I have read way too many articles similar to the one Josh posted in the comments a little while back.

If you didn’t see it, here’s some ‘highlights’

“In the Ramallah suburb of Abu Qash, 13 year old Rofayda Qaoud – raped by her brothers and impregnated – refused to commit suicide, her mother recalls, even after she bought the unwed teenager a razor with which to slit her wrists”…so Rofayada’s mother killed her, plastic bag on the head and razor blade to the wrists. It took 20 minutes.

Granted, this case is unusual…generally it is one of the men of the house that do the “honor killing”.

Read the full account of this story here, or a very informative article about the practice called “Reputation is Everything” here.

Or do a google search for “honor killings palestine” and you get 58,800 matches.

I come across stories like this all too often, and yet friends I mentioned it to recently had only a vague notion that it goes on at all. As much as I’ve read about it, it is difficult to honestly comprehend the reality of such things happening just ten miles away from where I feel so particularly safe as a woman.

Let it be known that I am first and foremost posting about this because it deeply bothers me as a woman and as a human being, only second to that is because of what is says culturally about our neighbors and politically about the silence of their so-called allies.

In the Palestinian communities of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan, women are executed in their homes, in open fields, and occasionally in public, sometimes before crowds of cheering onlookers. Honor killings account for virtually all of the murders of Palestinian women in these areas.

Honor killings occur for a variety of offenses, including allegations of premarital or extramarital sex, refusing an arranged marriage, attempting to obtain a divorce, or simply talking with a man. If a woman brings shame to the family, her male relatives are bound by duty and culture to kill her. “A woman shamed is like rotting flesh,” a Palestinian merchant tells [the reporter]. “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.”

The Palestinian cause is generally associated with the political left. I sometimes find this fact curious. The left represents many values I believe are important, among them women’s rights.

Hence my frustration when much ado is made over an Arab getting unduly humiliated at a check point, but hardly a voice is raised about a societal policy that not only allows, but encourages men to murder a woman who has ‘brought shame upon the family’

Why aren’t there rallies against this? Why aren’t feminists and humanists of the world up in arms? Why don’t those who claim to care about the suffering of the Palestinians seem to care about this?

I think too often we support the IMAGE of a cause rather than the cause itself.

I also think that we simply have great difficulty comprehending the reality of such acts, because it is so unthinkable by western standards. This, I believe is one of the chief mistakes people make when it comes to trying to understand the Middle East. The fact of the matter is, Arab culture is radically different that ours, they value different things, and the idea of ‘honor,’ a concept all but forgotten in the West, is chief among them. While we value the individual, they think in terms of the group, and the family is always more important that the individual, especially if that individual is a woman.

A 25-year-old Palestinian who hanged his sister with a rope said “I did not kill her, but rather helped her to commit suicide and to carry out the death penalty she sentenced herself to. I did it to wash with her blood the family honor that was violated because of her and in response to the will of society that would not have had any mercy on me if I didn’t . . . Society taught us from childhood that blood is the only solution to wash the honor.”

It is important to note that There is no such sanction, for this in the Qur’an or Hadith: “When a woman is accused of Zina or illicit sexual behavior, the Qur’an stresses that four witnesses must have witnessed the act of sexual intercourse taking place”

As one source put it, avenging family honor is a product of societies in which women’s bodies has become a brutal tool in reproducing patriarchal control.

Among Palestinians, all sexual encounters, including rape and incest, are blamed on the woman. Men are presumed innocent.

It is impossible to find accurate statistics, largely because numerous murders are ruled an accident, suicide, or family dispute, if they’re reported at all. Police and government officials are often bribed to ignore crimes and hinder investigations. A woman beaten, burned, strangled, shot, or stabbed to death is often ruled a suicide, even when there are multiple wounds. The saddest fact is that all reports suggest it is on the rise.

“Female virtue and virginity define a family’s reputation in Arab cultures, so it’s women who are punished if that reputation is perceived as sullied.”

