I think society and institutions are becoming more and more aware of violence against women and some ministries are now trying to cooperate But there are no procedures on how to implement the basic protections that exist.
Su`ad Abu Dayya, director of the social welfare department at the Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, East Jerusalem, November 9, 2005
The Palestinian Authority has failed to create an effective institutional framework to prevent violence against women and girls, punish these abuses when they occur, encourage victims to report acts of violence and protect them from further violence. The Palestinian police force lacks the expertise, and apparently the will, to deal with cases of violence against women in a manner that is effective, sensitive to the needs of victims, and respectful of their privacy. Meanwhile, the absence of medical guidelines for doctors also seriously affects the quality of treatment afforded to female victims of violence.
The few Palestinian women and girls who make the decision to report abuse to the authorities find themselves confronting a series of institutional obstacles that prioritize the reputation of their families in the community over their own health and lives. Human Rights Watch learned that one of the aims of the Palestinian criminal justice system with regard to cases of family violence is to avoid public scandal at all cost. While it is true that unwanted publicity can deepen the shame families feel, possibly fueling further family violence, an appropriate response would allow the victim to press charges while respecting the confidential nature of their cases. Instead, police officers often mediate and resolve these cases in the police station, sometimes proposing marriage as a solution to a rape. The belief supporting this practice is that there is no harm or shame in rape if the rapist restores the honor of his victim and her family by marrying her. The number of rape and incest cases that the police resolve through marriage every year in the OPT is unknown. One womens rights activists told Human Rights Watch that the police never register these cases or report them to the courts.185
Victims of sexual violence in particular routinely pay the price for the abuse they have suffered. In the ultimate reversal of justice, women who report abuse to their families or the authorities may be forced or coerced to marry their rapist or a stranger to erase the abuse before it is revealed to the wider community. As one observer noted, these forced marriages absolve society of the responsibility of dealing with such crimes.186 At every level of Palestinian government, even when the state is acting as guardian of a minor, as in the case of the Bethlehem Home for Girls (described in detail below), marriage is pushed as the answer to rape.187
Social service providers working in NGOs are also at risk of violence. According to several NGO social workers who did not wish to be identified, family members of their clients sometimes subject them to threats, intimidation, and violence. These professionals assume great personal risks when they help women and girls escape from abusive families and confront perpetrators of abuse. Several womens rights activists spoke to Human Rights Watch about the failure of the PA to protect not only their clients, but also themselves, as service providers. One social worker said, There is no law to protect women victims of violence or protect us as social workers. They [perpetrators of violence] intimidate and threaten us and yet there is no law to protect us.188Another social worker described how the family of one of her clients, a victim of family violence, intimidated her for intervening: They [the family of the victim] called me and came to my house. They said they would light my house on fire. They said they would kidnap me and my children I was so afraid. They called themselves the murder brigade. When she reported these threats to the police, they monitored her cell phone but provided little more assistance. The police were cold. They played with my feelings. They said, youre a social worker; you have no right to be afraid. I didnt feel like they were protecting me.189
Some police officers are really working with us. But the problem is that we dont work with the police as a whole, just individuals. We dont have specialized people to deal with victims of [gender-based] violence or special units. Everyone might know [of a case] since there is no [specific] area where privacy is ensured.
− Su`ad Abu Dayya, director of the social welfare department of WCLAC, East Jerusalem, November 9, 2005
The Palestinian police have proven to be unable or unwilling to deal effectively with cases of violence against women. While the Ministry of Interior has instituted basic procedures to ensure that women who report violence to the police do so in the presence of a female police officer, specialized expertise to adequately handle family violence complaints is entirely absent. As a result, Palestinian police officers often resort to mediation among the parties (sometimes in coordination with the informal justice system, governors, and powerful clan and tribal leaders) to resolve the problem. In several instances, Palestinian police officers have returned women to their families even when there is a substantial threat of further harm.190 It is unclear how much decision-making power, if any, women hold in this process.
