Women March against Violence in Palestine

Israa Ghrayeb, a make-up artist from Bethlehem (pictured above), was killed by her brother. (Wikimedia Commons)

Israa Ghrayeb, a make-up artist from Bethlehem (pictured above), was killed by her brother. (Wikimedia Commons)

Hundreds of women have marched in protests across Palestine, Lebanon, and Germany in recent weeks as an unprecedented response to the alleged honor killing of Israa Ghurayeb and at least 18 other Palestinian women since the beginning of the year. The protests were organized by a new Palestinian feminist campaign called Tal’at, or “coming out.”

The protesters held signs saying “We are all Israa” and “Free homeland, free women” as they voiced their anger at the government’s chronic lack of response to honor killings and domestic violence and its mishandling of the investigation into Israa’s death.

Ghrayeb, a 21-year-old makeup artist from Bethlehem, died due to “severe respiratory failure” in August after being hospitalized from injuries sustained when her brother severely beat her for having dinner with her soon-to-be fiance. A video of her screaming in the hospital as she was beaten again, without the interference of either police or medics, circulated around social media and ignited outrage across the Middle East. 

Honor killings are not a new phenomenon in the Middle East. There have been several instances of honor killings which have garnered attention in the past decade. For instance, last year, 20-year-old Siwar Keblawi from northern Israel jumped off her balcony to escape her father after a fight, only to be found alive and killed by her father and brother.

Though sharia law largely rejects honor killings, viewing it as a form of murder, it makes an exception for circumstances in which four male witnesses verify that an adultery occurred. The Ottoman Empire’s law code used this exception to justify lax laws on honor killings, which translated into many of the independent Arab countries’ legal codes today.

Furthermore, in many parts of the Arab world, tribal law still takes precedence over national law. The governments of these countries are not willing to interfere in this tribal system, creating a prime environment for families to commit honor killings. Even efforts by the government to prevent honor killings have little effect. For example, the Palestinian Authority passed new judicial reforms that remove a loophole allowing perpetrators of honor killings to receive a reduced sentence, but the number of women murdered in suspected honor killings has not decreased.

Onlookers of Israa’s case are currently waiting for the government to release an autopsy of Israa’s body confirming her cause of death. However, there has been a lot of controversy over the autopsy, as three doctors have already resigned in protest due to “anomalies” in the procedure. Furthermore, though the Palestinian Authority attorney-general charged three of Israa’s relatives with murder, he ruled out honor killing as a motive. Protesters were reportedly satisfied with the charges placed but emphasize that much needs to be done in addressing the prevalence of violence against women.