If you support basic feminism, meaning a woman’s right to live her own life and make her own decision, can you also unequivocally support a society in which so called honor-killings happen, according to some, almost weekly, and the punishment is virtually non existent? Where the brothers, fathers and uncles who kill these ‘impropitious girls’ are often literally cheered in the streets as hero’s? Even when often times they are the very ones who raped the girl to begin with?

I wish I knew what else to do about this besides ‘raising awareness’. I mean we could all sign a petition, but I don’t think they would care.

At the very least, lets try to put things in perspective, and maybe think about the term ‘human rights abuses’ a little more carefully.

About the author

Laya Millman

15 Comments

  • I think those that are truly committed to human rights -are- concerned with both checkpoints and honor killings. Clearly one is a bit more drastic than the other (honor killings, duh) but you have to remember that when religious fundamentalist psychos commit these atrocious murders, it is only the very extreme that would support such actions. On the other hand, checkpoints, a place of daily disgrace for many many Palestinians, are not places for religious fundamentalists — they’re IDF sponsored roadblocks.

    It is not necessarily a “society” that one would support when they call for equal rights for Palestinians. I personally don’t support a “society” that discriminates against women, queers, non-Muslims, etc. But I certainly -do- support actions that rectify human rights abuses written into Israeli policies.

    And on the same note, if one were truly look at the bigger picture of women’s rights (and queer rights, certainly) than there’s progress to be made in Israel proper as well.

  • But, Ariela, it’s actually harder to change things that are hard-wired into a culture rather than simply codified in a law. To change a law, you can pass another law. To change a culture you have to change hearts and minds. It’s not remotely comparable.

  • I also don’t quite get this, Ariela. The roadblocks and checkpoints serve a purpose. They are there for a reason, not because somebody dreamt up a way to harass Palestinians. So you’re comparing prevention of crimes with the commitment of a crime? You’re comparing an innocent girl killed because she was raped with a Palestinian who has to wait to get through a checkpoint because a few weeks earlier Hamas or Fatah used that checkpoint to smuggle a suicide murderer across?

    Anyway, even if you were right and somehow you could be blind/batty/anti-Israeli enough to compare the murder of an innocent girl in cold blood because she was raped to soldiers checking Palestinians at a checkpoint, Laya’s point remains valid: the media, the Left, and the ProPalestinians rarely (if ever) discuss the murders while harping on and on about how checkpoints are evil and/or justifiy suicide bombings.

  • Debbie — Please explain further. I’m not really sure I understand the point you’re making.

    TM — I’m not comparing “prevention of a crime” to “committing a crime.” I believe that roadblocks are a necessary inconvinience. But I also believe that there is much to be done regarding the way people are treated at said roadblocks. Isn’t that sort of common knowledge (even amongst us batty folk?)?

  • I meant that checkpoints are political and legal issues and in a democracy these things are up for a free and open debate, and can be changed by the votes of its citizens. By contrast, honor killings is a cultural issue and while there may be people who talk about it disapprovingly, what is the mechanism for making such a thing completely unacceptable in their society? Shunning? Excommunication? Actually having the police putting these murderers on trial and, after convicting them, in jail? or will that make them simply seem like “martyrs for the cause”? I.e., “I am willing to suffer a lifetime in jail just to protect my sister’s modesty or my family’s honor,” etc.

    My point is: honor killing is murder, plain and simple, and (un)officially sanctioned by a culture that has no mechanism for changing the situation, and is therefore much, much worse than roadblocks.

  • ariela,
    I really don’t want it to seem like we’re ganging up on you, but i have to take issue with a few of the things you’ve said:

    “you have to remember that when religious fundamentalist psychos commit these atrocious murders, it is only the very extreme that would support such actions”.

