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What is the so-called 'honor' in honor killings?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 23rd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The United Nations estimates that 5,000 women and girls are murdered annually by male relatives as punishment for behavior judged to have damaged the family's reputation. Called "honor killings," these barbaric acts are in and by themselves very dishonorable.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - It's estimated that between 2007 and 2010, 29 women in the West Bank were officially reported murdered in the name of honor. The actual number of slain women there is believed to be far higher, as the Palestinian Interior Ministry refuses to divulge exact statistics on honor killings.

The West Bank has a population of about four million, and Gaza about 1.5 million.

"Thirteen Palestinian women were (known) murdered in the Palestinian Territories in 2012 in so-called 'honor killings'," Soraida Hussein from the Palestinian Women's Affairs Technical Committee says. The committee is an advisory group to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

"The majority of these murders had nothing to do with protecting the honor of families. They were carried out for various criminal reasons. Often women are killed during family or financial disputes, and then the men claim the honor killing defense to get reduced sentences," Hussein says.

Palestinian law in the West Bank is based on Articles 97 to 100 of the Jordanian Penal Code, which reduces sentences for any act of battery or murder committed in a "state of rage."
Sentences for men found guilty of killing female relatives in crimes of passion in Gaza also reduces sentences relating to declared sexual indiscretion and family honor.

According to the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in Ramallah, only a small minority of men who carry out these murders are ever convicted. When they are the sentences are generally a few months.

While some these killings hide behind the skirts of religion, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says that this is utter nonsense.

"Nowhere in the Quran is the murder of anybody justified on the basis of sexual indiscretion or rage. Our organization is supported by religious leaders from various backgrounds who condemn these murders and in fact call for stronger penalties against the perpetrators."

In fact, contrary to popular belief the crimes of passion laws were in fact inherited from the region's colonial occupiers including the Turks, the French and the British.

"People are struggling to feed their families in a crippled economy. Palestinians are being indiscriminately killed by Israel on an almost daily basis. Sometimes women's rights become secondary in people's minds. Despite this there is no excuse for not at the very least introducing new legislation.

"The laws need to be changed as do the school curriculums and the attitude of the media which all reinforce the idea that women are inferior to men. I don't see that happening under the current leadership especially as Fatah (the ruling party in the West Bank) and the even more conservative Hamas (in Gaza) are in the process of uniting," Hussein says.

"But the younger generation will eventually take over and they are far more progressive and that is when change will eventually come."

A version of this story was first published by Inter Press Service news agency.

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