One year and a half after Israa Gharib’s murder, an evil jinni (ghost) has admitted responsibility for the young woman’s terrible death. The family had tried their utmost to save Israa, but the jinni had refused and killed her.
As a result, the crime’s main suspects, Israa’s two brothers and her sister’s husband, were released on bail in February. They paid 10,000 Jordanian dinars ($13,000). This is the cynical face of justice following the murder that shocked the nation.
Israa was killed on August 22, 2019. The 21-year-old was beaten to death, according to the indictment submitted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Prior to that, she had already been subjected to various forms of physical and psychological violence.
A video posted on social media, in which Israa can be heard screaming inside a Bethlehem hospital, implies she was being beaten. Yet, the doctors allowed her to return home with the same family that had brought her in. Shortly afterwards, she was announced dead.
According to her family, she had fallen from the balcony of the family house. She had a broken spine and many bruises. The police investigation, however, indicated that Israa had been savagely beaten.
In December 2020, the name Israa Gharib returned to the forefront of the debate when activists expressed concerns over an attempt to “cover up the case” and “help the perpetrators get away with it.”
They based their fears on several social media reports indicating the authorities intended to release the accused, following family demands they should be tried while out on bail. And that is exactly what happened.
In February, following a series of requests by their lawyers, the defendants were released, and the trial continued with them out of jail.
“The decision to release the accused was shocking, although expected in a general context in which punitive and protective legislation concerning women is extremely fragile,” said Muhammad Al-Najjar, legal advisor of the Shams Human Rights and Democracy Media Center. “Moreover, there were the rumors that preceded the decision to release them.”
The Palestinian territories have no proper legislative system effectively contributing to reducing violence against women. Existing laws are old and dilapidated – a mixed bag from the Ottoman, British, Jordanian and Egyptian eras. So, the Jordanian Personal Status Law is applicable in the West Bank, while the Egyptian-issued Family Rights Law (FRL) governs the Gaza Strip.
Women, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), yet that has not resolved the regulatory crisis.
“We are facing a legislative crisis,” Najjar said. “The forces opposing the adoption of the proposed Family Protection Law are using false slogans to distort this extremely important bill and aim to delay its release for years to come.”
Hence, the extreme importance of public opinion pressuring the judiciary into action. Israa’s murder in the time required about a week for the judiciary to act. And it only did so after demonstrators took to the streets to demand accountability.
Kifah Mounasara, a specialist in criminology and criminal psychology, confirmed that, at first, the judiciary’s handling of Israa’s case was positive, as it acted and allowed the public to follow court sessions. Also, the court panel consisted of three judges. However, following changes in the Palestinian legal system, the number of judges in the last four sessions was reduced to one.
“This is a very dangerous issue with an eye on examining criminal cases and achieving justice,” said Mounasara. “It is not in the interest of the victim.”
Femicide on the Rise
Femicides in Palestine have witnessed a significant increase in recent years. According to the Amal Coalition to Combat Violence against Women and the NGOs Forum to Combat Violence against Women, femicides in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were distributed as follows:
According to the report Women and Men in Palestine: Trends & Statistics issued by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are many kinds of violence against women: verbal, physical, psychological and economic.
Sometimes violence turns lethal. In that case women are often subjected to torture and abuse before being killed by a male family member. The patriarchal system deals with women only as bodies, for the male family members to use as they please.
According to the report, the rate of psychological violence is highest among females aged 18 to 29 who have never been married. Physical violence ranks second, with women in the Gaza Strip suffering more than those in the West Bank.
A Patriarchal Culture
Najjar explained that the Palestinian male grows up in a patriarchal society which upholds certain notions regarding violence as a means to control women. He has been subjected to an education that deludes him into thinking it is his right and duty to defend the “family honor.”
In a way, both parties, whether male or female, are the victim of such societal pressures. According to Najjar, Israa’s murder, which is only one among hundreds over the years, cannot be isolated from the Palestinian context.
“Unfortunately, we are facing a situation in which the shortcoming of the legislative system are combined with weak judicial practices and a general misogynistic culture,” he said. “It is an integrated system which makes women pay in blood and violates their right to live and their physical mental health.”
“Israa’s brother is a dentist and her sister’s husband has a master’s degree,” said Mounasara, who was present at the Israa trial as an observer on behalf of the Bkaffi Movement against domestic violence. “We’re not talking here about a family with a low level of education and culture.”
This article was translated from Arabic to English by Fatima Jaber.