituted the largest continent of women, “thanks to the work of Hind el Sana, a lobbyist in Shatil’s Bedouin Women’s Leadership Project. The Project, which is funded by the American State Department in conjunction with The New Israel Fund, is run in collaboration with Ma’an, the Forum of Arab Women’s Organizations in the Negev, where el Sana is based.

The anti-honor killing demonstration was attended by Israeli MKs (Members of Parliament), the mayor of Nazareth, (a city in northern Israel and protected by Israel), and other prominent figures. Many demonstrators were young, many were not; most wore western clothing, many wore hijab. They carried amazing signs and banners in Arabic: “Your Silence Equals Permission to Kill”; “A Civilized Society Does Not Kill Women”; “The Hands are the Killer’s, but Silence and Understanding are a Society’s Crime”; and signs which bore the name of Palestinian honor murder victims such as Reem Abu Ghanem (murdered in 2006), Halima Ahmed (murdered in 2009), and Abeer Abu Damous (murdered in 2010).

The demonstrators called for an “end to the murder of women who are thought to sully the honor of their families by violating traditional, patriarchal restrictions on relationships between men and women. A young woman who dates a young man without her parents’ consent falls into this category.”

“There is no honor in this crime” declared MK Masoud Ghanayem.

MK Muhammad Baraka added: “Whenever someone kills his sister, his daughter, his wife, he does not become more honorable, but he becomes a murderer and villain.”

The demonstration was organized by Women against Violence in Nazareth. This kind of demonstration has never taken place in Gaza City or in West Bank cities under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

Last year I interviewed a Palestinian feminist, Asma Al-Ghoul, who told me that she’d been writing about honor killings among Palestinians in Gaza and on the West Bank and that doing so had probably gotten her fired from her job as a journalist. Wherever she is, I hope she’s safe and I would like to hear from her.

Still, this demonstration is wonderful news. Arab men and women, young and old, modern and traditional–all marching for Palestinian womens’ lives.

In April 2008, a Swedish researcher, Emma Hansson, working as an intern at the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, did a study, “Women Under Siege,” as part of her studies of Peace and Development at Linne University. The work was supported by the Swedish Central Bureau for Studies. Hansson’s text editor was Elizabeth Freed, an American college graduate. (Ms. Hansson has just given me this information).

They found that in “Palestine, the integration of traditional tribal laws and the establishment of official laws through the PA result in an unstable and inconsistent application of law. Being based on patriarchal and tribal structures this legal fusion (creates) a system (which) is highly discriminatory against women. Domestic violence is considered a ‘minor’ offense, ‘honor’ killings are regarded as a family matter, and if a rapist marries his victim, he escapes punishment.”

They suggest that violence against women, honor-related violence, and honor killings in Palestine “serve to uphold the male dominated structures, instilling fear in women.”

Hansson mentions the Intifada at least twice—but only as one of many factors which exacerbate violence against Palestinian women. That violence has increased since the Palestinian warlords declared yet another jihad against the Jews. But the author quotes Palestinian feminist Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, who “declares that the Intifada has led to an increased politicization of Islam and a failing respect for human rights.”

Hamas has cracked down against women and against women’s clothing; more Palestinian women are wearing the Islamic Veil than ever before. Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence (both male-on-male and male-on-female) is generally, routinely quite high; it may now be even higher.

Please note: The Nazareth protesters, both male and female, did not blame the alleged Israeli “occupation” for an increase in Palestinian male violence towards Palestinian women. Indeed, these demonstrators are all Israeli citizens which is precisely why they could launch such a spirited defense of womens’ human rights.

However, as my readers know, on January 23, 2010, the British medical journal the Lancet published a piece which did just that—and only that–and which I challenged here. Hopefully, Lancet will be publishing my letter which critiqued the six-author article; this letter has been with the Lancet’s editors since January 29, 2010.

At the time, I had not yet read the Hansson article—which the Lancet researchers do not cite. They do not have to cite it because they chose to omit honor killing as a form of domestic violence against Palestinian women. And why? Because that is one tribal, cultural, patriarchal, Arab, perhaps Muslim custom for which the Israelis cannot be blamed. Hence, the Lancet six dropped the most extreme form of violence against Palestinian women.

The good news? According to Hansson, a shelter for women (a Mehawar) has finally opened its doors in Palestine for the victims of incest, rape, childhood sexual harassment and domestic violence.

Hansson addresses her remarks and makes her suggestions to the Palestinian Authority—not to the Israeli authorities.

Case closed.

NOTE TO MY READERS: You are right. Nazareth is a city in northern Israel and is the largest Arab city in Israel. However, the honor murders being protested took place in Gaza, on the West Bank, and among Arabs in Israel. Hansson and Freed based their report on data gathered in the Palestinian West Bank and in Gaza. Finally, these demonstrators may have conceived of this as a demonstration against honor killings in “Palestine,” a country that has never existed.

By the way: The Western mainstream media did not cover this marvelous demonstration against honor killing in Nazareth. Except for the New Israel Fund and Hadash, neither did the Israeli media. However, it appeared mainly in the Arabic media here and here.

Names of the dead