Abbas Wakes Up to Honor Killings

May 16th, 2011 at 10:36 am David Frum | 18 Comments |

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As Palestinians attempt to invade Israel, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas suggests it may at last be time to punish men who murder their female relatives.

President Mahmoud Abbas has directed the judiciary to award the “utmost punishment” to perpetrators of honor killings, his secretary-general said Friday.

The announcement was made during a talk show on satellite channel Palestine TV to discuss the murder of 20-year-old Ayah Barad’iyya by her uncle.

Abbas’ secretary-general At-Tayyib Abdul-Rahim telephoned the presenter and announced on air that the president had ordered a legal amendment to end leniency in courts for men who kill to protect “family honor.”

Director of Ma’an Network’s TV department and women’s rights activist Nahid Abu T’eima participated in the talk show. She had been campaigning for an amendment to the law, and burst into tears on air when she heard the announcement.

“This is a historical accomplishment to amend the 1960 penal law which belongs to the dark ages. Ma’an News Agency’s coverage has helped amend that law which human right groups have been trying to change for 15 years,” said Abu T’eima. 

A live transmission from Surif village, where Ayah Barad’iyya was drowned by her uncle in April 2010, showed thousands of residents applauding the decision. Many also burst into tears.

The university student’s body was found earlier this month in a deserted well three kilometers from her home in Surif, over a year after she was killed.

Her uncle confessed to police that he had tied her up and drowned her, with the help of three friends, because he disapproved of a marriage proposal she had been offered. 

Some Jordanian laws passed between 1948 and 1967 still operate in the West Bank. A Jordanian penal code from 1960, which commutes sentences for men who kill or attack female relatives accused or suspected of “dishonoring” their families, has never been repealed by the Palestinian Legislative Council.

The PLC has been defunct since 2007 — following the internal Palestinian division — but rights groups have requested the penal code’s repeal by presidential decree. 

In 2009, Abbas promised to change the law by International Women’s Day in 2010, but the reforms were never made.

Maybe before launching attacks on its neighbors, the PA should complete the work of dragging its penal code into the 18th century?


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18 Comments so far ↓

  • jerseychix

    I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan and my host sister was nearly the victim of an honor killing. Guns were drawn and it was bad. The only thing that stopped them was that I was there.

    Honor killings are barbaric and backwards and must be stopped. But the only people who can stop the are the men who perpetrate them. make it unacceptable, throw the guilty in jail and protect the women.

  • Elvis Elvisberg

    Maybe before launching attacks on its neighbors, the PA should complete the work of dragging its penal code into the 18th century?

    Maybe if Israel didn’t insist on keeping its neighbors in a 15th-century level of poverty, those neighbors would be more likely to enact views of individual rights that industrialized nations hit upon once their per capita gdp exceeded a few thousand dollars.

    • Moderate

      @Elvis Elvisberg

      Notwithstanding your premise that Israeli is keeping its neighbors poor (which is utterly false anyway), are you actually arguing that moral virtue can’t exist without material security?

      Money first, then virtue later? Are you actually arguing that?

      We already know that you hate Israel. The real surprise is to hear your astoundingly low opinion of the poor.

      • Elvis Elvisberg

        Women didn’t have the right to vote in the US until 1920. A common European punishment for women who talked too much, until the 19th century, was the Scold’s Bridle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scold's_bridle

        As a matter of history, views that folks in the US today view as common sense matters of individual rights did not come about until the past generation or so. (The demise of Jim Crow took a great deal of effort).

        These are uncontroversial, universally known facts about economic development.

        Could you be any more ignorant of history?

        • Moderate

          Elvis Elvisberg:

          As a matter of history, views that folks in the US today view as common sense matters of individual rights did not come about until the past generation or so. (The demise of Jim Crow took a great deal of effort).

          This is the opening paragraph in a high school student’s essay on moral relativism, not a serious argument.

          These are uncontroversial, universally known facts about economic development.

          You haven’t listed any. Was this some failed attempt at a meta-joke?