Police bias against victims of gender-based violence and their lack of expertise on how to handle these cases drives many social workers to accompany their clients to the police station to see that the police file the report correctly. Su`ad Abu Dayya of WCLAC told Human Rights Watch: They are not trained [to deal with violence against women]. They dont have any procedures, so they tend to go into tribalism [coordinate with tribal leaders] since this in the only resource that they have. So if were not there, thats what they will do.191
Several of the service providers Human Rights Watch interviewed asserted that the police have a reputation for failing to respect the privacy of women and girls. One social worker told Human Rights Watch, We know that when we go to the police, a scandal will happen. There is a crisis of trust with the police. There is no confidentiality at the [police] station. Fifteen people will hear her case.192 According to another social worker, a 35-year-old woman who became pregnant outside of marriage was forced to flee to Jordan after a police officer spoke publicly about her case. When she went to the Rafidi hospital [in Nablus] to try to get an abortion, the doctors contacted the police right away because they were afraid. One of the police officers there to protect her told everybody in town [about her case].193 Another woman, Mariam Isma`il (pseudonym), experienced this lack of confidentiality firsthand. She told Human Rights Watch:
The day after Mariam reported the abuse to the police, the press documented her case in a manner which revealed her identity.
The head of police for the West Bank and Gaza admitted that confidentiality is a problem. In the present conditions, its hard to keep control of the situation, to keep cases private.195 However, the authorities have reprimanded only a handful of police officers for disclosing confidential information. The head of the Jericho Police Training College knows of only six or seven police officers who were disciplined and only one who was fired in the past nine years for publicly disclosing confidential information about a case.196
Social workers and lawyers also noted that powerful clan leaders, members of the political elite or highly ranked members of the various Palestinian security services are above the law and are able to close police files implicating them in culpable conduct. One lawyer told Human Rights Watch that when a person from an important family commits a crime, the police think a hundred times of the consequences for themselves before pursuing the case.197In a case where an influential man repeatedly raped his daughter, a university student, a social worker told us she felt she could do nothing but encourage the womans grandmother to sleep in the same room as the daughter to prevent her politically-connected father from further abusing her.198
Police officers, including senior members of the Civil Police, downplayed the importance of violence against women. The head of the Police Training College of Jericho told Human Rights Watch:
He also questioned the need for the police to disseminate information to assist victims of violence seeking to report abuse. We cant advertise. Its hard for us to advertise. We will look like were encouraging women to go to the police. It is the role of the Ministry of Social Affairs and the womens organizations to say that violence against women is a crime.200
Police officers were equally unapologetic about their efforts to mediate and encourage marriage in rape cases. According to `Alaa Hussni, the head of police for the West Bank and Gaza:
The head of Ramallah police, Taysir Mansur (Abu al-`Aiz), echoed these views:
Interviews with Palestinian police officers also revealed an inclination to view sexual violence within the family as consensual. The head of the Ramallah police told Human Rights Watch:
The head of the Nablus prison, Tawfiq Mansur (Abu Muhammad), echoed these views. He spoke to Human Rights Watch about an inmate, a 30 year old woman, who was transferred to the prison a day before our meeting. She had become pregnant after her father had engaged her in what Mansur assumed was a consensual sexual relationship. He said, If it was rape, why didnt she report it? If someone rapes his family, they [the community] kill him and thats it. He also spoke of another case that he assumed was not rape. I had a case of a mother who killed her husband for allegedly molesting their daughter. But I saw them, the girl looked stronger than him.204
Several women told Human Rights Watch about incidents of degrading treatment at police stations. When Human Rights Watch spoke to Reem Hamad (pseudonym), she had been in Nablus at the only shelter for women in the OPT for five months.205 She told Human Rights Watch that her father used to beat her and attempted to rape her on several occasions. After one of these attempts, she went to a police station in Nablus to seek help. She told Human Rights Watch that police officers mocked her because of her dark complexion. When I went to the police, one of them said do you think youre so beautiful that your father would do that to you?206
The Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling has been working since early 2005 to provide specialized training to the police, including two sessions of an 80-hour training on how to deal with domestic violence cases. They have also helped to train personnel in the police to work with the new shelter that has been created in an unnamed West Bank city and claim that the cooperation is working well and is essential to the success of the shelter. However, WCLAC is frustrated that a 2005 NGO recommendation supported by a core group of police officers trained by WCLAC, and adopted by the Palestinian Ministry of Interior, to form a specialized unit in every police station to handle domestic violence complaints, has still not been implemented.207
The health care system is typically the first and sometimes the only government-run institution with which women victims of violence come into contact. Regrettably, it is ill-equipped to deal with such cases with the level of professionalism and sensitivity required. Survey findings indicate widespread misinformation and prejudicial attitudes among Palestinian doctors towards violence against women. These biased attitudes combined with the absence of medical guidelines and the lack of sufficient training on how to treat victims of violence have left victims with little support from the health care sector.
