In traditional Palestinian society, women are treated as though they are the property of their families, in particular, of the men in their families. Furthermore, the honor of the family must be kept pure. There is no more important issue for traditional Palestinian families. When a woman is killed by a member of her family because she has acted in a way that is considered unacceptable, this is called an “honor crime”. As in other Arab societies, in Palestinian society it is taboo to talk about the triangle of sex, religion, and politics. Of these, sex is the most sensitive issue, because the standards in the society are cruel and discriminative against women. “Honor crimes”, in which women and young girls are the only victims, are the harshest reflection of these values.
Unfortunately, this ancient phenomenon is becoming more common within the context of Palestinian life. Some of these crimes are revealed to various legal institutions by women close to those who have been killed. Of course, many more such crimes are still hidden. There are two problems: usually, such crimes are simply not reported; furthermore, those that are reported are not revealed to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA). Since the year 2004, in an attempt to monitor such crimes, the Complaints Sector of the MoWA has recorded such data based on women’s complaints to police stations all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Complaints Sector documented numbers of cases of honor crimes, and numbers unsuccessful attempts at honor crimes. While these numbers are only part of the reality, even these numbers are still horrifying. These reports should shock Palestinian society, and provoke the public leaders, the media, and national parties to change Palestinian society so that it will become safe for women.
The concept of “honor crimes” is based on an unfortunate socio-cultural heritage and a bad legal framework in which women’s body are treated as property. These facts should be taken into serious consideration when confronting this phenomenon. Based on these ideas, the MoWA has made this issue a priority, working in parallel to raise the public awareness of this issue, and also lobbying and carrying out advocacy campaigns to raise the issue of gender equality in terms of law, politics, and the economy in both the general society and the government. As a response, the cabinet of the Palestinian Authority appointed the MoWA as the main coordinator for dealing with these problems. As it exists now, the basic law does not protect women. Presently, the MoWA consults with the Ministry of Social Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of the Interior; together, they are working on creating an improved legal framework to ensure that positive amendments will be introduced into the basic law to guarantee safety for women. In particular, such legal articles will provide protection and safe shelters for women exposed to violence; in addition, these amendments are expected to lead to a decrease in such crimes, provide some social security, and create gender equality in terms of rights and duties.
The MoWA is also working on formulating clear indicators to measure the frequency and extent of such tragedies and to measure the progress achieved through the various efforts to confront them. The MoWA is emphasizing the necessity of establishing “Units to deal with Violence in the Family” in police stations both in the West Bank and in Gaza, and to train and educate police staff to deal sensitively with such issues from the point of view of human rights and gender perspectives.
School curriculum will also be revised in order to raise the awareness of gender equality among both female and male students. It is clear that teenagers living in a strongly patriarchal atmosphere, like that of the present Palestinian society, need to learn how to deal with sexual harassment and the right of every person to dignity and security.
Presently, it is the responsibility of the MoWA to write an Annual National Report focusing on Violence Against Women which will be distributed in the West Bank and in Gaza. This report will be carefully discussed by Government Organizations and also by both Palestinian and international non-profit organizations in the public sector.
Honor crimes are crimes not only against women, but crimes against humanity. The institutions and leaders of the Palestinian Authority must join efforts with the wider civil society, including political parties, to put an end to this horrifying phenomenon. Victims must be protected and the perpetrators of these crimes must be appropriately punished and re-educated.