    In every bit of research i did for this post, it was clear that it is NOT just ‘religious fundamentalist psychos’, that while many may silently disapprove, it is a generally accepted practice, and very little is ever done about it.

    also you said “But I certainly -do- support actions that rectify human rights abuses written into Israeli policies”.

    but why aren’t we fighting for policies to be written into the Palestinian charter to rectify honor killings? it is difficult to punish because it is one of the laws still active from Jordanian occupation; Article 341 considers murder a legitimate act of defense when “The act of killing another or harming another was committed as an act in defense of his life, or his honor, or somebody else’s life or honor”

    Also you said “I also believe that there is much to be done regarding the way people are treated at said roadblocks”.

    As an exercise in perspective (which was partly my purpose in posting this), how about focusing instead on how much there is to be done regarding the way Palestinian women are treated every day of their lives (as the unequivocal property of the men around them, to be done with as they see fit)? Isn’t that the greater human rights abuse? not allowing women any rights at all?

    When you compare the two, what sometimes does goes on at road blocks seems practically like nit-picking, don’t you think?

  • I also have to disagree with roadblocks=human rights abuses that Laya was quoting, although I think Ariela addresses that in her post to me.

    Neither roadblocks nor checkpoints are human rights abuses. On occasion abuses may occur, and even the question of whether they constitute human rights abuses is up for grabs, but that is a far cry from the premise of a roadblock or checkpoint being inherently abusive.

    Anyway, to answer your question, I think that everybody feels that life for the Palestinians could be made easier at checkpoints and roadblocks. The question is how feasible that is considering the attackers that may get through, and that sometimes attack the soldiers manning these stations. I do think that life can be made easier, but you know, there are plenty of Israelis of Left wing persuasion who attend these checkpoints specifically to monitor them. That violin player was recorded by a woman who was there for that reason.

  • PS, Ariela, I’ve just visited your site and you are not batty. Heck, If I were 15 years younger and unmarried…

    Edit: Wait, I just realized I dated batty girls.

  • The Muffti remembers something similar to this a while ago on Jewlicious: https://jewlicious.com/index.php?p=113 There we debated Dershowitz making a similar point, though using markedly different cases.

    There’s nothing wrong with bringing things into perspective as a general practice, but we have a right to be suspect as to motives when it happens. For almost any event we take to be important, there is likely to be some other event that dwarfs it in comparison. So in general, I don’t see why it is bad to fight for one cause and let yourself ignore others.

    However, i think Ariela deserves more defense than a general cry of suspect argumentation. Perhaps the fact that road blocks are an imposition on one group by another makes it a worthy subject of criticism while the local sexual customs and recriminations may be horrifying but are local to the culture at hand. I’m no cultural relativist by any means; but I do think that at least prima facie we should be trying to criticize what one culture or group does to another before we take ourselve to be in a position to dictate on matters internal to a culture or group.

    Perhaps, furthermore, people feel like they should apply pressure to issues they can actually havee some effect on. I’m aware that i can’t change the practices of one culture towards its women; but I presumably can have some effect on a liberal democracy’s activities towards another group. Perhaps that’s why ‘angry’ feminists tend to pick and choose their fights wisely. I don’t see why a group should be criticized for not taking their fight to all possible fronts; and I don’t see that anymore in Dershowitz’s set of cases than in yours.

  • muffti said: “I’m no cultural relativist, but…” and then you go off and launch into textbook cultural relativism. Highly qualified mind you, but textbook none the less.

    Yes. Roadblocks suck. Cry me a fucking river. We wouldn’t need roadblocks if…. blah, blah, blah. Honor killings are still barbaric and offer us insight into our neighbour’s cultural and moral values.

    But then again, who am I to judge really? After all I once got a speeding ticket, and got paid for a job in cash without subsequently declaring it to the government. That disqualifies me from making any moral judgements at all. Now rapists and murderers and all manner of human wretches may pass through my radar unmolested. The only people who can make value judgements are living saints, and those who have recently awoken from a coma. That started when they were infants.