There are no ministerial procedures or protocols to deal with family violence cases. Most doctors lack specialized training on how to treat victims of violence and the importance of keeping cases confidential. The PA lacks a medical ethics law or code governing the conduct of physicians.
Ohayla Shomar, director of Sawa, a Jerusalem-based organization combating sexual violence, has experienced the manner in which the absence of such medical protocols affects the quality of care afforded to women victims of domestic violence. In the emergency room, people [doctors and nurses] dont know how to deal with them, so they give them pills to calm their nerves and then send them home. Some women get traumatized again at the hospital, she said.208
The Bisan Center for Research and Development, a capacity-building organization based in Ramallah, has held four workshops for health care professionals on how to handle cases of violence against women. They trained 20 doctors through this program in Nablus, Ramallah, and Bethlehem and 44 doctors from Gaza. Rahma Mansur, a program advisor at Bisan, noted that these medical professionals displayed a sense of disbelief about the levels of violence against women.209 They also did not know how to identify victims of domestic violence and how to deal with their cases. She told Human Rights Watch, When we started talking about it, it was clear that they didnt have the skills or knowledge about how to deal with victims. We needed to train them that even though no physical signs of violence exist, there may still be violence.210
These workshops prompted the Bisan Center to publish a report entitled, The Approach of Palestinian Physicians towards Wife Abuse in 2003.211 To carry out the study, researchers conducted interviews and distributed questionnaires to 396 Palestinian doctors between September 2001 and April 2002.212 The results were startling. Close to half of physicians surveyed, 44 percent, agreed with the statement that a very small percentage of Palestinian women are abused by their husbands.213 Approximately 63 percent of the physicians interviewed considered only severe and persistent abuse to be domestic violence, while 47 percent qualified their definitions in a way that that might be taken as implicitly or explicitly blaming the woman for her husbands violent behavior .214 The doctors showed a considerable amount of empathy for the perpetrators of violence and very little for the victims: 38 percent felt that if the abused wife understood her husbands life conditions, he certainly would not have abused her; 29 percent agreed that wives are abused because of the abnormal way they treat their husbands; 16 percent agreed that most abused wives deserve to be treated violently by their husbands; and 10 percent thought that most abused wives feel relieved after their husbands batter them.215
Many doctors do not record cases of violence against women and girls brought to their attention. The head of the Ramallah public hospital told Human Rights Watch:
The hospital lacks any specialized expertise on treating and assisting victims of violence. We have one social worker doing clerical work since shes not qualified to monitor cases, said the head of the hospital.
Palestinian womens rights organizations have documented cases of doctors in Palestinian hospitals disclosing confidential patient information without the consent of the patients, thus deterring women from reporting abuse and potentially costing women their lives if their cases become widely known. Halima Abu-Sulb, an attorney with WCLAC, described one such case in 2002 involving a 16-year-old girl from Ramallah who went to the hospital with her mother to treat a leg injury.217 After examining the girl, the doctor came out to the waiting room filled with patients and said to her mother, how can I give her an X-ray? Your daughter is 8-months pregnant.218 The pregnancy was the result of repeated rape by her two brothers, aged 16 and 21.219 Her mother later killed her, claiming that the social pressure to kill her daughter was overwhelming following the incident in the waiting room.220 While her brothers are serving sentences for the rapes, a court imprisoned the mother for only one month for the murder and the father for only one week for his involvement in the death.221
The head of the Ramallah hospital told Human Rights Watch that if doctors suspect that a patient has been the victim of any type of crime, they are required to report the case with or without the womans consent to a police outpost next to the hospital. Some doctors have some awareness. They speak to the women and give them referrals. These are mostly private doctors. In the public hospitals, they all contact the police directly. They dont want to take on this responsibility.222 Private doctors in the OPT generally have far better access to financial and technical resources as well as more institutional distance from the authorities, which may explain these differences in approach.
The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), a global organization representing obstetricians and gynecologists in over 100 countries, has provided clear guidelines to health professionals treating victims of violence. In a resolution on violence against women adopted in 1997,FIGO noted that physicians are ethically obligated to: educate themselves, other health professionals and community workers about the extent, types, and negative consequences of violence against women; increase their ability to identify women who are experiencing violence and to provide supportive counseling and appropriate treatment and referral; work with others to better the understanding of the problem by documenting the determinants of violence against women and its harmful consequences; assist in the legal prosecution of cases of sexual abuse and rape by careful and sensitive documentation of the evidence; and support those who are working to end violence against women in their families and in communities.223 These ethical obligations, among others, should be incorporated into health protocols devised by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
An intact hymen meant that the abuse could be silenced, hidden, and denied.
− Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian224
In the West Bank and Gaza, the police and public prosecutors usually require that unmarried women and girl victims of sexual abuse undergo virginity examinations by predominantly male forensic doctors.225 These tests attempt to determine whether or not the victims are virgins by examining the status of the hymen, and if it is not intact, to establish whether it was broken as a result of sexual intercourse and when it was broken. According to one public prosecutor in Hebron, not all sexual assault cases are sent for virginity testing. It depends on the allegations. If they come and say there was no intercourse, then there is no need. If she alleges rape or is a minor, we do the test since she might not really know if she was penetrated or not.226According to another prosecutor in Ramallah, forensic doctors (at the request of public prosecutors) usually order these tests in all sexual violence cases, while women and girls who allege that they have been raped will undergo an additional DNA test.227 Prosecutors sometimes administer these tests without the victims consent. A prosecutor told Human Rights Watch that if it is important for a case and we really need it, well do it even without consent. For example, in a case of alleged rape, we would need to do virginity test to check We only impose absolutely necessary tests.228
Prosecutors ask forensic doctors to administer virginity test on the corpses of women and girls who are believed to be victims of honor crimes in order to verify whether or not they were virgins prior to their death. Courts can use this information to determine whether the perpetrator(s) should benefit from mitigating circumstances. If a forensic doctor deems the woman or girl to be a non-virgin, even if the loss of her virginity can be attributed to rape or incest, a judge presumably may reduce the killers sentence. A public prosecutor told Human Rights Watch:
Virginity testing is intrinsically linked to honor crimes against Palestinian women and girls. Family members sometimes force victims of sexual abuse and women and girls suspected of having extra-marital sex to undergo virginity examinations.229 The results of these exams are a matter of life and death, since family members have perpetrated honor crimes against Palestinian women and girls after the disclosure of this information.230 In addition, Palestinian advocates who did not wish to be identified report that public doctors often cover up the cause of injury or death when confronted with cases of family violence and record erroneous causes on death certificates in cases of honor killings.
Families also pressure doctors to record a woman as a non-virgin to help support a murder defense based on honor killing. The former head of the Abu Dis Forensic Institute, Dr. Jalal `Abd al-Jabar, told Human Rights Watch that he regularly conducted virginity exams on victims of alleged honor crimes or victims of sexual abuse.231 He also administered these exams on the bodies of women and girls who were murdered by their families. In cases where the tests suggested that a woman or girl was a virgin, undermining a familys allegations of sexual promiscuity, he told Human Rights Watch that family members had often intimidated him to change the results and report that she was not a virgin, so that the perpetrators of the murder might receive a reduced sentence:
According to Dr. `Abd al-Jabar, public prosecutors send only a minority of cases to the Institute since family members will sometimes secretly bury women and girls whom they murdered.233 He also told Human Rights Watch that when he was at the Institute, they administered all virginity tests with the consent of the woman and always conducted them in the presence of either the Institutes secretary or a nurse (both female):
For some victims of violence, having to undergo a painful, humiliating, and invasive virginity test was as abusive as the violence itself. Some women and girls are traumatized by this experience. The police forced Reem Hamad (pseudonym) to undergo a virginity test when she reported her fathers attempted rapes to the police.
Human Rights Watch maintains that such examinations are unjustified, that the emphasis on female virginity is itself inherently discriminatory, and that, in any case, virginity is irrelevant as evidence of sexual assault. A voluntary gynecological examination might be legitimate, for example, in order to collect evidence relating to a rape charge. However, there is no legitimate rationale for virginity examinations. Instead, such exams reflect a misplaced preoccupation with the victims ostensible virginity and popular misconceptions about the medical verifiability of virginity. Experts have confirmed that the state of a womans hymen is not a reliable indicator of recent sexual intercourse or the nature, consensual or otherwise, of any such intercourse.236 The degree of elasticity, resilience, and thickness of the hymen, its location in the vaginal canal, and consequently its susceptibility to tearing and bruising, vary from person to person.237
As Palestinians have lost faith in reform of the judicial system, they have turned increasingly to traditional means of settling disputes through the informal justice system.238 The informal justice system runs parallel to the formal system and seeks reconciliation between parties rather than a judicial or penal remedy. The system is run by informal judges who usually inherit their positions from fathers or grandfathers and who must be well-respected, powerful members of the community. The informal judges call a series of public hearings to address a variety of disputes (such as cases of assault or financial or land disputes) between members of the community with the goal of formulating a reconciliation agreement or contract that must be signed by the involved parties. If either of the parties violates the terms of the contract, they are punished, usually through a monetary fine payable to the other party.
