Palestinian women protest violence against women in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Sept. 26, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90) (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian women protest violence

Senior Palestinian Authority religious figures prohibit Arab women from submitting complaints over spouses to Israeli police.

By Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, Palestinian Media Watch

The preacher of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and head of the Supreme Muslim Council Sheikh Ikrima Sabri recently issued a life-endangering religious ruling (fatwa) prohibiting Palestinian Muslim women from submitting complaints to the Israeli police over their husbands’ behavior.

Upon hearing this prohibition, the Mufti of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, confirmed his support for the ruling:

“It is better to leave the matter to the good people and reliable figures [in our society] in order to deal with the issue.” [Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 3, 2019]

Palestinian women’s rights groups and others have repeatedly complained about violence against women in Palestinian society and have demanded that the PA enact laws to protect the women from domestic violence.

This ruling by two top Palestinian religious figures prohibiting Palestinian women from approaching Israeli police is indeed life endangering for some Palestinian women as it may remove a major deterrent against violence that women need for protection.

The serious problem of domestic violence against Palestinian women has been a major concern of women’s rights groups, for years:

“According to statistics recorded by the Center of Women’s Affairs in Gaza about the cases of violence reaching the center, 63% of women suffer from marital violence… 73 % suffer from verbal abuse, 24 % from physical abuse, 29.5 % from mental abuse… Zainab Al-Ghneimi, head of the Women’s Legal Counseling Center, said: ‘Married women are not forthcoming with these details about violence at the beginning, probably out of shame, and because the prevailing culture forbids discussing such secrets…’ Al-Ghneimi explained: “the main reason is probably that the man believes he has bought the woman and paid for her, and therefore she has become his property and must obey his orders. She clarified that unfortunately, this is the culture of the entire society, and that [Palestinian] laws give him the right of ownership, based on the man being the guardian, and he is the one who commands and prohibits.” [Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, March 29, 2015]

Yusuf Jabareen, an Israeli-Arab lecturer, has explained the severity of the problem, stating that it is deeply engrained in Palestinian culture:

“Part of our identity is to kill women, to beat women… Part of our identity is to attack women – we must acknowledge it. Every society has its defects and its charms. Palestinian identity has its charms, but there are things that we have adopted from Arab culture for centuries, which harm the individual and the woman. For example, in recent months, look how many women were murdered in Lod, in Ramle, and in Acre, and so on. That’s part of our identity.” [Official PA TV, June 24, 2012]

It is for these reasons that the recent religious ruling is so dangerous for Palestinian women. The Palestinian preacher claimed that the Israeli police are trying to destroy the Palestinian families and therefore women should not contact the police with complaints:

“Female spouses must not contact the police because they [the police] encourage female spouses to contact the courts, and this destroys Palestinian families and scatters and separates the children. These are the dangers and disadvantages of submitting a complaint to the police…” [Donia Al-Watan, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 3, 2019]

The Mufti emphasized that “the gist of the law is that women should not contact the police centers because this has an impact on the family cohesion.”

There was one part of the preacher’s words that could enable an outlet for women to complain, when he instructed women not to go to the Israeli police “as long as the men are treating the women properly”:

“Sabri told Donia Al-Watan: ‘The Jerusalem women must not contact the Israeli police to submit complaints against their spouses, especially when the police are attempting to separate spouses and destroy Palestinian families.’

“Sabri explained that as long as the men are treating the women properly, [the women] must preserve the family and not contact the Israeli police for complaints.” [Donia Al-Watan, Aug. 3, 2019]

However, the preacher did not explain what he considers “proper” or “improper” treatment of a wife by her husband. This is especially problematic because Palestinian religious leaders have explained on PA TV that Islamic law permits husbands to use violence against their wives in certain situations.

When a young Palestinian woman died in August in what is suspected to be an honor killing committed by her male relatives, Palestinian Media Watch commented that honor killings don’t happen in a vacuum but in societies where leaders either do nothing or even legitimize domestic violence. Sabri’s fatwa can be viewed as yet another sign that Palestinian leaders are not prepared to view domestic violence as a serious crime, but rather as a “family matter” that can be “mediated.”

‘No Justification for this Artificial Noise’

Following Sabri’s ruling prohibiting Palestinian women to contact the Israeli police on family matters, Sabri was interrogated by the Israeli police. Upon his release, Sabri reiterated his opinion that family matters should be dealt with by the Muslim community and its “mediation committees”:

“In our opinion, the topic is not suitable for this noise [to be made], because the topic is family-related. We are dealing with it with our consideration, with the mediation skills that Allah gave us. We are mediating and have mediation committees to preserve the family and protect the children from [the family] breaking apart… There is no justification for this artificial noise, and there is no reason for an interrogation. This is an internal family-related topic, and we are obligated to preserve our families and not uproot and lose the children, because any defect [in the relationship] between the spouses affects the children, and we will not allow the breaking apart of the family.” [Ma’an, independent Palestinian news agency, Aug. 26, 2019]

At the same time, the PA Ministry of Justice is working on amending existing laws to the standards of international conventions that the PA has signed. PA Minister of Justice Muhammad Al-Shalaldeh announced earlier this month that these amendments of the current penal code will include “ensuring the punishment of those who commit crimes from a motive of honor” (i.e., “honor killings”).

“Minister Al-Shalaldeh emphasized that the amendment of the law will include:

– Increasing the punishment for criminals in a manner that will ensure that they are consistent with the international conventions, and as part of this, creating equality between men and women;

– Ensuring the punishment of those who commit crimes from a motive of honor (i.e., “honor killings”);

– Criminalizing human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and young women;

– Criminalizing violence against children, exploitation of children in pornographic material, and child trafficking, and increasing the punishment for crimes committed against them;

– Criminalizing torture, and

– Increasing the punishment for crimes committed against people with disabilities, and criminalizing hysterectomies [for women with disabilities].” [Official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Sept. 10, 2019]



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