III. Social and Legal Obstacles to Reporting Violence and Seeking Redress

Palestinian women and girls rarely report violence to the authorities. This is true regardless of whether the crime is spousal abuse, child abuse, rape, incest, or “honor” crimes. The low rate at which women and girls report such crimes is a symptom of the significant social and legal obstacles still in the way of meaningful gender-based violence prevention and response in the OPT.

According to a Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) survey of 4,212 households in the OPT conducted in December 2005 and January 2006, only a small number of victims of violence sought any form of redress with Palestinian institutions.92 Twenty-three percent of the women surveyed had experienced physical violence, 61.7 percent psychological violence, and 10.5 percent sexual violence at the hands of their husbands. Just 1.2 percent of the women polled who had experienced domestic violence had filed a formal complaint against their husbands with the police; less than 1 percent had sought counseling and protection at the police station.

Women’s NGOs attribute the underreporting of violence to a variety of factors, including: the perceived futility of seeking justice; societal stigma associated with reporting family violence to the authorities; potentially life-threatening consequences of reporting the abuse; and the fact that the perpetrator is often the only breadwinner in the family.93

Women of course are not the only victims of domestic abuse, but even when a male relative is the victim, women feel powerless to act. Abir Khair (pseudonym), 20, described the combination of fear, societal pressures, and stigma that prevented her from reporting her abusive father and uncles to the authorities:

Once during the Eid holiday, my father beat my brother in the knees with a [window] shutter. I thought my brother was going to have a heart attack from the pain; he was hallucinating. The doctors wanted to report the incident to the police, but my family wouldn’t let them. I feel guilty because maybe I should have gone to the police that time. Maybe things would be better if I had. Lots of times, I thought about going to the police, but he is still my father and what would people say that a daughter reported on her own father? He is my flesh and blood. I hope that he’ll go and get treatment by himself, not because the police force him. There is nothing shameful in getting help for your problems, but it would be shameful if the police got involved. I will try to convince my mother to call the police next time he has a violent episode, for my mother’s sake, for the sake of the family, and for my father’s sake too. When my father makes problems at home, I can’t sleep. I stay awake all night.94

Public opinion polls also reveal that Palestinian society largely condones violence against women and discourages women from reporting abuse. A poll of 1,133 women conducted in 2002 by the Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development in cooperation with the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in Beit Sahour found that 53.7 percent of those polled thought that it was inappropriate for the police to interfere when a man assaults his wife; 55.5 percent felt that a wife beaten by her husband should not talk about it to anyone except her parents.95 When those who experienced violence were asked why they did not leave their abusive marriages, more than 70 percent reported that they refused to leave home because of fear of losing custody of their children. Close to 50 percent felt that divorce was too stigmatizing, and 21.9 percent reported that they would have no place to go if they left their homes.

The West Bank town of Hebron poses particular problems to police officers and victims seeking to report abuse. Hebron is considered one of the most traditional and conservative towns in the OPT and external intervention into “family problems” is largely deemed unacceptable. The chief of police told Human Rights Watch that “a woman in Hebron could get her eye gouged out but be too afraid of society to report the abuse.”96 The difficulties women face in Hebron are exacerbated by the fact that part of the city, called H2, is still controlled by the Israeli army and Palestinian police cannot enter without permission.97 According to `Awni Samari, the chief of police in Hebron, the police face a particular problem apprehending perpetrators of crime since “all those fleeing from Palestinian law go into these [off-limit] areas.”98 In addition, it is difficult for women from the H2 area to reach the Palestinian police station, which is located outside of H2.

There have also been reports from other towns where the Israeli military has control over security matters that Palestinian women and girls are particularly reluctant to report abuse to the occupying power.99 In such towns, the Israeli army has not provided or even attempted to provide a protective policing function, contrary to its obligations as the occupying power.

To add to these legal and social barriers, discriminatory legislation in force in the West Bank and Gaza, described in the subsections below, does not act as a deterrent to violence, nor does it provide victims with adequate redress for the abuse they have suffered. In fact, the penal laws in particular and the way in which they have been interpreted and applied in practice have led to virtual impunity for perpetrators of violence against Palestinian women and girls.100

Spousal Abuse

As noted at the start of this chapter, a Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics survey published in early 2006 found that 23.3 percent of married women in the West Bank and Gaza said that they had been victims of domestic violence in 2005 while 61.7 percent reported that they were victims of psychological violence during the same year.101 Several Palestinian women’s organizations have also reported a rise in already high levels of violence against women following the second intifada. According to a 2002 poll by the Refugee Women’s Resource Project, close to 90 percent of respondents stated that violence against women had “significantly or somewhat increased as a result of changing political, economic, and social conditions in the Palestinian Territories.”102 There is also evidence that marital rape is prevalent in the OPT. A survey on violence against women in Gaza conducted by the Women’s Affairs Center in 2001 revealed that 46.7 percent of the 670 women interviewed reported that their husbands used “force and brutality” during sexual intercourse; 17.4 percent reported that their husbands beat them to have sex; and 35.9 percent said that their husbands threatened and intimidated them into submission.103

Palestinian women in violent or life-threatening marriages have two legal options available to them: pressing charges for spousal abuse or initiating a divorce on the basis of physical harm. Both require evidence of extreme violence and impose a high evidentiary burden on the victim. Neither the Jordanian nor the Egyptian penal codes in force in the OPT recognize sexual violence committed within marriage.

