I can get impassioned on the subject of gender-based violence and femicide. If someone gives me an opening, I’ll go on about the rights of women to safety until I see the other person start to yawn. But I was taken aback recently when an educated, relatively enlightened man said to me: “Yes, but in their culture, it’s allowed.” That came back to me just the other day, on the comments section of a Facebook page for Na’am, Arab Women in the Center, an organization dedicated, among other things, to stopping the violence: “It’s their culture.”
Let’s look at some facts: Rabab Abu Siyam was thirty-year old mother of three, an elementary school teacher. She was shot multiple times and killed in Lod, in her parents’ home, while she held her two-year-old daughter in her lap. The husband she was divorcing was known to be violent and had been heard – recorded even – threatening to kill her.
Sound familiar? Just last month, a 68-year-old woman was stabbed to death in the Jewish city of Herzliya; her husband was arrested.
Manar Abu Hajaj, a 34-year-old mother, had no enemies. She was not known to the authorities. But the evening of Sept. 5, masked assailants were waiting for her when she returned home with her twin 14-year-old daughters. Before they could get out of the car, Manar and her daughter Khadra were killed and her sister was wounded as she ran away. The police think the double murder may have been retaliation against Abu Hajaj’s husband, a suspected criminal who fled the country years ago and is believed to be in Morocco.
Sound familiar? In October, Benny Shlomo, head of a Jewish crime family, was gunned down in broad daylight by masked assailants, possibly in retaliation for the killing of the member of another crime family headed by Shalom Domrani.
What’s the difference? The husband of the Jewish woman will sit in jail. Police arrested the man – a hired killer – who probably murdered Rabab and several others, but her ex-husband, who was conveniently away at the time, goes free. He has custody of their children, and Rabab’s family cannot, legally challenge this unless he is indicted.
When Benny Shlomo was killed, the police immediately put two units on the case and five men have been arrested so far. No one has been arrested in the case of Manar Abu Hajaj. The surviving twin is in hiding; the police prevented her from attending her mother’s and sister’s funeral in case the gunmen intended to kill her as well. And Manar and her daughters were not criminals but innocent victims.
Let’s get one thing straight: Murder is murder. It is not excusable. Ever. The term “honor killing” is now illegal to use in a court room, but it’s still heard on the streets. I’ll be blunt: There is no honor in these killings, and they are murder, plain, ignominious and simple.
This is not some bleeding-heart liberal, Ashkenazi Jewish woman telling you this, it is Arab women, themselves. They take to the streets when a woman is killed, they take to the media, they speak out in their communities, they let women, men, Arabs and Jews know the violence has to stop. They teach it in schools, they preach it to girls and teens, they bring it to municipal authorities and the Knesset.
Let’s look at a few more facts, these from a study presented to the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality in January: The majority (about 60%) of Palestinian femicides are carried out by a spouse or unknown other and not by another family member (40% of the cases), thus “there is no justification for the continued use of the framing of ‘honor killing’ in relation to Palestinian femicide cases in Israel.”
Unsolved murders of Palestinian women: 84%. Solved murders of Jewish women: There is a 94% indictment rate, as opposed to 56% for Palestinian women. Convictions – 75% vs. 34%. Even when men are arrested, indicted and convicted, a killer of a Jewish woman convicted of manslaughter typically serves 14-18 years, as opposed to just 5.5 for the murder of a Palestinian woman.
It would seem that in our society, the murder of some citizens is deemed, de facto, more serious than that of others. But please don’t justify it by telling me it is in any way allowable or forgivable.
A word about Na’am Arab Women in the Center: Founded in 2009 to help defend Palestinian women in the center of Israel (the mixed cities of Lod, Ramla and Jaffa), Na’am has become the voice of women – a voice against violence and for equality. Through its offices, its Women’s Rights Center, its educational programs, advocacy and direct assistance, it has helped many hundreds of women, teens and girls and is working to change a society that discounts the lives of some of its members. Today there are more women than ever seeking aid and protection from Na’am. If you would like to help: https://givingtuesday.mightycause.com/story/X84z3g