RAMALLAH, West Bank – A Gaza teen stabbed to death by her brother while she prayed in her room has become the latest addition to a grim statistic: Palestinian women killed by relatives, often for allegedly shaming the family.
Twenty-six women were slain by relatives in the West Bank and Gaza in 2013, twice as many as the year before, according to official figures. The rise stems from mounting economic difficulties in the Palestinian territories, compounded by ongoing leniency for those killing in the name of "family honor" and social acceptance of violence against women, women's rights activists said Wednesday.
They urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to repeal sections of a penal code that allows for short sentences of at most a few years for the perpetrators. Abbas suspended one article of the code in 2011, but others remain on the books, said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official and former legislator.
Ashrawi said she repeatedly has urged Abbas to adopt legal reforms, especially of articles that discriminate against women, but so far to no avail. She said she last met with Abbas in November, but that he referred the matter again to his legal adviser.
She said that male politicians often brush aside women's concerns, with the argument that more important issues are at stake, such as ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.
Ashrawi said archaic laws harming women also undercut Palestinian aspirations. "We are fighting for freedom and human dignity," she said. "How can you deprive women of all these things?"
Abbas aides, including his adviser on legal affairs, did not return requests for comment.
So-called honor killings are committed regularly in traditional Arab societies that enforce strict gender separation and view an unmarried women's unsupervised contact with a man as a stain on the family reputation.
The most recent killing was carried out Saturday in the town of Bani Suheila in southern Gaza, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, which cited a police report.
The victim was identified as 18-year-old Islam al-Shami. The girl was stabbed in the neck with a kitchen knife while she was praying in her room, the rights group said. Her 21-year-old brother was arrested and later told police he killed his sister to defend the family honor, according to the rights group.
In the West Bank, a mentally disabled 21-year-old woman was strangled by her brother in September, ostensibly over family honor, according to the Independent Commission for Human Rights, another Palestinian group. Her brother is in prison over the killing.
In all, 26 women were killed by their relatives in 2013, compared to 13 the year before, according to Palestinian government statistics. All were labeled "honor killings," though in some cases, the motives appeared less clear-cut or ambiguous.
"There is a clear increase in so-called honor killings in Palestinian society," said Rabiha Diab, the women's affairs minister in the West Bank.
In some cases, perpetrators claimed to have killed in the name of family honor, when in effect they appeared to have had financial or other motives and hoped to benefit from relatively lenient punishments, she said.
Some human rights groups provided slightly different figures, depending on their classification of killings of women by relatives.
Perpetrators spend at most a few years in prison.
In Gaza, the longest sentence has been three years, said Anam al-Inchasi, a judge.
"Judges are members of the same society in which honor killings take place," he said, referring to the prevailing attitude that violence against women is an internal family matter.
Barzak reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed to this report.