Because there is no specific domestic violence legislation in the OPT, adult victims of violence must rely on general penal provisions on assault when they seek to press charges. These laws provide little remedy to victims unless they have suffered the most extreme forms of injury. Article 33 of the Jordanian penal code (applied in the West Bank) outlines the penalties for violence based on the number of days the victim is hospitalized.104 As is the situation with all assault cases, if the victim requires less than 10 days of hospitalization, a judge has the authority to dismiss the case at his own discretion as a “minor offense.”105 In such cases, public prosecutors also try to reconcile the parties rather than pressing charges.106 The law permits a judge to impose a slightly higher sentence when the victim is hospitalized between 10 and 20 days. According to the law, mandatory prosecution is required only in cases where the victim is hospitalized for more than 20 days.107 Since victims of domestic violence may go to the hospital several times to treat their injuries with no intention of pressing formal charges, they may have no medical records to support claims of long-term abuse should they later decide to press charges or seek a divorce.

A woman also may seek a divorce based on spousal abuse. However, the existing family status laws require eyewitness testimony for successful petitions, which is often difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. In order for a judge in the OPT to grant a divorce on the basis of domestic violence (nizah wa ishqa’a separation, literally “discord and strife”), the law requires a Palestinian woman to produce two eyewitnesses and a medical report from a public hospital to support her claims.108

Attorneys told Human Rights Watch that the need for eyewitnesses is a major impediment to filing for divorce on the basis of physical harm. “When a woman is beaten in her home, who can be her witness?” said one lawyer.109 To add to this difficulty, the law does not permit these witnesses to be related to the petitioner.110 Typically, the judge will also order a woman’s husband to testify. According to attorney `Ala’a al-Bakri, if a woman is unable to provide sufficient evidence of harm to the court, the husband can simply deny the abuse under oath and the judge will drop the charges.111 “Sometime her sister sees the abuse, which is not enough. We need two people, and if he swears he didn’t do it, that’s it, the case is closed.”112 According to judge Yusif al-Dais, chief of the appeals court within the PA’s shari`a court system, judges reject 50 percent of divorce cases initiated by women due to a lack of supporting evidence.113

Only Palestinian women suffering severe levels of abuse pursue legal action. One lawyer told Human Rights Watch that, “A woman [victim of violence] thinks a hundred times before going to court. She thinks it will only result in scandalizing herself. Anyway, the abuse needs to be repeated to convince the judge. One time is simply not enough.”114

In addition to the legal hurdles, nearly insurmountable financial and social obstacles often prevent Palestinian women from leaving abusive marriages. A number of social workers said that many of their clients stay in violent marriages because their parents are unwilling or unable to financially absorb the cost of supporting the victim’s children. With such low labor force participation, most women are unable to support themselves and their children on their own. The women do not want to leave the children behind and feel that they have no other option than to remain in a violent marriage. One woman described to Human Rights Watch the agonizing decision between remaining in a physically and sexually abusive marriage or losing her children:

I had four daughters and one son. I continued to live in that terrible situation because I was afraid of going to my parents and losing my children. I decided to suffer and to wait because I had no other options.

She later described how her husband reminded her of her predicament. “My husband threatened me not to ask for a divorce. He said you’ll lose the children and your father won’t accept you.”115

Desperation has led some Palestinian women to kill their abusive husbands. Human Rights Watch spoke to several women who felt that there was no other way to end the abuse they suffered other than to kill their husbands. One such woman, Mariam Isma`il (pseudonym), 35, told Human Rights Watch that she was driven to doing so after enduring years of physical and sexual abuse:

He used to beat me everywhere. I never went to the hospital, and I didn’t even tell my parents. I was just thankful to be alive. But the violence became more and more physical and sexual. He brought other people to have sex with me and to abuse me. He held me while other people abused me… If I thought that I had even a 1 percent chance of changing the situation any other way, I would never have done it.

The police asked me why I didn’t just go to my family, but I said that my family would probably try to kill me because I had slept with others. Until now, my family doesn’t believe me. The police showed my family the police report that documented how I was forced to have sex with other men. Even the police said that they didn’t blame me for killing him after that. My family was surprised by the report and didn’t believe it.116

At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit, she was awaiting trial in the Nablus prison on murder charges.

Child Abuse

Like children everywhere, Palestinian children, particularly girls, are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse within the family and appropriate laws are needed to protect them. In a survey published in 2005, the PCBS found that 51.4 percent of Palestinian mothers believed that at least one of their children (aged five to 17) was exposed to violence, with the vast majority of such abuse (93.3 percent) being inflicted by family members.117 In another study, close to 80 percent of Palestinian girls aged five to 17 reported that they were exposed to violence in the home.118

One young woman in Gaza told Human Rights Watch how her father’s abuse had affected the family since the beginning of the intifada:

The situation has been like this for the past five years. Before that it was okay. He was working in Israel and earning money. He was still a violent person but back then he was out of the house most of the time and his fights were with others. But since the beginning of the intifada he has been unemployed and at home. Whenever he spends too much time at home, he makes problems here.119

