New name for an old crime: Police get creative with ‘honor killings’

Israeli police, it seems, have finally learned not to use the infuriating term ‘honor killings’ to describe the murder of Arab women. Unfortunately, their replacement is far worse.

The good news is that the police arrested suspects in the murder of Bisan Abu Ghanem, and that authorities have apparently learned not to stop calling such murders “honor killings.” The bad news is that the new explanation for women’s murder is worse yet: their “independent conduct.”

Please insert the new phrase into your lexicon: “murdered on grounds of her independent conduct.” This new excuse for murdering women proudly joins others in an illustrious list: “romantic,” “family-crisis,” “honor,” “cultural,” the good old “crime of passion” and more.

This new masterpiece of nomenclature was first cited in a police press report of Tuesday, Dec. 9, announcing that the murder case of Bisan Abu Ghanem – the last and tenth murder victim in her family, killed on October 25, 2014 – has been solved.

Bisan Abu Ghanim, the tenth woman to be murdered in her family.
Bisan Abu Ghanim, the tenth woman to be murdered in her family.

Ostensibly, we as women and activists have been waiting for the commendable moment when the murderers of Arab women are indicted, something that does not happen often enough. Indeed, I could not conceal my satisfaction regarding the efficacy and speed of the labyrinthine investigation, which led to the arrest of six suspects; nothing of the kind took place after the murder of Bisan’s stepmother in 2000, or after the murders of her sisters several years later. I even allowed myself to imagine that once the perpetrators are brought to court, we may see further indictments in cases that had gone unsolved.

So the central investigator in this case certainly deserves tribute. But whoever wrote the press release in Hebrew really must have struggled with the ban on the term “honor killing” as the grounds for this horrific crime. Clearly the writer knew that the term is a red flag for furious women’s organizations, and since nothing in the list above was quite suitable, and some sort of “grounds” must be found, the new phrase “independent conduct” was invented. This is in fact an umbrella that covers everything — behavior, dress-style, speech, aspirations and plans for the future, legal battles with an ex over child custody, any behavior characterized by independence.

And after all, why should any woman, and especially an Arab woman, conduct herself independently? She is expected to be attached by an umbilicus to some man whose whims and goodwill determines where she goes. Think how much patronization, stereotyping and arrogance are encoded in this term: a) We know that women are not independent; b) She who knowingly conducts herself “independently” thereby endangers her own life. c) Protecting women involves raising awareness of the dangers involved in their mounting independence.

Honor killing may be a preferable term after all

For me, as a woman who has struggled for 20 years to be able to say with abundant womanly pride that I am independent entity in my own right, a human being who is not dependent on any man – this police press release was a slap in the face. Where do you think you are living? Independent? By what right? You still belong to someone, and your provocations in the name of human rights and feminism are leading you in a very dangerous direction.

If until now the grounds of honor killing pointed the finger toward a woman’s sexual conduct, and hinted at control over her body and her sexual life, now comes “independent conduct” and expands the domains of control in almost every conceivable direction.

Women from the West Bank town of Bethlehem march past Palestinian Authority policemen during a protest against honor killings and other forms of violence against women, November 16, 2013. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/
Women from the West Bank town of Bethlehem march past Palestinian Authority policemen during a protest against honor killings and other forms of violence against women, November 16, 2013. (File photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/

Here is my suggestion for you, distinguished members of the Israel Police force: if you really must cite grounds, then “gender-based” is the appropriate name for a woman’s murder, or murder “due to misogyny,” or “grounded in chauvinism,” or, in the case of the city of Ramle: “organized-crime murders affecting women, men and youth.”

Women are murdered because they are women, precisely because they see themselves as persons in their own right, and because some man nearby wants to control them. They are born independent and sometimes grow to be reliant on some man in their surroundings, not the other way around. It is natural for a woman to be independent, liberated, and to do whatever she cares to with her life, her body and her future.  Women’s lives or conduct are not the grounds for murder or for anything else.

I am concerned that this new excuse — “independent conduct” — will become a problem in its own right, so I suggest we go back to “honor killings.” The latter is more focused, understandable and limited. I promise to protect the honor of my family, and my whole khamula (clan) and my entire society if need be. Just leave me my independent conduct which I have spent my entire life cultivating.

This article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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