Du`a Mansur, the research coordinator of a forthcoming Birzeit University study on the informal justice system, told Human Rights Watch that:
Another study on informal justice describes a type of unwritten tribal (customary) law which is used as a frame of reference in the informal justice system.240 Decisions of the informal justice system are not legally binding, they are enforced through community pressure and respect of the parties for the stature and decisions of the communitys informal judges.
The informal justice system is not part of the official, law-based justice system in the OPT. However, sometimes elected and appointed officials and members of the regular criminal justice system are also the informal judges in their home districts.241 The Birzeit study asserts that Palestinians turn to the informal justice system more than to the regular justice system, and that Yasser Arafat supported the informal justice system by sending high ranking officials to adjudicate in particularly difficult cases and by contributing financially to the monetary fine to be paid in some cases.242
Since informal judges rarely intervene in domestic conflicts, the system often does not address cases of violence against women inside the family. In cases of potential honor crimes where the womans life is at stake, however, there is frequent recourse to informal justice mechanisms. According to one observer, the most respected, powerful, and renowned tribal heads are entrusted to deal with the most difficult of social problems (e.g. femicides and killings).243 Tribal notables often view social disputes involving alleged violations of the sexual purity of females (ard) as the most serious offenses.244 Informal justices may attempt to broker a deal in which the family promises not to harm the girl or woman or to search for a member of the clan or extended family who can shelter the girl or woman in their home. However, a study carried out by the Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling noted that informal judges, who are always male, often sympathize with the male offenders, even in cases of honor killings. One judge interviewed for the study said:
Police officers told Human Rights Watch that they regularly coordinate with the tribal and clan leaders in a town or village in which an incident took place.246 A Palestinian womens rights activist also noted that police officers have told several of her clients to refer their cases to their clan leaders for mediation.247 As this system is non-judicial and non-regulated, there is no way to ensure that a womans legal rights will be upheld.
A social worker told Human Rights Watch that in her experience, clan leaders often approach the police when cases involving a member of their clan reach the police station: If they dont get the answer they want, they contact the higher ups in the police. There is a lot of power and space opened to them, much more than even the Palestinian Authority The [Palestinian] Authority allowed these influential clans to become more powerful than they are And no efforts have been made to restrict their role.248
Im against this system; all cases should go to the courts. But this is the result of the difficult judicial situation. People want quick solutions, so they go to governors. This is the result of the failure of the criminal court system. If you have a case, even a minor one, that takes five years, what do you do?
