Israa Ghareeb and Why Palestinian Women’s Lives Should Not Be Devalued
I was on my way home after spending the week vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard and having a solo retreat in the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, when I read the story about Israa Ghareeb, a 21-year-old Palestinian woman who was brutally murdered by her father, brothers, and brother-in-law in Bethlehem, after posting a video on social media of a casual meetup at a cafe with her soon to be fiancé.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I made my way home in a Lyft to my parent’s home in New Orleans’ suburbs.
Fully aware of my own privilege as a Palestinian-American woman, I immediately felt a sense of guilt, realizing having the ability to travel alone as a woman is a luxury not afforded by all women like me.
Privilege is something my parents have made me hyper aware of.
Yet even within my own immediate and extended family, I have seen the way women are not valued in the same way men are. I have been made to feel uncomfortable, ashamed even for saying certain things, or wearing certain clothes in the presence of other men in our family. Many women who I share intimate relationships within my own family have been forced into lives they had no choice to lead.
I realize that we can not determine the families and circumstances we are born into. Perhaps that is why I was so deeply disturbed by Israa’s story, with the knowing that it could just as easily be me, my sister, or my cousin, born in another time and place.
I went to sleep that night with a burdened heart thinking of Israa. The next morning I awoke to news that my mother’s uncle had passed away in the West Bank, a man whom both her and my father were quite fond of. His passing away conjured a sad, old nostalgia for their childhood in a home where they have long felt disconnected from.
Later on in the day, my mother showed me a Facebook video of the funeral that had been recorded by a man from the small town and uploaded to a page meant to inform people who have scattered in the diaspora across the world - a 21st century way to stay connected to a country that is in many ways still living with 20th century ideologies.
Watching the video on my mother’s phone, I noticed there were only men in attendance at the funeral. Men carrying the deceased, men reading the customary Fatha which is a surah from the Quran read during funerals, men mourning. I wondered, where are the women - the wife of my mother’s uncle, the daughter, the grand daughters. But I didn’t ask, giving my mother the quiet space to mourn undisturbed.
At Sunday dinner with my parents in the evening, I asked the question. Why weren’t there any women at the funeral? My father angrily yelled that the culture didn’t allow women to attend funerals there. He would be damned he said, if his wife, the woman he has spent and built his life with would not be present to bury him at his own funeral.
This stirred up thoughts of Israa again. I told them what had happened just the day before.
It has been demonstrated in several, significant ways that women within the Palestinian culture are not regarded or valued in the same way that men are. But more simply, where is the humanity in Israa’s murder? How is it that a father who conceived and raised his own daughter could bring himself to physically, brutally murder her?
Israa’s story is not an isolated incident. In 2019, 14 women have been killed in the West Bank, and four women have been killed in Gaza in so called “honor killings”.
How can these two words co-exist?
The day after news of Israa’s death was made known, about 100 people (mostly women) showed up to protest for justice for Israa, but it will be a hard fought battle further complicated by the current occupation.
The Palestinian Authority, the ruling government body in the West Bank houses an outdated, unjust, and dysfunctional legal system for gender-based violence and crimes. A penal code, Article 99, which was adopted from the Jordanian legal system when it previously controlled the now Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem before the 1967 war, “grants judges the ability to dramatically reduce sentences,” when “extenuating circumstances are present”, according to an article written by Megan Giovannetti and published in the Middle East Monitor.
Extenuating circumstances = women.
Even if they are charged with the crime, the heinous men who commit them are protected by the pseudo-legal system.
Furthermore, the Palestinian parliament has been ineffective since the 2000 Antifada, and no significant political discussions or voting have occurred since 2006 when the Palestinian Authority split between political parties, Hamas which controls Gaza, and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, leaving the justice system, among many others, in limbo.
If the law does not exist to protect women, how can we expect the culture to?
And while law is a major part of ensuring women are protected and receive the justice they deserve, I believe that the culture starts at home. It starts with our own mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. What you teach at home is taken to school, the mosque, the coffeeshop, the university, the workplace.
What we allow will continue.
It is a grave and dangerous mistake to believe that these type of awful crimes happen in foreign places that we are not connected to. Women’s rights in Palestine is women’s rights for all women. After all, consider the current policies and discussions of our own country at this time. To say that we still have a lot of work to do is a massive understatement.
But as Palestinians, it is our responsibility to take the lead. It begins with holding the men in our households accountable for their words, their actions, their behaviors. It means having honest conversations with them consistently. It means treating our daughters the same way we treat our sons.
It means encouraging the pursuit of education and skillsets for the women in our families. It means staying aware and informed when these tragedies occur, and educating ourselves on the activists and leaders who are committed to fighting for these causes. It means speaking Israa’s names in our families and households and sharing her story, and making it undeniably clear that we condemn it. We can all do better, myself and my own family included.
My father once told me that writing was my weapon, and that I should use it. How could I sit back and not speak to Israa’s story? How could I not write to give life to her name?
That night, I went to bed with Israa on my mind again, much sadder and angrier than the previous night. Her voice and life wasn’t only silenced, she took her last breath screaming for mercy at the hands of her own father and brothers.
We can not sit back and continue to allow a culture that deems women’s lives worthless. At first thought, Israa’s world and mine seem so different. But are they really? As I drifted to sleep, I imagined Israa in a café on her phone snapping selfies, and it felt strikingly familiar.
No, I am Israa too.