Another woman, Karima Ahmad (pseudonym), 19, fled to a shelter at the age of 17 in order to escape abuse by her father and stepmother. She tried to commit suicide several times while she was in the shelter. She told Human Rights Watch:

My father married 40 days after my mother’s death. She [my stepmother] used to hit me and my sister and treat us badly. My father tried to abuse me [sexually] when I was around six. He did it to me and then to my sister. She’s 18 years old now. I wanted to go in front of everybody and scream. Why do they do this to us?120 

While Karima never reported the abuse to the police, and her father and stepmother were never prosecuted, it is unclear whether they would have been held accountable for their actions given the serious shortcomings in Palestinian law with regard to child abuse. While the draft Palestinian constitution, or Basic Law, prohibits violence against children,121 Jordanian Law No. 16 applied in the West Bank allows parents to discipline their children through the use of physical force. Article 62 of the law states that, “Any act authorized by law is not considered an offence. The law permits disciplinary beating of children by their parents, just as applicable in common law.”122 Article 286 of the same law also denies children who are victims of incest the right to file sexual abuse charges. Only male family members, who may be the perpetrators of abuse, are granted the right to file incest charges on behalf of minors.123 As recently as 2004, Defense for Children International/Palestine Section noted that “the current legal system, which is an amalgamation of at least five different legal systems, not only lacks unity and falls short of international standards, but also seriously fails to act in the best interest of the child.”124

The PA enacted a Child Law in January 2005, 125 a step towards creating a culture of intolerance of child abuse in the OPT. The law describes the basic social, cultural, and health rights guaranteed to Palestinian children within the family and Palestinian society, while outlining the protective measures and mechanisms available to them. One of the most notable features of the law is the establishment of a reporting mechanism through the creation of a Childhood Protection Department within the Ministry of Social Affairs. This department is responsible for “ensuring that children are not exposed to violence in the public and private domains and for overseeing the care of children who have been exposed to violence.”126 The Child Law also contains a general provision stating that children “shall have the right to protection from all forms of violence, physical, psychological, or sexual harm or injury, negligence, homelessness, and any other form of ill-treatment or exploitation.” However, without the repeal of penal code provisions permitting only male relatives to file incest charges on behalf of minors, the protections guaranteed in the Child Law are seriously undermined. NGOs also have critiqued the law’s restrictive definition of “hardship cases” eligible for special protection,127 its failure to specify exactly which government body is responsible for enforcing the protective measures outlined in the law, and the fact that it did not specify a commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.128

Sexual Violence

An unknown number of Palestinian women and girls are victims of sexual abuse every year in the OPT. According to Palestinian social workers, few ever report this violence to their families or the authorities. Fewer still ever make it to the prosecutor’s office due to mediation that sometimes occurs between the victim, the rapist, and their respective families.129 One prosecutor who has worked in Hebron and Bethlehem for more than six years told Human Rights Watch that he has only prosecuted two cases of sexual violence in that time.130

In addition to the fear of being blamed or harmed by family members as a result of the attack,131 a number of legal obstacles stand in the way of victims seeking justice for sexual violence in the Palestinian courts. These obstacles include discriminatory and abusive laws that prohibit minors from pressing charges for incest and allow the courts to suspend the sentences of rapists who agree to marry their victim. The lack of the necessary expertise and tools to carry out criminal investigations in sexual violence cases is another obstacle. According to the same prosecutor, “the first problem in Palestine is that it’s very hard to carry out these kinds of investigations since we don’t have the technical capacity to do lab work or to collect evidence.”132

Victims of sexual violence are particularly stigmatized in Palestinian society. Women and girls who report rape or incest are at high risk of further abuse and even murder by family members seeking to wipe out this “stain” on their family’s reputation. According to one social worker, in incest cases “…victims’ voices are often lost or muted beyond hearing within the myriad of other concerns that come into play culturally.”133 Family members routinely blame rape and incest victims for the abuse, interrogating them on their behavior, dress, and demeanor, each of which is thought to have enticed the attacker. In the experience of one women’s rights activist, “in rape and sexual harassment cases, everyone will look at it as though it’s her fault. They’ll say ‘if you didn’t accept it, he wouldn’t have tried.’”134

According to one social worker, family members prevent many girls who are victims of rape and incest from continuing their education and force them into early marriages to cover up the abuse. 135 Such marriages often further cement the cycle of violence and abuse. Indeed, as described below, marriage absolves a rapist of prosecution for the rape. One women’s rights activist explained:

Rape cases are dealt with at the police station as special cases. Most of the time the result is that they [the rapist and the victim] get married under the carpet to avoid scandal. Rape cases rarely go to courts…In all of these cases, the police want to solve it within the family without documentation.136

Judges admit that this is a problem. According to Judge Hani al-Natur, “there are lots of rape cases, but the percentage that comes to the courts are limited. People are worried about scandal, so it’s very limited. Incest cases are also very low. Only those who are courageous enough and have legal awareness come to report it.”137

The classification of sexual crimes in penal codes in the West Bank is also problematic. Jordanian Law No.16 (1960) classifies sexual violence (both rape and incest) under crimes “against public morals and ethics,” which does not appropriately reflect the nature of the crime.138 All forms of sexual assault should be considered fundamentally as a crime against the individual apart from a crime against specific norms or values.


