May 30, 2011
Unfortunately, in Palestine, as in other parts of the Middle East, so-called “honor crimes” enjoy an intolerable leniency.
A relative can kill a woman suspected of having betrayed the family’s so-called honor code if she has committed adultery or even simply because she speaks with a man who is not a family member. According to the law this relative may risk only a few months in prison.
In 2005, Souad Marie, a woman in a Palestinian village, wrote a book titled Burned Alive: A Survivor of an “Honor Killing” Speaks Out, telling her story. Her family condemned her to death because she became pregnant by a young man who didn’t want to marry her. Her brother-in-law doused her with gasoline, but she succeeded in escaping the flames that engulfed her and survived. This brother-in-law has never been punished. A human rights organization ended up taking care of Souad Marie, whose family abandoned her in the hospital.
But times change, and a similar story provoked the anger of an entire village in the West Bank, to the west of Hebron recently. Ayah Baradeya was drowned by her uncle because he disapproved of her marriage plans. In ordinary times, he would have gotten some months in prison, since he intended to invoke “family honor.” But the young woman’s brother didn’t want this outcome. Braving the “what people say” attitude which prevailed up to then, he made her story known in the public square and roused the village to demand justice. He refused to let the family of the murderer be banished from the village as custom demanded, arguing that this served nothing, and instead demanded an exemplary prison sentence for his sister’s murderer. His actions amounted to demanding a change in the Penal Code.
The mobilization went way beyond the village, involving thousands of people in the streets for several days in a row. Up to then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas resisted the demands of women’s rights organizations, who have been denouncing the increase of these crimes in recent years. In 2010, 10 such deaths were registered officially. But facing the pressure of the street, the President ended up giving in and decreed the end of leniency for “honor crimes.”
So far, two articles of the Penal Code exempting men for these kinds of murders have been annulled, leaving one more significant article that needs to be tossed out. It is a victory for the population of this village, which knew how to conquer prejudices to get rid of this barbarism, and a victory for all women.