− Suha Allaya, legal affairs assistant, Ministry of Justice, Ramallah, November 26, 2005
Governors of OPT governorates, who are appointed by the executive branch and serve as the representative of the president for indefinite terms, also play a role in the informal justice system. Their status, and thus ability to intervene in disputes, varies according to their closeness to the president.249 During the intifada, when the regular courts were functioning poorly, Palestinians often turned to the governors office for a quick resolution to disputes.Researchers at the Institute of Law at Birzeit University confirmed to Human Rights Watch that governors do not have formal judicial powers enshrined in law bur rather are actors in the informal justice system.250 Another observer of the role of governors in resolving disputes claims that governors have tried to justify their interference in the judicial system based on provisions in various outdated laws and regulations.251 These laws include Jordanian legislation such as the Administrative Divisions Regulation No. l of 1966 and the 1954 Law to Prohibit Crimes that gives local Governors some emergency power to prevent crimes.252
Governors have been involved in resolving cases of violence against women and girls. Victims of violence sometimes report to the governors office in their town in order to avoid the stigma of going to the police station.253 Rape and incest victims, unmarried pregnant women and others threatened by their families will come to the governors office seeking protection.254 Governors have on occasion provided shelter for these women.255
According to Lina `Abd al-Hadi, the legal advisor to the governor of Nablus, the governorate has received hundreds of reports of incest. She told Human Rights Watch:
While Lina `Abd al-Hadi claims that their office has the authority to detain perpetrators for up to one year, Human Rights Watch could not find any reference in legislation to confirm this assertion. She said we use the provision that allows us to imprison people for one year especially in moral cases. In the [regular] courts, it could take years I would prefer that these cases go to court since its a longer sentence.257
While some governors are helpful to women who report abuse to them, others have shown bias against women in their handling of cases of violence against women. Manal Awad, the head of the womens empowerment program at the Gaza Community Mental Heath Program, spoke to Human Rights Watch about her experiences interacting with governors. The police just call the mukhtar [governor], and he solves the problem. They blame her for the problem. We have some problems talking to them. Some of them think that women are always wrong.258 As another analyst of the governors system noted, The Governors office often interpreted the law with what might be called a nationalist attitude. The emphasis on unity often favored the stronger party in the dispute.259
In some cases of threatened honor crimes, governors broker deals with family members who promise not to harm the women and girls if they return home. These deals have resulted in the deaths of several women and girls. While governors offices and district courts penalized some family members who committed these murders (although most received reduced sentences), the police and attorney generals office have never investigated governors and others who may hold some responsibility for these deaths. In fact, there are no mechanisms to monitor the conduct of these informal government officials or to hold them accountable for their actions.
The Ministry of Justice and members of the judiciary were critical of the use of mechanisms other than the regular courts to resolve legal disputes. Then-minister of justice Farid al-Jalad told Human Rights Watch in November 2005: I dont think this is the right way to solve problems. There has to be respect for the judiciary. The police should transfer every case except simple ones based on minor personal claims to the courts.260 According to one judge who wished to remain anonymous, before [the intifada], all cases were going to the courts. But now theyre solved by mediation at the police station. Lots of cases dont reach the courts. The governor also solves a lot of these cases. Theres a police force, there are courts, they [the governors] shouldnt be doing this. Despite these views, the minister of justice told Human Rights Watch that no action has been taken to curb the quasi-judicial activities of governors.261
Why does murder happen? Because theres no place to protect women.
− Court of Appeals judge Hani al-Natur, Ramallah, December 1, 2005
The PA has failed to establish sufficient protective mechanisms to shelter victims of violence. Despite the systemic nature of violence against women in the OPT, there was only one shelter solely devoted to women victims of violence operating in the West Bank during the period of research for this report in November and December 2005.262 It is located in the West Bank town of Nablus and can house only 25 women for periods of six months. It cannot accommodate their children. A home for girls in Bethlehem (Bayt al-Fatayat) shelters some victims of physical and sexual violence, although its mandate is much broader and includes housing girls whose parents can no longer care for them physically or financially. The lack of shelters has forced womens organizations and the police to come up with creative but often dangerous solutions for victims of violence, including sheltering them in police stations, governors offices, private homes, and institutions such as schools for the blind and orphanages.
The police have held some women and girls they deem to be at risk of violence, particularly prior to the second intifada, in protective custody in womens sections of Palestinian prisons. They largely phased this practice out due to Israeli military attacks on jails during the intifada and new insistence on the part of the Ministry of Interior that the police hold all detainees only under court order. However, when Human Rights Watch visited the Nablus prison in November 2005, two of the 14 women incarcerated appeared to be there primarily to protect them against family violence. According to the head of the womens section of the prison, the police suspected one of these prisoners of having an extra-marital affair and harming her husband. While she wishes to leave and claims that her family would never harm her, the head of the prison services, the chief of police, and the judge who heard her case all believe that she must remain behind bars until they are assured her family will not try to kill her. The state decided to move her, and the man with whom she is accused of having the extra-marital affair, who is also incarcerated, from the West Bank to Gaza after her family allegedly opened fire on the Ramallah governors office where they were being held. Another young woman in the Nablus jail is purportedly there because she left home without her familys permission and is at risk of being harmed by the family.263