The PA has failed to create a legal environment that protects women from rape, encourages victims to report attacks, or deters rapists. Rape laws in force in the OPT distinguish between virgin and non-virgin victims of sexual violence, with harsher penalties when the victims are thought to have been virgins. They include legal loopholes that ultimately absolve rapists of punishment and fail to recognize sexual violence committed within a marriage. These laws also criminalize abortion in cases of rape or incest, forcing victims of sexual violence to carry their pregnancies to term.  

The legal treatment of rape reflects a societal preoccupation with female virginity. Article 301 of Jordanian Law No. 16 (1960), applied in the West Bank, provides for an increase in the sentence for rape “by one third or one half” if the victim lost her virginity as a result of the rape.139 By considering the rape of a virgin as an aggravating circumstance of assault, the law sends the message that the degree of punishment of the perpetrator should be determined by the sexual experience of the victim.

Even more disturbingly, laws in force in the West Bank and Gaza relieve rapists who marry their victims from any criminal prosecution. Article 308 of the Jordanian law allows the court to cease legal action or suspend the sentence of a rapist if a “legal and correct marriage contract is forged” between him and the victim.”140 The rapist goes to trial only if he divorces the victim “without reason” within five years.141 Article 291 in the Egyptian penal code in force in Gaza provides a similar exoneration for rapists who agree to marry their victims.142

Laws in force in the OPT deny victims of sexual violence the right to a legal abortion by prohibiting abortion in almost all cases.143 The criminalization of abortion without exception for victims of sexual violence has led some observers to conclude that “Such women are left with one of two difficult options: to abort the foetus on her own, which carries serious risks to her life and safety, or to continue with the pregnancy and bear the social and psychological burdens of an ‘illegitimate’ pregnancy and childbirth.”144

There is a wide discrepancy between the number of rape cases reported to the Palestinian police and the number of convictions. According to the PCBS, in 2004 PA courts convicted only one person of rape in Gaza and convicted no one in the West Bank.145 Only 27 individuals were serving sentences for rape in 2005.146 These numbers are not consistent with reported levels of rape in the OPT. For example, the PCBS recorded a total of 85 reported cases of rape and attempted rape in 2003 (60 cases in the West Bank and 25 in Gaza),147 while only one person was convicted of rape that year.148

Finally, the OPT laws do not recognize the possibility of rape in marriage. Article 292 of the Jordanian penal code, in force in the West Bank, explicitly carves out an exception from criminal penalties for nonconsensual sex within marriage, providing penalties only for a man who “has sex with a female (other than his wife) without her consent.”149 Existing laws also criminalize abortion in cases of rape or incest, forcing all victims of sexual violence to carry their pregnancies to term.150


When a girl’s honor is trampled, everyone spits on her.

− Reem Hamad (pseudonym), a victim of incest, Nablus, November 23, 2005.

The Palestinian legal system places procedural and evidentiary burdens on victims of incest, virtually foreclosing the possibility of filing a complaint. Under the Jordanian penal law in force in the West Bank, only male family members can file incest charges on behalf of minors.151 Neither female relatives nor social service providers can file charges on their behalf. Article 286 specifically states that “incestuous actions shall only be pursued upon the complaint of a male relative or an in-law, up to the fourth degree of kinship.”152 This means that only people of the first (father and grandfather), second (brothers and paternal uncles), third (maternal uncles), and fourth degrees (brothers in law) of kinship are able to file such complaints.153 No such provisions exist in the Egyptian penal code in force in Gaza. Attorney Halima Abu-Sulb described the absurdity of this situation: “Who attacks women? It’s men. But only they can file the petition!”154

The chief public prosecutor for Hebron confirmed that incest cases rarely make it to the prosecutor’s office. He told Human Rights Watch:

When minors are sexually assaulted the family covers it up due to traditional reasons. In the past five months in my job in Hebron, I’ve heard that there are a lot of such practices but since it happens before the cases reach the prosecutor we do not know much about it…The family and the police will achieve some type of reconciliation.155

Some incest victims who disclose their experiences to others in the hope of finding support may become susceptible to further manipulation and abuse. Hanan Sharif (pseudonym), 20, was 17 when her father first tried to rape her. “My mother was cooking downstairs. No one could do anything to help me. My mother tried to stop it, but he hit her too, she couldn’t do anything.” Hanan’s father molested her several times over three years. “When I got older, I realized he was using me… I thought this was tenderness before.” Hanan eventually ran away from home. She went to live with her older brother, but that did not end the abuse.

I went to my brother. He helped me a bit, but then he also tried to rape me. It happened so many times. He’d hit me and then sleep with me. He wouldn’t let me see anyone. He would take off my clothes. He said, “you’re not worth anything. None of your [other] brothers can help you. Where will you go? If you go back home, our father will beat you even more because you left the house without his permission.”

