The “Hasbi Allah” phrase, (Almighty Allah is enough for me), that accompanied her clearly recorded tormented voice, doesn’t only reflect helplessness but also a conviction that what is happening couldn’t be resisted.
These were the last moments of the “collective execution” of the Palestinian Israa Gharib, as documented in a harrowing video leaked from the hospital where she was staying.
Yes, it was nothing less than a collective execution, and claiming otherwise is like refusing to acknowledge the responsibility of those who participated in this young woman’s tragedy.
I am Israa Gharib
Israa’s entire life and death are almost documented in detail on the social media platforms, the era’s platforms. She’s a young woman, almost 21 years old, from Beit Sahour in Bethlehem governorate, West Bank, who worked as a make-up artist.
She became well-known to friends and neighbors in her surroundings, thanks to her social media pages, where she used to share many photos showing her great ingenuity and passion for the profession. Most of her photos indicate that she was such an active, lively girl, who loved her professional and social life.
The news of her death that spread out in August 22nd, had many documented introductions, that became known through the leaked audio recordings that Israa shared with her friends, narrating her story. She told them about her outing with a potential suitor and how this incident turned into the topic of interest of her whole family, especially her female cousins, as some of their shared audio recordings with Israa were leaked, revealing disturbed familial relations between the uncles, which has been used to criticize Israa and her lifestyle.
Israa, who lived in a traditional conservative tribal society, seemed the weakest and most fragile among them. Hence, she was accused of bringing “shame” to the family, which is a pointless and meaningless accusation. The storm that her cousins stirred drove her brothers and relatives crazy. She was brutally beaten until her spine was fractured and then was taken to the hospital. Israa tried to hold it together and stay strong. She tried to consider that this was just one of the hardships that will pass quickly. So she posted a photo of her bruises to tell that she’s okay and will get over what happened, without further details or elaboration.
But her wish didn’t come true and her death was declared later. A harrowing short video, in which we could only hear Israa screaming for help, was leaked, probably by the staff at the hospital where she was staying. She was beaten brutally, on her hospital bed, until she dropped dead. No one tried to save her, neither the medical staff nor the hospital’s security guards. Not a single person. As if she was killed in an isolated island, not in a public hospital and amid witnesses who chose to remain silent. Her killers walked safely out of the hospital without being arrested or even summoned until days after her death. And despite the government prosecutor’s claim that an investigation was opened, no measures were taken.
Isn’t the horrifying murder of this girl worth detaining defendants on remand? Shouldn’t the hospital staff, Israa’s family and friends be summoned?
And who is that person who deactivated her accounts on social media, and started blackmailing her friends who leaked audio recordings, that documented what happened to Israa? Who is threatening to post photos of them, as per a Facebook page statement?
What’s worse is her family’s claim that she was possessed by a demon and that a sheikh tried to exorcise it out of her, according to the testimony of a so-called “forensic medicine”. Israa’s brother-in-law had the audacity to threaten to resort to “tribal judiciary” and to take to court anyone who accuses the family of the murder.
Women, clans and laws
Israa’s case took me years back, especially to 2000. When I met Sarhan, while working on a film about the murders of women, or what so-called “Crimes of Honour” in Jordan. Sarhan is a young man who was imprisoned for six months after killing his minor sister after she was raped by a family relative. The rapist fled and the family decided that the problem’s solution was to kill the girl, and of course Sarhan has taken advantage of the “Valid Excuse” that gives men the green light to kill women under the pretext of “Anger” and “Defending Honor”; a legal deficiency that most Arab countries haven’t got rid of yet, including ― of course ― the laws in the Palestinian territories where Israa lived and died.
In our meeting, Sarhan told me that he committed his crime due to familial and tribal pressure. In such contexts, the fact that his sister was a rape victim is overlooked. Hence, Sarhan and all the males in the family decided that the girl’s raped body isn’t her’s and that protecting her and treating her as well as helping her recover, are all of diminished importance. Worse still, they decided to kill her just to get rid of “Shame”. He explained to me how he, along with some family members, planned to commit his crime. It was a collective decision. He told me how killing his sister served him well and restored his place in the clan, which was looking down on him because his sister was raped. He told me back then “In our society, nothing but death shushes people”.
And this collective decision isn’t exceptional. Most researchers in the murders of women in our traditional communities, especially tribal communities, shed a light on this dimension. Sometimes, group planning for the crime reaches the extent of providing weapons and collusion with the authorities and law. The law does not tolerate a premeditated murder but the perpetrators, with the assistance of lawyers sometimes, say that they unintentionally killed women out of rage. That’s exactly what happened with Sarhan and is definitely happening with many others.
Who killed Israa?
Israa’s murder is one of these crimes; the collective murders, fully accepted by the family members.
In her recordings, defending herself against what her cousins said, she was blaming them for calling her a “Tramp”, a word used in Palestine as an insult to strong women. Israa, a veiled girl, was only a young woman who tried to create a social bubble ―using social media and her profession in the beauty field― that would help her live the way she wanted. What she did was a normal thing, but her relatives used it against her.
Israa paid for the male acquired privileges in our region, with her life. She was accused, beaten, killed and defamed. And it seems that she will be denied justice, with everything that’s going on from tribal pressures against the hospital where she was killed, and in light of the Palestinian Authority’s incapability of arresting a single person, days after her murder.
Israa is a hero and a victim at the same time. And we see the prevalence of similar stories of assault and aggression, she is not the first case, and this great interaction with her tragedy is only an indication of how this story struck a chord within our Arab societies.
We have victims that we must protect, and we have legal & cultural backgrounds that protect the aggressors. Yes, there is a collusion between tribal masculine cultures and religious values that have been centered on the idea that considers girls and women as ‘weak spots’ and ‘fitna’.
When the religion establishes a weak position for the women, and the clans exalt the role of men as leaders, breadwinners and owners of the lived and bodies of the family’s women. And when the law and authorities stand powerless and complicit, another victim like Israa will definitely fall again.
Many were killed unjustly before her, isn’t it time for an uprising to stop the tragedy from being repeated?