By Diana Moukalled- Lebanese author and journalist
From the deadly silence of the hospital hall, an anonymous, invisible hand records the sounds of the girl’s final agony. Hasbi Allah, God is all I need, she screams from the bottom of her broken spine. She repeats the plea to the sound of brutal punches. She is beyond helpless. She is surrendering to her fate. The violent blows continue to be heard until her final breath.
The final moments of the “collective execution” of the Palestinian Israa Ghrayeb were captured in the harrowing video, leaked from the hospital.
Nothing less than a collective execution, indeed. Claiming otherwise would be exonerating those who participated in this young woman’s tragedy.
I am Israa
Israa’s entire life and death are documented in detail on the social media platforms. Hailing from Beit Sahour in the Governorate of Bethlehem in the West Bank, this buoyant 21-year-old makeup artist loved her social life and profession. She became well-known in her surroundings, thanks to her social media pages, where her photos showed great ingenuity and passion for makeup.
As news of her death spread on 22 August, her girlfriends leaked audio recordings of Israa narrating her story. She spoke of her date with a potential suitor and the subsequent mayhem in the family circle. One conversation between Israa and her female cousins reveals old feuds among uncles for which Israa, who seems to have been the most vulnerable in her tribal environment, became a scapegoat. Uncles and cousins turned their ire upon her lifestyle, and accused her of bringing disgrace on the family. A foundless and meaningless accusation.
The commotion stirred by her female cousins ended up inflaming the brothers and relatives’ anger. They beat their sister so brutally her spine was fractured and she was hospitalized. At this point, Israa tried to pull herself together and stay strong. From her hospital bed, she posted a picture with her bruises, and let everyone know she was okay: she would soon overcome this “passing hardship.”
But her wish did not come true. A short video, most probably taken by a hospital staff, was leaked, in which Israa screams for help as she is beaten to death on her hospital bed. Neither medical staff nor security guards came to her rescue, as if she were killed on some isolated island, not in a public hospital under the eyes of witnesses who chose to stand by and remain silent.
Her killers walked safely out of the hospital. Days have passed since her death and not a single person was arrested. Despite the general prosecutor’s claim that an investigation was opened, no real measures have been taken.
Isn’t the horrifying murder of this girl worth an arrest?
Shouldn’t the hospital staff be summoned? Israa’s family? Her friends?
And who is that person who deactivated Israa’s accounts on social media, and blackmailed and threatened to publish pictures of the girlfriends who leaked the audio recordings?
What adds to the tragedy is her family’s claim that Israa had been possessed by demons and was being exorcised, according to the testimony of so-called “forensic medicine”. Israa’s brothers-in-law went as far as to threaten to bring to a “tribal court” whoever continues to point fingers at the family.
Women, clans and laws
Israa’s case took me back to the year 2000 when I was working on a film about “honor crimes” in Jordan. Sarhan was one of the people I met, a young man who killed his teenage sister after she was raped by a relative. He served six months in jail for the murder. The rapist had fled and the family decided that killing the girl was the only solution to “shame.” Of course, Sarhan took advantage of the law that justifies the killing of women under the circumstance of “anger” caused by an “offended honor,” a legal deficiency still prevalent in most Arab countries, including in the Palestinian territories where Israa lived and died.
Sarhan says he committed the crime under pressure from his family and tribe. A rape victim or not, that was irrelevant. The males in the family decided that since the girl was raped, her body did not belong to her anymore. So protecting and helping her recover were not necessary anymore. Sarhan planned the crime along with other family members. It was a collective decision. The killing elevated him in the eyes of his clansmen who had been berating him because his sister got raped. “In a society like ours, nothing short of death would make people shut up,” he told me back then.
This collective participation in the crime is by no means the exception to the rule. Research into our traditional, and especially tribal communities, shows the role of the group in planning a girl’s murder. This cooperation goes as far as providing the weapon, and working in collusion with the authorities and the law. If the law does not condone premeditated murders, lawyers always find a way to prove that the perpetrator executed the crime “unintentionally,” “on the spur of the moment,” under the impulse of “rage”. That is how Sarhan got away with it. And many others still do.
Who killed Israa?
Israa’s murder belongs to the same “collective” category; it was accepted, initiated and planned by the family.
In another recording, her female cousins call her a “tramp,” an insult often hurled at strong, independent Palestinian women. Israa can be heard defending herself. All Israa, who wore a hijab, did was create her own social bubble -using social media and her profession in the beauty field- that would help her live the way she wanted. This was the most normal thing for a young woman to do. But her relatives used it against her.
With her own life, Israa paid the price for the male privileges in our region. She was accused, brutalized, killed and defamed. And it looks like she will also be denied justice, with all the tribal pressure on the hospital, and in light of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to arrest a single person, days after her murder.
Israa is both the hero and the victim of her own story. Stories like hers abound in our area. The great empathy that Israa’s death has generated is an indication of how deep a chord this tragedy struck in Arab societies.
In a social and legal culture that protects aggressors, we must look out for our victims. There is a collusion between a masculine tribal culture and a religious establishment that defines the essence of women as “inferior” and “a cause for trouble (fitna.)”
Isn’t it stated in the Prophetic Sayings that hell is populated by women?
When religion denigrates women, and clans exalt males as breadwinners and owners of the lives and bodies of women, and when authorities stand by and watch complacently, there will be other victims like Israa.
And, before Israa, all those girls who were also unjustly killed?
Isn’t it high time we rose to stop the tragedy from being repeated?