Hanan spent a year and a half with her brother before she reported the abuse to the police. The police officers she approached did not believe her at first. “They said ‘it’s impossible that a father would do that to his daughter.’ They didn’t believe me. The social worker [at the police station] didn’t even believe me.”156

Nada `Umar (pseudonym), 30, described her situation to Human Rights Watch:

My problem started with my family. When I was 12, my brother attacked me, attacked me sexually…My brother was 24. He’d hit me. Everyone in my family knew. My father died when I was small, so there was no one to protect me. My brother would even hit my mother. I didn’t report it since there was no one to protect me. I couldn’t tell the police. I was not allowed to even leave the house. I met a young man in 2002, and I loved him. We got engaged. I told him that my brother attacked me. I couldn’t hide it from him. He said “no problem, I’ll pretend you’re a divorcee.” But during the engagement, he started to treat me badly. He said that if I don’t sleep with him, he’ll tell my family that I had sex not with my brother but with other people. After that, we had sex and I became pregnant.157

Murder of Women under the Guise of “Honor”

An 18-year-old female died as a result of manual strangulation and smothering, which were carried out by her family members. The assailants claimed that the victim committed suicide by drinking a poisonous liquid (a bottle containing “organophosphorous pesticide” was brought to the morgue with the cadaver).

-An abstract of an autopsy report of an “honor” killing by Al-Quds University’s Legal Medicine Institute158

The killing of female relatives under the guise of family “honor” is a serious physical threat to Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza. A Palestinian woman’s life is at risk if she is suspected of engaging in behavior her family or community considers taboo, such as talking with a man who is not her husband or a blood relative (even in a public place), refusing to tell a close male relative where she has been and with whom, or marrying someone without the approval of her family: in short for doing or being suspected to have done anything that is perceived to bring dishonor on herself and on her family.

These murders are the most tragic consequence and graphic illustration of deeply embedded, society-wide gender discrimination. While there are no concrete figures on these crimes since no government agency collects this information, Palestinian women’s rights groups report that they are regularly confronted with cases of women and girls who are threatened by family members, some of whom have been subsequently killed by family members. Local advocates claim that incidents of such murders are drastically underreported and that the full scope of the problem is hard to gauge.159 Some Palestinian women’s rights activists have described these murders as “femicide” rather than “honor killings” in order to convey the gravity of the abuse, the continuum of violence affecting women’s lives, and to disassociate these crimes from any conception of honor.160

In some cases, families target women for “honor” killings not because they have voluntary transgressed the moral code, but merely because they have been a victim of sexual violence, itself a “shame” to the family.161 Some perpetrators are rapists who kill the victim to avoid being identified as the culprit, especially if the victim becomes pregnant. In other cases, family members kill a girl or woman who has been a victim of sexual violence rather than seeking a judicial remedy to hold the perpetrator to account.

Effective response is difficult because publicity itself can lead a family to take the life of a girl or woman. One women’s rights activist told Human Rights Watch, “it is social pressure that causes families to kill [their daughters]. Cases that remain private within the nuclear family can save women.”162 In one case, a 16 year-old girl from Ramallah became pregnant after repeated rape by her two brothers.163 The pregnancy and her brother’s subsequent imprisonment for incest was thought to have shamed the family to such an extent that the governor asked the family to promise him they would not harm her.164 The mother of the girl eventually killed her.

In this case, Palestinian police reportedly had prior notice that the girl might be in jeopardy but were unable to get to the scene in time. Amnesty International and press reports claim that the Palestinian police were held by Israeli soldiers for hours at an Israeli military checkpoint between the city of Ramallah and the village of Abu Qash where the family lived.165 The staff of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling said that they were not able to reach her house in time to try to save her life due to movement restrictions between Jerusalem and the West Bank.166 Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas of WCLAC told Human Rights Watch:

The area was under curfew and as we all know, curfews during the intifada were enforced by shoot to kill policies for anyone caught moving about. By that point in the intifada the police had stopped operating in uniform for fear of being shot at by the Israeli army. The police still functioned as police to the best of their ability and they still had the moral authority to carry out law enforcement duties but they had to move around in civilian clothes. On that occasion the police tried to enter the village, in civilian clothes, when it was under curfew, and Israelis shot at them.167

Certain laws in the West Bank and Gaza facilitate “honor” crimes. These include laws that provide lenient sentences and exemptions from punishment to men who attack female relatives committing adultery168 and laws that allow judges to halve a perpetrator’s sentence if the family of a victim chooses not to file a complaint.

Article 340 of Jordanian Penal Law No. 16 (1960), in force in the West Bank, provides that any man who kills or attacks his wife or any of his female relatives while she is committing adultery is exempt from punishment. Men who kill women who are caught in an “unlawful bed” may receive a reduced sentence.169 Article 98 of the same law mandates reduction of penalty for a perpetrator (of either gender) who commits a crime in a “state of great fury [or “fit of fury”] resulting from an unlawful and dangerous act on the part of the victim.”170 It does not require in flagrante discovery or any other standard of evidence of female indiscretion. In Gaza, the Egyptian penal code also provides for a reduction in penalty for murder of a woman by her husband in circumstances of adultery. It categorizes the murder of a wife (but not a husband) in the act of committing adultery as an extenuating circumstance, thereby reducing the crime of murder to the level of a misdemeanor.171

One prosecutor explained to Human Rights Watch that the law authorizes Palestinian judges to reduce sentences by anywhere between one third and two thirds for men who murder their spouses or female relatives who they find in “an unlawful bed.”172 “Of course, the judge has the right to give full punishment if he wants. It’s all at his discretion,” he added.173 However, Palestinian prosecutors report that family members and individuals in the community sometimes intimidate judges to provide reduced sentencing in cases that would otherwise not benefit from mitigating circumstances. According to one prosecutor, in such cases:

