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

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