Killing Women in the ‘Lands of 1948’ … Family Patriarchy or Occupation Crimes?
Philosopher Hannah Arendt says: “Power and violence are opposites. Violence appears where power is in jeopardy but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance.”
Writers often think about their introductions when they start writing, but the details and minutiae of some issues go beyond the idea of the introduction and its importance.
So, I decided to begin by quoting Hannah Arendt, to pave the way for some direct and indirect questions.
Today, we are trying at “Sharika Wa Laken” to deconstruct a complex case in an attempt to understand what is happening in the murder cases of Palestinian women in the occupied territories of 1948.
Tackling this file resembles peeling off endless layers, every time you uncover one layer, you are confronted with a harder-shell one. Additionally, the conditions imposed by the occupier constitute an essential part of understanding the context.
Besides, the complex social structure, and notions of what is permissible or forbidden in the composition of the Palestinian-Arab community in the occupied territories, also play a role in our understanding.
Therefore, we will try to somewhat familiarize ourselves with the basic details behind these crimes.
Domestic violence escalates in “the 1948 territories”
Dozens of women of different identities and societal groups are killed in the occupied territories every year. While there are many tools and forms of killing, it is agreed that they are killed because of their gender.
Just a few months into the new year, more than 20 murders took place. 2021 wasn’t less disastrous, with 15 women killed.
The Knesset Research and Information Center noted that “half of the women who were killed by a family member had their cases known to social welfare services, and about a third of them had filed complaints with the police in the past because they were subjected to violence at the hands of their husbands.”
Palestinian women citizens of Israel are subjected to various forms of violence. According to the Parliamentary Research and Information Center, they constitute 19% of all women aged 18 and above.
In 2021, according to the Center, 58% of the killed women were Palestinian, constituting 73% of the total cases in which previous police complaints have been filed.
Consequently, the percentage of unsolved murders of Palestinian women last year accounted for 84%.
The State Comptroller’s report also revealed that Palestinian women constitute 40% of the residents in battered women shelters in the occupied 48 territories.
Not only do these Palestinian women rank high in percentages of being subjected to violence, but they also suffer from discrimination in many areas, whether through their low representation in decision-making positions, in areas of work and wages, family laws, and others.
Women are also part of the Palestinian national minority, at only 20 percent. They are therefore subject to multiple cycles of discrimination. They are women living in a patriarchal male-controlling society, in addition to their being women from a national minority against whom various violations are practiced.
Palestinian women’s backgrounds vary. They are not a homogeneous group, but women living in different cities and towns, Palestinian villages, mixed cities, secular communities, and religious groups.
Thus, multiple identities require giving women special consideration and taking into account their particular circumstances within the policies of the State, which is already systematically discriminating against them.
Deconstructing the concept of family
It is not possible to understand what happens to women when it comes to killing them, without taking a step back and deconstructing the concept of family, which turns into an arena of violence for them up to the point of killing them.
It constitutes a state of power that shifts from a general colonial space to a specific authoritarian aspect, in which women are classified as vulnerable and marginalized groups subject to patriarchal authority to the extent of murdering them.
Although we do not try to limit the murders of women to the family, it is implicitly understood that these murders occur everywhere, but it cannot be ignored that the majority of violent practices women are subjected to begin at home.
The Role of the Israeli Occupation Police
Not only did the occupation tighten its grip on the lives of Palestinian women outside the home, but it also extended its clutch to the family and directly contributed to the weakening of women within it.
All forms of discrimination practiced by the Israeli occupying army, such as unequal pay and the lack of adequate representation of women in decision-making circles, have been greatly reflected on them within the family.
So women became marginalized members, unable to go out of the house to work even if they wanted to, because of the impounded opportunities or sometimes even the lack of them.
So, it is a clear attempt to marginalize and weaken women, which ultimately leads to violence and even murder.
The Israeli police’s failure to deal with the murders of Palestinian women is most evident when compared to their treatment of Israeli women who are killed.
Research conducted by Women Against Violence on the Israeli police’s handling of murders of Palestinian and Israeli women on the identity of the killer and the filing of indictments, convictions, and sentences for crimes that occurred from 2008 to 2018, it was found that the police filed indictments by 94.3% when the victim was an Israeli woman.
While the percentage of Palestinian women reached 56%, the percentage of convictions constituted 75% when the victim was Israeli. And 34% when the victim was Palestinian.
When looking at the penalties resulting from the commission of these crimes, we note that Palestinian women have not been spared discrimination in this matter either.
The minimum penalties for murder or causing death were 14-18 years if the victim was Israeli and 5.5 years if the victim was Palestinian.
However, the attempt to access data on the murder of Israeli women remains available on the Internet and related legal websites. Access to information related to the killings of Palestinian women is met with many restrictions, and information is partially or completely lost.
Naela Awad, director of Women Against Violence, pointed out to “Sharika Wa Laken” the difficulties of trying to access this information.”
She said, “We have to ask the police and the Public Prosecution for the right to information, which reveals the apparent arbitrariness of the occupation police. This request is met with responses such as that passing this data according to the origin, religion, ethnicity, and area of residence of suspects, convicts, and victims/survivors may lead to stigmatization of groups as criminal, leading to harm to the public and its security. The occupation police often invoke the privacy of victims/survivors of crime and their families.”
She stressed that “Israel pursues systematic policies aimed at the killing of Palestinians for one another.”
State Failure to Provide Protection to Palestinian Women
In 2020, Palestinian Wafaa Abaherah, a mother of five children between the ages of 4 and 18, was killed.
Wafaa was stabbed by her ex-husband, Rabih Kanae’ana, who was chasing her until he crashed into her car and stopped her. Then he went to her and stabbed her several times with a sharp object, and left.