Movement restrictions within and between the West Bank and Gaza make it virtually impossible for some victims of violence to reach the shelters in Nablus or Bethlehem, leaving them without a refuge from violence.264 In emergency situations, NGOs and the police have illegally sent women and girls at risk of violence to Israel or Jordan for safety, although increased security at the borders and the separation wall has made this option increasingly difficult. Ghadir al-Shaikh, an attorney in the West Bank town of Tulkaram told Human Rights Watch, There is no shelter to protect women in Tulkaram, so even if you empower her, theres nowhere to protect her. And she sees that all the other cases like hers end up dead.265
Israeli military incursions and movement restrictions have also isolated some Palestinian women in ever-more localized spaces, especially in rural areas where women have tremendous difficulty accessing extended family networks or social and protective services. This trend is reflected in the small number of girls housed in Bethlehems Home for Girls (Bayt al-Fatayat) and the womens shelter in Nablus. The director of the Bethlehem home told Human Rights Watch that in 1999 they housed 49 girls at one time, but that, at least in part due to girls difficulties in accessing the facility, there were only 12 cases when Human Rights Watch visited in November 2005.266
Victims of family violence in Gaza are in a particularly bad position since it is virtually impossible for residents of Gaza to reach the West Bank, and no shelters exist in Gaza. The absence of a refuge for victims of violence in Gaza forces womens organizations to resort to solutions to which they are ideologically opposed. Manal Awad, head of the nongovernmental Womens Empowerment Program, told Human Rights Watch, Sometimes the police call to say that a woman has been raped and theres no place to protect her. We have to look for a governor to help, even though were against this system which is generally against women. They will usually ask her to marry him [the rapist] if they know who he is.267
With respect to the two shelters that exist in the West Bank, womens rights organizations have voiced concerns that the lengthy entry procedures set by the Ministry of Social Affairs prevent victims from receiving urgent assistance. Some social workers and lawyers have also complained that once they refer a client to the Ministry of Social Affairs, the ministry does not allow them to follow-up on the case or meet their client again because the cases would now come under the ministrys jurisdiction.
Representatives of the MOSA admitted that there are weaknesses in its responses to violence against women. One senior ministry employee told Human Rights Watch, We deal with these cases and protect many women from being killed, but we dont deal with theses cases in a professional way since there are no specialist social workers and theres no time to deal with these cases.268
A combination of financial and bureaucratic obstacles has stalled efforts to establish new shelters in the West Bank and Gaza in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs. WCLAC has secured funding and built a shelter for women and their children in Bethlehem, which is not yet operating. In early 2006, after the field research for this report had been completed, WCLAC also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with MOSA and started operating an emergency shelter in a West Bank city, the identity of which was not revealed so as to provide added protection for women or girls who seek to use it. This emergency shelter is a place where women seeking refuge from violence can go quickly without onerous bureaucratic procedures. After two years of difficult negotiations with MOSA on the terms of admittance and the regulations for running the shelter, WCLAC reported to Human Rights Watch in June 2006 that the MOU they negotiated ultimately contained all the provisions they had fought for and that they were very satisfied with the relationship between the shelter, the local police and the local MOSA.269 The Ministry has also built and equipped a shelter for girls under the age of 18 in Jenin and has been planning to open it for the past three years.270 Ministry officials could not give Human Rights Watch a clear reason why the shelter is not operating yet but WCLAC said that it was due to financial and political constraints.271
The Nablus Shelter
The shelter in Nablus works in a secret way. We dont want to deal with it in a secret way. The individual cases should be secret, yes, but not the issue. The issue of violence - we have to raise it. Some people in the ministry [of social affairs] are against us since they want it [violence against women] to be kept underground.
− Diane Mbarak, Ministry of Social Affairs, Azaria, November 25, 2005
The Family Defense Society (FDS), an NGO that receives limited financial support from MOSA, runs the shelter for victims of violence in Nablus. At the time of Human Rights Watchs visit in November 2005, four women lived in the shelter, which has a capacity of 25. Residents can stay for up to six months, although a committee made up of the FDS and the MOSA has the discretion to renew this term.272 MOSA approves each applicant and transfers cases to the facility; it is also responsible for the basic regulations of the shelter.273 Before the establishment of the Nablus shelter, victims of violence and women threatened with honor crimes would regularly sleep at the police station or within Ministries or be detained in protective custody in prisons.274
In order to be eligible to stay in a shelter, a woman must meet a set of strict criteria established by the MOSA. The shelter does not accept women suspected of being drug addicts, mentally ill, prostitutes, and those who are deemed to be a physical danger to others.275 Social workers at leading womens rights organizations told us that they often hesitate before referring victims to the Nablus shelter because of the sometimes lengthy entry procedures imposed by the Ministry. One social worker told us that she had to house a woman threatened by her family in her office for several days with serious potential risks to the woman and the NGO staff, while the Nablus shelter reviewed her file.276 As a condition to entering the facility, the center tests women for HIV/AIDS and pregnancy, and administers virginity examinations to determine the status of the hymen.277 The shelter admits both virgins and non-virgins. The women and girls we spoke to considered this testing mandatory and thus thought there was no way to opt out. One woman told Human Rights Watch, They have a law that any girl who comes here has to do the test.278 The shelter did not provide any counseling in connection with these tests.
