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Palestinian women's killings spark outcry over lax laws

Rights activists march in Bethlehem to demand tougher punishment for the killing of women by relatives. So-called honor killings claimed the lives of 29 women in the West Bank from 2007 to 2010, critics say.

August 03, 2012|By Maher Abukhater, Los Angeles Times
  • Palestinian women march in Bethlehem to demand tougher punishment for the killing of women by relatives. A woman was stabbed to death this week on a busy street in the city. Her husband is in custody.
Palestinian women march in Bethlehem to demand tougher punishment for… (Majdi Mohammed, Associated…)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Four recent cases of Palestinian women slain allegedly at the hand of relatives have prompted women and human rights groups to demand tougher laws against domestic violence and more stringent enforcement.

Several female activists marched Thursday through the streets of Bethlehem in the West Bank demanding justice for women in this patriarchal and traditional society. They also demanded severe punishment for men who kill or batter a female family member.

Women carried placards reading "No to murder, yes to life" and "Shame on us Palestinians who kill our women."

The march, which followed other protests this week, was prompted by a slaying Monday on a busy street in Bethlehem. A 28-year-old woman was stabbed several times in the chest and her throat was slashed while people stood by and watched. She later died at a hospital.

Her 33-year-old husband is in custody, and authorities say they expect to file murder charges against him.

Activists say the victim had been hospitalized before and had sought help from police but that no charges were brought. Instead the husband was required only to promise that he would stop beating his wife, they say.

After the woman's gruesome slaying, activists said that the Palestinian territories' laws against domestic violence are too lax. One allows for a sentence of as little as six months for a killing committed under the claim of safeguarding a family's honor. Women's groups want such killings punishable by life in prison.

According to Palestinian human rights groups, 29 women in the West Bank were the victims of such killings by a relative from 2007 to 2010.

In July, a man allegedly killed his high school daughter in the West Bank town of Tulkarm; another man is accused of beating his daughter to death in Hebron; and a father and brother allegedly killed a 19-year-old woman in the Gaza Strip. All apparently were so-called honor killings, and the suspects are in custody and facing murder charges, though Palestinian judges have been known to convert such indictments to honor killings during trial.

The Bethlehem case was different. Police say the couple had been at odds for several years and that the wife, Nancy Zaboun, who worked at a clothing store in Bethlehem, had filed for divorce. The couple had three children, ages 8, 5 and 18 months, who are now in foster care.

Zaboun's family initially refused to bury her, demanding that her killer first be put to death, but the relatives later agreed to burial.

The Palestinian Authority opposes capital punishment, though it is still on the books from the days when Jordan controlled the West Bank. Last month, three people were put to death in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip; one of those cases involved the killing of a relative.

Women's organizations say severe punishment and laws that take seriously the killing of a female family member would suffice.

Abukhater is a special correspondent.

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