  • Muffti says “There’s nothing wrong with bringing things into perspective as a general practice, but we have a right to be suspect as to motives when it happens.”

    I told you my motives in the post:
    “Let it be known that I am first and foremost posting about this because it deeply bothers me as a woman and as a human being, only second to that is because of what is says culturally about our neighbors and politically about the silence of their so-called allies.”

    Muffti continues: “Perhaps the fact that road blocks are an imposition on one group by another makes it a worthy subject of criticism while the local sexual customs and recriminations may be horrifying but are local to the culture at hand”

    I would argue that terrorism (which the road blocks are doing their job to prevent) are a -greater- imposition on one group (israeli’s) by another (palestinians).

    In addition, Honor Killing, which you dismiss rather lightly as a ‘local sexual custom’ is an imposition (to put it ridiculously lightly) on one -gender- by another, is that, then, less egregious?

    The muffti also said “So in general, I don’t see why it is bad to fight for one cause and let yourself ignore others.”

    In general, you are right. Each human only has so much energy to fight the good fight, which is why we have to pick our causes carefully.

    But we’re not talking about fighting for the Tibetans while ignoring the Brazilian rain forest here.

    If we can look seriously at this (or so much else that goes on in the world), and then accuse Israel of being ‘the worlds biggest human rights abuser’, something is seriously off in our perspective, and we need to reevaluate whether we care about the ACTUAL cause or simply the hip, socially aware IMAGE of the cause.

    you may be better able to ‘affect change’ in the bagging habits of your local supermarket (don’t you hate it when they put the tomatoes on the bottom and they get squashed?) but if you compare it to kids who don’t have ANY food, granted, while your grocery store efforts may be more likely to produce change, isn’t it a little like straining the nat but swallowing the camel? (wait, that’s an expression, right?)

  • The Muffti must clarify.

    CK: I did not state textbook relativism in any form. Your keen, but uncharitable, mind read it into what I said. To quote myself, I said:

    but I do think that at least prima facie we should be trying to criticize what one culture or group does to another before we take ourselve to be in a position to dictate on matters internal to a culture or group.

    In no way am I committed to thinking that we can’t intefere in a culture’s practices towards its own people. I just tried to state a (very weak) principle on ordering of criticism: try to solve problems between cultures before you try to solve one internal to cultures. Why should we believe this principle? Well, while I am not cultural relativist (in any way), I do think we should work as hard as we can to respect the internal workings of a culture insofar as we can. Since our efforts and possible interventions are finite, best to use the effort stopping groups from enslaving and killing eachother (external impositions on culture) rather than work on interenal impositions. That’s not to say, of course, that we should never criticize cultures: Laya’s criticism is obviously valid and obviously killing chicks for promiscuity (actual or ever merely percieved) is wrong.

    Laya: Sure, terrorism is an imposition on one group by another. *I* never said that *I* thought road blocks were wrong. I thought that you were saying (and probably I was wrong, since I am uncharitable like ck) that you were crying hypocrisy with respect to human rights defenders who get upset about roadblocks but not violations towards women. I was trying to articulate a principle which seemed true to me (that you shoudl try to affect change using a balance of what is most important and what you can have most effect over) and that would allow people concerned with some elements of group rights to continue there work unscathed by your charge.

  • I’m not sure about something here, Muffti. Are you saying that because Israel is a Western democracy and checkpoints are evil, we should be on its case. But since murdering the female victims of rape/adultery/plain old sex is a cultural artifact within an undemocratic society, attempts to rectify this issue are likely to fail so therefore one should exert efforts on the Western democracy because they are more likely to succeed?

    Does this mean that if they form a Palestine and within the new Palestine, the murder of raped girls is condoned, we should still turn our attention to human rights problems in Western democracies instead because we cannot affect the cultural norms of the Palestinians but can influence outcomes in the West?

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