Who will put an end to the murder of Arab women in Israel?

Ten women from the same family have been murdered since 2000. In failing to protect them, we have failed in coming to terms with the fact that women are independent, free human beings who have exclusive ownership over their bodies.

(Translated from Hebrew by Sol Salbe)

The first documented murder of a woman in Palestine occurred in 1930. A young Christian woman returned to her village on horseback while being held by one of the Arab fighters. He claimed that he gave her a ride to the village when a deluge of rain caught her in the fields. Someone from the village concluded that an act of forbidden love was involved. The next day that young woman’s body was found in a cave near the village. Her virgin body was buried in the cave; her tomb became a pilgrimage site because she was pure when she was murdered. The warrior, of course, continued to fight for occupied Palestinian land, and lost the battle as we know.

Women shout slogans during the International Women's Day march in Qalandiya, West Bank on March 8th, 2014. Around 400 women and supporters marched to the Israeli checkpoint holding signs and shouting slogans against the occupation, calling to boycott Israel. The demonstration was dispersed by Israeli forces with tear gas and shock grenades.
Women shout slogans during the International Women’s Day march in Qalandiya, West Bank on March 8th, 2014. (Activestills.org)

Eighty years have passed. In the meantime the State of Israel was founded, and the Palestinian minority within it is still fighting for its civil rights and its Palestinian Arab identity. Since then many women have been murdered by men in their family who were angry about something that didn’t seem quite right in their behavior as women. Somehow the honor killing of that Christian girl has become Islamized, yet Muslim sheikhs rush to absolve Islam after each murder. The “heroic” men have been transformed into anonymous masked men who are paid in advance by other men for the murders. The rage and the irrepressible wrath has been transformed into a carefully crafted deed carried out by a criminal gang armed with illegal weapons. It determines who is going to be killed, when and how. The very same men who appoint themselves “the honor guard” of the family allow themselves to do what they forbid the women.

So in one place an act of love has become part of normal life, while somewhere else a Facebook account decorated with photos becomes an excuse to harm a young woman. Arab honor, which is trampled upon in this country everywhere and in every way, has settled upon the frail shoulders of Arab women. It has been transformed into a public trash bin, into which the “motives” are tossed in order to provide a legitimate excuse for the murder of Arab women.

In an astounding show of cooperation, the macho police force and patriarchal society reinforce and preserve this verbal trash bin. This is the same bin that has produced the “immigration crisis that caused the husband to murder his wife and then attempt suicide” among Ethiopian women. For women from the former USSR it has become the “violent drunken husband,” while for everyone else it has created the category of “romantic motives” as the excuse for murder. And who is in charge of this trash bin? Uniformed men who are fighting to clear their names, which are tainted by cases of sexual harassment and corruption.

Every year, 5,000 women are murdered throughout the world. In Israel the annual tally is 20; 10 are Arab and another 10 are Jewish. The one place where we have achieved equality. The numbers are similar in Jordan and Syria, and since the beginning of the year 13 women have been murdered in the occupied territories.

Let us dwell for a moment on the number that has rattled the lives of every Arab woman in Ramle and Lod this week. Ten young women from the Abu Ghanem family have been murdered since 2000. Their killers had a broad spectrum: some of the women were married, others were single; there were women with children, students, and younger women; all between the ages of 16 and 35. Ten souls in a single family!

Bisan Abu Ghanim, the tenth woman to be murdered.
Bisan Abu Ghanim, the tenth woman to be murdered.

But to me the most horrid number wasn’t ten, but two. Only two of the murders have been solved, that of Hamda and Rim. None of the other murderers have been put behind bars. Nor have they faced a judge or paid their debt to society for their deeds. Doesn’t the fact that eight firearm-carrying murderers are running around among us concern you? Do you think these weapons only shoot at women?

What can be done to spur the police to do something about it? Should we call the cops and tell them that these young men are planning a terrorist attack in the renowned Ramle Market? Maybe that will get the police moving?

The response to Arab society sounds like this: “educate your sons, teach your daughters.” The perception is that something needs to be done about a community with an inbuilt cruelty to women. I refuse to accept these absurd arguments. To my delight there are all sorts of studies from all over the world that show what Arab women have achieved over the last 20 years. Whether it is high education levels, integration into the work force, marriage-age fertility rates, self-awareness and the social involvement of Arab women, the graphs point in the right direction. It’s a fact!

But at the end of the day we failed to save them. We didn’t save the young woman from the unrecognized Bedouin village south, or the girl from the crime-ridden city. This despite the fact that most of these women contacted us, the police, the welfare authorities, the media and women’s organizations. We have been unable to save them.

We have failed as a society. As professionals, both men and women, we’ve failed to prosecute crimes. We have failed to protect the lives of free women and rehabilitate the victims of domestic violence. We’ve failed in educating our children to understand and show respect for the other. We’ve failed in coming to terms with the fact that women are independent, free human beings who have exclusive ownership over their bodies.

With the 10th murder, that of Bisan Abu Ghanim, we score a big fat zero as a society. And that is really reprehensible.

Samah Salaime Egbariya is a social worker, a director of AWC (Arab Women in the Center) in Lod and a graduate of the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew hereTranslated by Sol Salbe of the Middle East News Service, Melbourne, Australia.

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