By Alia El-Yassir
Earlier this May, over the span of just two days, three women were murdered in Ramallah and in Jerusalem — all in the name of family honour. These so-called crimes of honour have sparked widespread public indignation in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt).
Faten Habash's story in particular drew outrage and disbelief, raising many questions about where responsibility for the crime should lie.
Twenty-three year old Faten was killed one Saturday afternoon in her home in Ramallah, by her own father. Her loud cries of desperation while she was being beaten to death aroused the curiosity of people walking by on the street, but help came too late to save her life. The incident happened just after she had returned home from hospital, where she had spent time recovering from a broken pelvis and other injuries resulting from what is believed to have been an earlier beating by her father and other members of her family.
Faten was killed because she had apparently "dishonoured" her family by insisting on marrying a man her parents did not approve of. She had tried twice to elope to Jordan, but was returned home each time by the authorities and left to face the violent anger of her father and other family members.
She was buried in a quiet ceremony, the silence made all the more deafening by the many women's groups who attended the funeral and staged a silent protest with signs demanding justice. In response to her family's refusal to accept public condolences, civil society organizations mobilized to arrange a venue for the general public to "honour" Faten and offer their sympathies.
Her murder was not an isolated case, but one in a long list of women who have been victims of so-called honour killings in the country. So why then has Faten's story in particular drawn such sharp reactions and provoked such outrage across the country? There are many reasons being offered, among them the fact that she was from Ramallah, considered the most progressive Palestinian city, the fact that she came from a middle-class family, the fact that the Governor of Ramallah was responsible for returning her to her family and that the police were unable to protect her, the fact that women's groups who may have been able to offer protection were denied access to her while she was in hospital. Public frustration is also growing because her father is likely to receive a reduced sentence due to existing legislation that allows for it in the case of crimes committed in the name of "honour."
Whatever the reasons for the groundswell of public sentiment over Faten's death, civil society organizations have mobilized quickly to take action on the issue. A committee has been established that includes representatives from political parties, the Palestinian Authority, groups working on gender-based violence and other civil society organizations. Committee members have issued several press releases condemning the violence and calling for new laws and measures that protect women, punish the perpetrators, and require full investigation and conviction of all parties who are accessories to the crime.
A press conference held on 7 May 2005 in Ramallah involving women's organizations, human rights organizations, religious leaders and the Ministry of Women's Affairs, was followed by a silent march in downtown Ramallah that ended at the Palestinian Authority's central cabinet offices with a list of demands for action. The Ministry of Women's Affairs has been tasked by the Palestinian cabinet with drafting legislation that will ensure the protection of women from violence, in cooperation with other Palestinian Authority ministries.
UN organizations have also been active in showing solidarity and support for the actions being taken by civil society and the Palestinian authorities. UNIFEM, working with the UNDP/UNFPA Staff Association, issued a press statement in the name of UN staff condemning killings in the name of honour. This statement was signed by staff associations and unions and individuals working at UNDP, UNFPA, UNIFEM, OHCHR, UNRWA, UNV, FAO, WHO, OCHA and the World Bank.
The UN Advocacy and Public Information Committee (APIC) has adopted the issue for advocacy within UN organizations and will be advocating for an awareness campaign project to be conducted. UNIFEM, together with UNDP, UNFPA, and OHCHR, is supporting the Ministry of Women's Affairs to draft and enforce legislation, policies and mechanisms that protect women from violence, and will also support work on a national survey on gender-based violence to better inform these.
Alia El-Yassir is programme coordinator of UNIFEM's oPt Programme.
(Story Date: 10.06.05)