The family, the clan, and society will all come together and allege it was a “crime of honor” and that he should get a reduced sentence and there are mitigating circumstances. And, in the end, the judges also cave under the pressure and may release the suspect on bail before the trial or find some article in the penal code that can be applied in order to give him a lesser sentence… Sometimes the families collect signatures from the whole village and prominent individuals that say that the village does not want to press charges against the perpetrator and that they are not opposed to him receiving minimal punishment.174

According to one judge who wished to remain anonymous, in some cases, “if the crime was committed in a fit of fury, he gets released right away.” He said that “this encourages crimes.” These provisions have led one observer to argue that “femicide is tolerated, if not encouraged, by the existing legal code.”175

As in most criminal cases, judges have the authority to halve a sentence if the victim’s family “waives” its right to file a complaint for murder.176 In murders for “honor,” given the family’s complicity in the crime, the family nearly always “waives” the right to file a complaint. Thus, perpetrators of these attacks may receive sentences as short as six months in prison. If a killer has served that much time awaiting trial, the judge may commute his sentence to reflect time already served. In her review of these cases, Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian found:

Evidence based on gossip and rumors played a key role in court decisions regarding most of the six femicide cases. Such methods were justified by cultural and traditional values related to female purity and sexuality, which consider alleged behavior to be as “dishonorable” as actual behavior, and which do not take circumstances into consideration (e.g. that a pregnant victim may have been raped; that women who ran away from home were trying to escape an abusive father or husband.)177

In May 2005, roughly 300 Palestinian women held a demonstration in Ramallah’s main square calling for legislative amendments to protect women from “honor” crimes after three women were murdered within a week.178 According to the article, a brother killed his two sisters in East Jerusalem in an apparent “honor” killing, and a Christian father in Ramallah admitted to killing his 23 year old daughter because she tried to marry a Muslim man without his consent.179 The protesters called for legislation to protect women from such killings.180

The 23 year old woman, Fatin Habash, quickly became a symbol of the PA’s failure to protect women from murder. Her case highlighted that all Palestinian women and girls, irrespective of religion, are at risk. According to a number of news reports,181 after her father refused to consent to her marriage, Fatin tried to go to Jordan twice to elope. However, the family priest, Father Ibrahim Hijazin, contacted Palestinian security forces, who prevented Fatin from crossing the border and returned her to her home. The police did not provide her with any protection upon her return home. Shortly after her return home, her uncle beat her. Her pelvis was broken after she was allegedly either thrown out of the window or jumped trying to escape. The police also denied women’s organizations the opportunity to visit her in the hospital. While recovering in the hospital,  her fiancé sought help from the Dawahik Bedouin tribe, who agreed to mediate between her and her father in coordination with the governor of Ramallah. Fatin returned home from the hospital after her father promised the Bedouin tribe that he would not harm her. A week later, her father beat her to death with an iron bar. While Palestinian authorities subsequently arrested him, he was released on bail and a year later, is still awaiting trial. None of the official or tribal authorities who brokered Fatin’s return home have been investigated or even reprimanded for their failure to protect her.

Non-family members also have murdered Palestinian women for allegedly engaging in “immoral behavior.” In April 2005, for example, five armed gunmen reportedly linked to Hamas killed 20 year old Yusra `Azzami while she was taking a walk with her fiancé.182 Following the murder, Hamas distributed leaflets in the town of Beit Lahia calling the killing a mistake and vowing to punish the perpetrators.183 They condemned the act of killing the woman only insofar as it was a mistake, not because it is a crime to kill someone for allegedly immoral behavior. A Hamas spokesperson told reporters that “The brothers who did this made a mistake. There was suspicion of immoral behavior.”184

92 Palestinian National Authority, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Domestic Violence Survey 2005, February 2006, p. 24. On file with Human Rights Watch.

93 Human Rights Watch interview with Attadal Al-Jariri, head of social work, Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development (PWWSD), Ramallah, November 7, 2005.

94 Human Rights Watch interview with Abir Khair (pseudonym), Gaza, November 28, 2005.

95 “Violence against women in Palestine: A public opinion poll,” September 2002, as quoted in “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women,” from Erturk report (see footnote 74).

96 Ibid.

97 Roughly 150,000 Palestinians live in Hebron, of whom 35,000 live in H-2. Also living in H-2 are about five hundred settlers, the only settlers to live in the heart of a Palestinian city. This is the reason that Israel did not re-deploy from all of Hebron and according to the Hebron Agreement of 1997 maintains a security presence and control over H-2.

98 Human Rights Watch interview with `Awni Samari, head of Hebron police, Hebron, November 16, 2005.

99 Human Rights Watch interview with Maha Abu-Dayyeh, director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), East Jerusalem, November 7, 2005.

100 Jordanian Penal Law No.16 (1960) and Egyptian Penal Law No. 58 (1937) are applied in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively.

101 Ibid.

102 “Domestic Violence against Palestinian Women Rises,” Middle East Times, September 20, 2002.