        • Elvis Elvisberg

          Today, you think it’s commonsense that blacks and whites should be able to marry.

          40 years ago, this was controversial (and in fact, I’m pretty sure it would have failed in a vote up til around 1990).

          Today, you think it’s common sense that people shouldn’t be allowed to own slaves. But in 1860– when our pc gdp was around the same level as the West Bank today– it was a matter of some dispute.

          These are historical facts about political development.

          When times are good, people are more willing to expand rights to out groups. That’s the thesis of this book, and I don’t see how it could be controversial. http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/61208/joseph-e-stiglitz/the-ethical-economist

          Of course, the practice of honor killings is appalling and immoral, and Abbas is quite right to call for greater punishment of it.

          But when Frum says that Abbas should “drag the PA into the 18th century,” he is ignoring the manner in which rights have historically been expanded. As a matter of historical fact– and I’d be pleased to consider counterexamples, if you would like to present some– impoverished, blockaded countries don’t produce Renaissances and Enlightenments.

        • Moderate

          Elvis Elvisberg:

          But when Frum says that Abbas should “drag the PA into the 18th century,” he is ignoring the manner in which rights have historically been expanded. As a matter of historical fact– and I’d be pleased to consider counterexamples, if you would like to present some– impoverished, blockaded countries don’t produce Renaissances and Enlightenments.

          This is so easily rebutted it’s almost embarrassing. The 2008 GDP per capita in the West Bank was $2900. That puts it ahead of 60 other countries, countries which with only a small handful of exceptions (all of them Islamic), do not practice honor killings.

          Link: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2004rank.html?countryName=West%20Bank&countryCode=we&regionCode=me&rank=168#we

          Meanwhile, the country with the single highest GDP per capita in the world – Qatar – has a problem with honor killings. It’s almost as if some variable other than income correlates with barbaric behavior!

          Bonus: GDP per capita of $2900 is not much by today’s standards, but in the 1950s it would have placed the West Bank amongst the 20 richest nations on Earth. Richer than Hungary, Japan, Brazil, or South Korea. Those nations, with less money at their disposal, still somehow managed to resist the impulse to savagery.

        • Elvis Elvisberg

          Of course, there’s an issue in many Muslim countries with honor killings.

          As the UN put it a while back, “The report of the Special Rapporteur… concerning cultural practices in the family that are violent towards women (E/CN.4/2002/83), indicated that honour killings had been reported in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Yemen, and other Mediterranean and Persian Gulf countries, and that they had also taken place in western countries such as France, Germany and the United Kingdom, within migrant communities.” It’s a terrible thing, and Abbas is quite right, and quite late, to push for greater punishments to end it.

          What Frum’s “LOLPA!” comment elides is that the way forward is not, “the beatings will continue until morals improve,” it’s that, as commentators since at least Montesquieu have taken note, economic development changes morals.

          Blockaded, impoverished countries don’t have popular flowerings of individual rights and achievement. This is not controversial.

    • Levedi

      Classic “and you also” logical fallacy, Elvis. Regardless of Israel’s wrongs toward the PA, they do not cause these honor killings or the culture of violence toward women. Poverty is not the root cause of oppressive patriarchal systems. The blame for that lies squarely on the Palestinians.

      • Elvis Elvisberg

        Poverty is not the root cause of oppressive patriarchal systems.

        I dunno, Levedi. It’s a complicated relationship, for sure. But how many societies in world history would have been considered “non-oppressive, non-patriarchal” by today’s standards before 1900, or heck, 1970? How many poverty-stricken countries today have generally non-patriarchal systems? I’m thinking the answer to both questions is “0.”

        You are quite right, as I wrote below in response to Primrose, that Israel does not cause these honor killings.

        Obviously I stated my point poorly, as people in this thread keep on taking issue with my post by saying things that I agree with. My point was that development is the way out of this situation– that in almost every case, political-moral development comes on the crest of economic development.