Wafaa’s ex-husband was known to the police as a violent man who had previously been convicted of felonies of violence, threats, and shootings. Before divorcing him, she went to a shelter for battered women and obtained a divorce from the Religious Court.
She was trying to obtain custody of her children. And despite the authorities entrusted with the situation, especially the judiciary and the police, knowledge about the situation, they did not provide the required protection for her.
This resulted in her murder by her ex-husband, and despite the presence of his file with the police, they did not find him until 3 weeks later.
In a report broadcast by Channel 11, the court said: “His actions are not simple, but they do not reach the dangerous level of domestic violence felonies.”
Wafaa’s case was not the only one, as the Palestinian community in the occupied territories witnessed dozens of similar cases. Some crimes even occurred in front of children.
What we can understand through the murder of Wafaa and others is the state’s failure to provide protection to women and prosecute the perpetrators, which contradicts its obligations under international law, including the Convention on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
Widespread Israeli weapons
The occupying power promotes itself as obsessed with all means of protection and does not overlook anything related to its national security.
But when it comes to Palestinian women and the weapons that kill them, the issues become complicated and it becomes “difficult for Israel to adopt policies that would limit the use of weapons,” she claims.
Naela Awad told “Sharika Wa Laken”, “The Israelis are concerned that Palestinians should kill one another, they want us to eliminate each other in the occupied interior, while they claim not to notice what is happening.”
She held the occupying authorities fully responsible for the lives of Palestinian women in the occupied territories and their loss of security and safety in their homes, villages, and cities.
Studies show a close correlation between the prevalence of femicides and the overall level of crime in Arab towns. That is, the higher the level of crime in the town due to the availability of weapons, the higher the number of femicides.
Although the occupying state always tries to relate the murders of Palestinian women to cultural and social reasons, we cannot overlook an important aspect: the instrument of killing.
In a study conducted by Baladna, on the murders that occurred between 2011 and 2019, it found that there were 64 killings on average in the Palestinian community within the occupying state.
This is twice the number of cases in occupied Israeli society and more than double the number of cases in the West Bank, which has almost double the population.
The research shows that in 74% of cases, a firearm was used, with the highest percentage of murders occurring in city centers (murders per population), especially in Jaffa, Ramleh, and Al-Ladd.
The main source of Israeli weapons deployed in the Arab community is the Israeli army itself, according to lawyer Maysaa Arshid.
Soldiers steal and sell weapons, especially since Israel does not have a constitution that allows the possession of weapons without a license from the state, which encourages many to sell them on the black market, turning the matter into a source of livelihood.
Weapons are stolen during the production process before they leave the factory. Thus, they are without a number i.e., untraceable.
Arshid also pointed out that, “There are companies that register as security services companies to obtain the right to own a gun license, when in fact they do not work and do not even have an office”.
“This process has been going on for years, which indicates that there is a state of saturation in the availability of weapons. Today, the greatest demand is for bullets, not the weapon itself. As long as this operation does not concern Israeli security, there is no scrutiny or surveillance.”
The issue of weapons cannot be dealt with in isolation from the historical context of Palestinians living under an occupying state.
A state that has neglected all Palestinian society in all areas of the economy and infrastructure, and dealt with the cases of violence that occur in it with utmost fragility, does not care about the spread of its deadly weapons in the Arab medium, because it harbors a colonial logic: “Let the Palestinians kill one another.”
Since the only body mandated to use force for protection, i.e., the Israeli Police does not use it, citizens resort to buying a weapon to protect themselves. Such as merchants and industry-owners, for example, who are exposed to theft and crimes in the absence of individual safety.
Nor can we exclude a patriarchal society that associates masculinity with power. In a minority society within a colonial state, possession of a weapon can often be a form of male power.
In the last decade, 126 women have been killed in the occupying state, 50% of them Arab women. Although the percentage is high, according to the Knesset Research Center, in research published in 2017 on addressing violence within the family, there are 14 shelters for women in Israel, only 2 of which are reserved for Arab women, constituting only 14% of these shelters.
Therefore, these figures are not in line with the reality of Palestinian women who are subjected to violence in the occupied territories, which reach 44% according to official reports of the Ministry of Social Services.
On the other hand, many frameworks, centers, and even individual initiatives try to support battered women by providing them with supportive services. Or through social services departments within local authorities, or through intertwining and integrating work with women’s, health or psychological institutions and shelters.
Some research by feminist organizations has revealed that the percentage of women who resort to social services departments is still very low.
The obstacles facing associations are numerous, including the scarcity of private budgets associated with commodity aid projects, and the lack of professional programs and materials aimed at combating violence against women. It also highlights the lack of specialized human resources working in the field of combating violence against women.
In an interview with “Sharika Wa Laken”, Shaza Sheikh Youssef, spokeswoman for the Tali’aat Movement, a feminist movement that tries to re-address the concept of national liberation, said that “the issue of violence against women cannot be addressed in isolation from our political issues. Therefore, we refuse to deal with cases of violence against women as individual issues, but we see them as feminist-political issues, and therefore we try to reconsider the concept of women’s liberation and highlight it as a societal liberation from all forms of oppression.”
Palestinian women try not to divide or separate the murders of women from the colonial context, as trying to limit their murders to individual or societal issues distances them from the whole and makes them part, which portrays them as an individual societal scourge that occurs with specific women, and has many bad cultural and societal repercussions. Women suffer from male domination, social oppression and discrimination, racism, and political exclusion.
In a survey of a representative sample of 556 people, conducted by Women Against Violence on the status of women in Arab society on a range of issues, it was found that 81% of Arab citizens stated that women are exposed to violence in its various forms. And 33% of Arab citizens believe that women bear a large part of the responsibility for the violence they are subjected to!