103 Commentators have linked a variety of factors to these increases in violence. Some Palestinian women’s groups point to recent increases in poverty and unemployment that have stripped men of their traditional breadwinning role; the humiliation and frustration that Palestinian men experience at the hands of the Israeli army at checkpoints and during arrest and detention; and the fact that this frustration and anger is often taken out on family members, especially as unemployed men spend more time at home and families have been stranded together in the home for days and weeks during Israeli imposed curfews. See Kamel Al-Mansi, Family Violence against Women in the Gaza Strip: Prevalence, Causes and Interventions (Gaza: Women’s Affairs Center, 2001). The study surveyed 750 families in Gaza interviewing 670 women between the ages of 15-49.

104 Article 33, Law No. 16 (1960), on file with Human Rights Watch.

105 Ibid.

106 Human Rights Watch interview with Nashat Ayush, chief prosecutor for Hebron, Bethlehem, May 15, 2006.

107 Article 33, Law No. 16 (1960), on file with Human Rights Watch.

108 Human Rights Watch interview with Ghadir al-Shaikh, attorney, Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development (PWWSD), Tulkaram, November 16, 2005.

109 Human Rights Watch interview with Ghadir al-Shaikh, attorney, Palestinian Working Women’s Society for Development (PWWSD), Tulkaram, November 16, 2005.

110 Ibid.

111 Human Rights Watch interview with `Ala’a al-Bakri, attorney, Ramallah, November 19, 2005.

112 Ibid.

113 Human Rights Watch interview with Shaikh Yusif al-Dais, chief of shari`a appeals court, Ramallah, November 19, 2005.

114 Human Rights Watch interview with Randa Hamad, attorney, PWWSD, Tulkaram, November 16, 2005.

115 Human Rights Watch interview with Mariam Isma`il (pseudonym), Nablus, November 27, 2005.

116 Human Rights Watch interview with Mariam Isma`il (pseudonym), Nablus, November 27, 2005.

117 PCBS 2005 Domestic Violence Survey: Preliminary Findings [on file with Human Rights Watch].

118 PCBS “Child Psychological Health Survey 2004,” p. 82-83 [on file with Human Rights Watch]. same

119 Human Rights Watch interview with a victim of domestic violence [name withheld], Gaza, November 28, 2005.

120 Human Rights Watch interview with Karima Ahmad, location withheld, November 29, 2005.

121 Article 29 (4) of the Palestinian Amended Basic Law promulgated on March 18, 2003. A complete copy of the law can be found at (accessed May 3, 2006).

122 Article 62, Law No. 16 (1960), on file with Human Rights Watch.

123 Article 286 specifically states that “incestuous actions shall only be pursued upon the complaint of a male relative or an in-law, up to the fourth degree of kinship.” See sub-section on Incest in Chapter IV of this report for more information.

124 Defense for Children International/Palestine Section, “Use of Children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Perspective on Child Soldiers,” July 2004), p. 13, (accessed April 28, 2006).

125 See Secretariat of the National Plan of Action for Palestinian Children, “Child Protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: A National Position Paper,” June 2005, p. 14.

126 Ibid., p.85.

127 In these cases, the Department has the authority to remove a child from their home.

128 Secretariat of the National Plan of Action for Palestinian Children, “Child Protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: A National Position Paper,” June 2005, p.12.

129 Human Rights Watch interview with Nashat Ayush, chief prosecutor for Hebron, Bethlehem, May 15, 2006.

130 Ibid.

131 For more information, see sub-section on the Murder of Women under the Guise of “Honor.”

132 Human Rights Watch interview with Nashat Ayush, chief prosecutor for Hebron, Bethlehem, May 15, 2006.

133 Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, “Imposition of Virginity Testing: A Life-Saver or a License to Kill?,” Social Science and Medicine, Vol.60 (2005), p. 1192.

134 Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Awad, head of the Women’s Empowerment Program, GCMHP, Gaza, November 28, 2005.

135 Human Rights Watch interview with Maha Sabbagh, social worker, Ramallah, November 19, 2005.

136 Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Awad, head of the women’s empowerment program, Gaza Community Mental Heath Program (GCMHP), Gaza, November 28, 2005.

137 Human Rights Watch interview with Judge Hani al-Natur, Court of Appeals, Ramallah, December 1, 2005

138 Law No.16 (1960), Chapter VII, Criminal Acts that Offend Public Morals and Ethics (on file with Human Rights Watch).

139 Ibid., Article 301.

140 Ibid., Article 308. See also Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, A Gap Analysis Report on the Status of Palestinian Women in the Context of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Summary Report,” (accessed April 21, 2006).

141 Ibid., Article 308.

142 Despite the fact that this law was repealed by the Egyptian People’s Assembly in 1999, Gaza continues to apply the non-amended law. See also Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, “A Gap Analysis Report.”

143 Article 321 of Jordanian Penal Law No.16 (1960) reads: “A woman who through any means performs an abortion on herself or consents to another person applying such means shall be punished with six months to three years’ imprisonment.” A legal exception is made in the West Bank if the health or life of the pregnant woman is at risk. The Egyptian Penal Code of 1937 (sections 260-264) applicable in Gaza prohibits abortion without exception.

144 See Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, “A Gap Analysis Report.”

145 See Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics table on “Convicted Offenders in Prisons in the West Bank by Type of Criminal Offense and Month 2004,” and “Convicted Offenders in Prisons in Gaza Strip by Type of Criminal Offense and Month 2004,” (accessed April 21, 2006).

146 See Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics table on “Persons in Custody in the Palestinian Territory by Type of Criminal Offense and Month 2004,” (accessed April 21, 2006).