        Honor killings are a terrible, brutal thing. Nor are they surprising– when they are present in a society, as I believe they were in the society we today call Palestinian long before the folks we today call Israelis had any remote power over it, they are unlikely to disappear unless conditions change for the better. Today’s Israeli policy didn’t cause honor killings; nor does it enable the change that renders them less likely. And given Israel’s near-total power over Palestinian areas, that is a point worth making.

        • texasmom

          Elvis, you said it much more articulately. No, honor killings are not Israel’s fault. But the situation over which Israel has all of the control is not conducive to addressing problems such as honor killings.

        • Elvis Elvisberg

          Ha, well, unclear that I said it better than you did, as I earned a whole bunch of people disagreeing with my post by saying stuff that I actually agree with… but kind of you to say so, and thanks for providing a well-stated, calmer, less inflammatory version of the point I was trying to make.

  • Primrose

    OK Elvis. Israel can be faulted on many things but honor killings is not one of them. Let us also remember that some of the population pressures the Palestinians face are dDue to the PLO encouraging Palestinians to out-populate Israelis. Women were and are treated like prize cattle, whether or not they wanted quite so many children. Also, not all Palestinian suffering is Israeli. In places like Syria and Lebanon, Palestinians are denied the right to become citizens in countries they are born in and kept in squalid “camps”. Not so Israeli born Palestinians.

    I have never understood why people in the Islamic world who practice pre-Islamic traditions, are given a free pass on this issue. Those traditions suck. They treat women exceptionally badly. They need to change and yet all we need to do is say oh it is their culture and all is well.

    Other peoples who have been colonized, much more thoroughly, don’t get this same pass. Even if I bought the view that Israel counted as a catastrophe (and I don’t), it still isn’t to fault for practices that stretch back 2000 or so years.

    • Elvis Elvisberg

      OK Elvis. Israel can be faulted on many things but honor killings is not one of them

      That is absolutely 100% true.

      I was just responding to Frum’s barb towards Abbas’s move to crack down on this awful, inhumane practice.

      It’s not a surprise that when a group of people is denied the ability to develop economically–
      and make no mistake, that is what is happening: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/2010/10/collective-punishment-in-gaza-2/ — you don’t get a peaceful parliamentary democracy solicitous of individual rights. That is not a controversial statement, I don’t think.

  • Jamie

    “Maybe if Israel didn’t insist on keeping its neighbors in a 15th-century level of poverty, those neighbors would be more likely to enact views of individual rights that industrialized nations hit upon once their per capita gdp exceeded a few thousand dollars.”

    Right… Palestinian men are blameless in the barbaric murdering of their female relatives because the big bad Israeli boogieman keeps them poor…

    Seriously, this has nothing to do with failings in Israel and everything to do with failings within Palestinian, and to a certain degree degree within Islamic, culture. There have been several prominent honor killings in Canada over the last few years by Muslim men… were these also the result of Israeli policy? Extreme poverty isn’t only a Palestinian phenomenon, not by any means. Yet how many honor killings do you read about in South America or Asia? At some point, you have to hold the people carrying out these acts responsible.

  • texasmom

    I think we’re conflating two different issues, thanks to Mr. Frum’s wording. Yes, honor killings by some extreme segments of the Muslim faith must be stopped. The most effective way to address the problem is to address the whole problem, which includes ignorance and extreme poverty.

    The second issue was brought on by Mr. Frum’s introduction, “As Palestinians attempt to invade Israel…” What does that even mean, and what does it have to do with honor killings? It was an unnecessary barb at a whole population under collective punishment by Israel. (And a Palestinian conspiracy to “overpopulate?” They have no say in the matter of their own population?)

    We can disagree about Israeli v. Palestinian statehood, and we can disagree about how to stop honor killings among extremists. Surely, however, we can unpack the issues a little more, rather than tying them together in a neat X-is-Evil package.

  • ProfNickD

    Faulting Israel for Muslim honor killings is roughly the same as claiming “The devil made me do it.”

  • John Frodo

    Thats nothing just wait for the Heart of Darkness Rabbit Bomb Blues

    http://thinkingaboot.blogspot.com/