The Tragedy of Palestinian Honor Killing

The power of social media is finally giving voice to the disenfranchised and oppressed women of the Mideast

By Edy Cohen | | Topics: palestinians
Photo: YouTube screenshot

Yet another new low for the Palestinian Authority (PA). A week ago, we reported in Israel Today about the persecution of the LGBT community in PA-controlled areas, highlighted by the forced cancellation of a “gay pride” event in Nablus. Now, Palestinian society is being rocked by yet another scandal.

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims from around the Arab world are protesting the murder of a 21-year-old Palestinian woman named Asra’a Gharib from Bethlehem. 

In what is suspected of being yet another “honor killing,” Gharib was murdered by members of her own family because she uploaded to Instagram a photo with her fiancé. Her relatives have given contradicting versions of what happened. They first claimed that Asra’a had become demon-possessed and committed suicide. But a video clip published online showed her being beaten, for which she had to be hospitalized. Just days after PA police opened an investigation into the beating, Asra’a was found dead, her family now claiming that she had suffered a stroke.

The Arab world is in turmoil following this murder, and many are demanding reforms in education and full equality for women. It has again put “honor killings” in the spotlight, leading many top celebrities in the region to speak out.

The sad reality is that still today hundreds of women are murdered under similar circumstances every year in the Arab and Muslim world, while many thousands more intimidated, threatened and injured. All because they made one mistake that in the eyes of their relatives brought shame upon their families. The punishment for such a crime has always been death, and family members feel the only way they can restore honor is to carry out the sentence personally. The “sinner” must be put down by their own hands in order to restore family honor.

Today, many countries in the Middle East have laws against such “honor killings,” but even the threat of life in prison is not enough to deter the murderers. According to the worldview of quite a few Arab Muslims, it is much easier to live in prison for decades than to live in shame and dishonor. Murder should never be justified, but the absurdity is that sometimes these women are killed simply upon suspicion of misbehavior. And not only that, but according to their beliefs, only through her death will the woman find redemption for the sins she has committed.

Almost all “honor killings” are carried out against women. In Arab society, the woman represents the honor of the family. Any behavior that is incompatible with their values ​will damage the family’s dignity. In many cases in the Arab world, women who were raped were then murdered by their own relatives on the grounds that they had not “taken care of themselves.” In addition, there are many cases in which women are raped, but never report the crime to the police for fear of the fatal consequences.

No fewer than 18 women have been murdered in “honor killings” in the Palestinian Authority since the beginning of the year, according to women’s organizations. In recent days, women have come out across Palestinian society in protest against their regime for its initial failure to arrest Asra’a’s killers, as well as reform local laws, which in some cases result in the murderers of “dishonorable” women avoiding prosecution altogether. The protesters are demanding, among other things, the enforcement of laws protecting the family, and Palestinian woman in particular. 

As a result of the pressure, Palestinian police arrested three people in connection to Asra’a’s murder. Much of that pressure has come from massive social media campaigns exposing the deplorable situation of women in the Palestinian Authority.

Just a few years ago, this murder would have passed with little or no notice. But today, thanks to the Internet and the power of social media, the scales are tipping ever more in favor of the disenfranchised and oppressed.

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