147 See Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics table on “Reported Criminal Offenses in the Palestinian Territory by Type of Criminal Offense and Region 1996-2003,” (accessed April 21, 2006).

148 See Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics table on “Convicted Offenders in Prisons in the Palestinian Territory by Type of Criminal Offense and Region 1996 – 2003,” (accessed April 21, 2006).

149 Article 292, Chapter VII “Criminal Acts that Offend Public Morals and Ethics. Article 292 reads: “He who has sex with a female (other than his wife) without her consent, by force, or fraudulently is sentenced to not less than 10 years in prison with hard labor.”

150 See article 321 of Jordanian Penal Law No.16 (1960) and sections 260-264 of the Egyptian Penal Code of 1937.

151 Article 286, Chapter VII on Criminal Acts that Offend Public Morals and Ethics, Law No.16 (1960).

152 Ibid.

153 Human Rights Watch interview with Halima Abu-Sulb, attorney, Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), November 14, 2005.

154 Ibid.

155 Human Rights Watch interview with Nashat Ayush, chief prosecutor for Hebron, Bethlehem, May 15, 2006.

156 Human Rights Watch interview with Hanan Sharif (pseudonym), Nablus, November 23, 2006.

157 Human Rights Watch interview with Nada `Umar (pseudonym), Nablus, November 27, 2005.

158 A copy of the autopsy report is on file with Human Rights Watch.

159 Human Rights Watch interview with Su`ad Abu Dayya, Head of Social Work Unit, Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), East Jerusalem, November 9, 2005.

160 See Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkin, Mapping and Analyzing the Landscape of Femicide in Palestinian Society (Jerusalem: Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 2004).

161 Ibid.

162 Human Rights Watch interview with Maha Abu-Dayyeh, director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), East Jerusalem, November 7, 2005.

163 Human Rights Watch interview with Su`ad Abu Dayya, Head of Social Work Unit, Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), East Jerusalem, November 9, 2005.

164 Ibid.

165 See Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, “Mother kills raped daughter to restore honor,” Knight Ridder Newspapers, November 17, 2003 and Amnesty International, “Conflict, Occupation and Patriarchy: Women Carry theBurden, March 2005.

166 Ibid.

167 Human Rights Watch interview with Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas, director of the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, East Jerusalem, June 14, 2006.

168 The roots of these statutes can be found in the Napoleonic Code’s conception of “crimes of passion” brought to the region via the Ottoman Empire. See Lama abu-Odeh, “Crimes of Passion and Construction in Arab Societies” in Pinar Ilkkaracan, ed., Women and Sexuality in the Muslim Societies (Istanbul: Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways, 2000), p. 363-380. For more information on reduced sentences for “fit of fury” crimes and the misapplication of these laws in “honor” crimes cases, see Human Rights Watch, Honoring the Killers: Justice Denied for “Honor” Crimes in Jordan, vol. 16, no.1(E) , April 2004,

169 Article 340 of Law No. 16 (1960) states:

He who surprises his wife or one of his females [mahrams] committing adultery with somebody, and kills, wounds, or injures one or both of them, shall be exempt from liability [udhr muhill].

He who surprises his wife, or one of his female antecedents or descendents or sisters with another in an unlawful bed, and he kills or wounds or injures one or both of them, shall be liable to a lesser penalty in view of extenuating circumstances [udhr mukhaffaf].

In an effort to make this law gender-neutral in Jordan, a second clause was added in 2001 granting female attackers the same reduction in penalty. This amendment does not apply in the West Bank.

170 The statute may be translated as follows: “He who commits a crime in a state of great fury resulting from an unlawful and dangerous act on the part of the victim shall benefit from the extenuating excuse.” Article 98 of Law No. 16 (1960).

171 Article 237 of the Egyptian Penal Code reads:

Whoever surprises his wife in the act of adultery and kills her on the spot together with her adulterer-partner shall be punished with detention instead of the penalties prescribed in articles 234 [permanent or temporary hard labor] and 236 [hard labor or imprisonment for a period of three to seven years].

172 Human Rights Watch interview with Nashat Ayush, chief prosecutor for Hebron, Bethlehem, May 15, 2006.

173 Ibid.

174 Ibid.

175 Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, “Femicide and the Palestinian Criminal Justice System: Seeds of Change in the Context of State Building?,” Law and Society Review, vol. 36, No. 3 (2002), p. 592.

176 See Article 99, Law No. 16 (1960).

177 Ibid., p. 593, n. 175.

178 “Palestinians Decry ‘Honour’ Killings,” May 7, 2005, (accessed April 15, 2006).

179 Ibid.

180 Ibid.

181 See, for example, Chris McGreal, “Murdered in name of family honour,” The Guardian, June 23, 2005,2763,1512394,00.html?gusrc=rss (accessed May 5, 2006); Lara Sukhtian, “’Honor killing' underlies growing divide Palestinian Muslims, Christians worry about rise in sectarianism,” Charleston Gazette, September 6, 2005, p. 3A; Carolynne Wheeler, “The price a woman must pay for defiance,” The Globe and Mail, May 16, 2005.

182 Donald Macintyre, “Hamas Admits Gunman Shot Woman in Honour Killing,” The Independent, April 14, 2005.


184 Ibid.