MOSA established the Bethlehem Home for Girls (Bayt al-Fatayat) in 1985 in order to protect and rehabilitate girls between the ages of 12 and 18. The home receives victims of incest, unmarried pregnant girls threatened by their families, and girls whose parents are imprisoned or cannot afford to financially support them. MOSA coordinates the transfer of girls to the Bethlehem home. The girls go to school during the day if the staff deems it safe for them to do so; girls threatened by families who live in the Bethlehem area or nearby do not go to school but attend in-house training in sewing and hairdressing. The director of the home stated explicitly that she does not allow the girls to leave the facility even when they reach the age of majority (18) unless their families agree to take custody of them or they marry.279 She said that under no circumstances would she allow adult women to live on their own.280 When we verified this information with then Minister of Social Affairs Hassan Abu Libda, he appeared extremely surprised and said this was not MOSA policy.281
When the facility receives an unmarried girl who is pregnant, as a result of a rape, staff generally try to mediate between the rapist and the girls family. The director of the facility told Human Rights Watch that marriage is the optimum solution to rape cases.282 When asked what would happen if the woman or girl did not want to marry her rapist but rather wanted to press charges, she deemed this unthinkable. In cases where the victim becomes pregnant due to the rape, MOSA considers it imperative that she marry because otherwise the child will be an illegal child who does not have rights to a birth certificate, and the ministry will immediately take the baby from the mother and put him or her up for adoption.283 The head of the home told Human Rights Watch that:
In the six years Jihad Abu al-`Ain has headed the Bethlehem home, she has pressured five girls to marry their rapists.285 A social worker, who has worked there for 15 years, said she has seen countless such cases. 286
The staff of the Bethlehem home call girls they deem to be non-virgins, following a forced virginity test, special cases. According to Jihad Abu al-`Ain:
A social worker at the home told Human Rights Watch, marriage is the most successful rehabilitation. She will stay here if she doesnt want to get married.288
185 Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Awad, head of the womens empowerment program, Gaza Community Mental Heath Program (GCMHP), Gaza, November 28, 2005.
186 Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Towards a Cultural Definition of Rape: Dilemmas in Dealing with Rape Victims in Palestinian Society, Womens Studies International Forum, Vol. 22, No.2 (1999), p.167.
187 See Chapter IVs sub-section on the Bethlehem Home for Girls for more details.
188 Human Rights Watch interview with Attadal Al-Jariri, head of social work, Palestinian Working Womens Society for Development (PWWSD), Ramallah, November 7, 2005.
189 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker [name withheld], Nablus, November 13, 2005.
190 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker [name withheld], Nablus, November 13, 2005.
191 Human Rights Watch interview with Su`ad Abu Dayya, Head of Social Work Unit, Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), East Jerusalem, November 9, 2005
192 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker [name withheld], Nablus, November 13, 2005.
193 Human Rights Watch interview with Su`ad Shitwi, social worker, Family Defense Society, Nablus, November 13, 2005. Jordanian and Egyptian laws in force in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively, criminalize abortion in all cases except when the mothers health or life is at risk. Abortion is illegal in rape and incest cases.
194 Human Rights Watch interview with Mariam Isma`il (pseudonym), Nablus, November 27, 2005.
195 Human Rights Watch interview with `Alaa Hussni, head of police, Ramallah, December 1, 2005.
196 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahmud Rahal, director of the Jericho Police College, Jericho, November 16, 2005.
197 Human Rights Watch interview with a Palestinian lawyer [name withheld], Ramallah, November 8, 2005.
198 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker [name withheld], Nablus, November 13, 2005.
199 Human Rights Watch interview with Mahmud Rahal, director of the Jericho Police College, Jericho, November 16, 2005.
202 Human Rights Watch interview with Taysir Mansur (Abu al-`Aiz), head of Ramallah police, Ramallah, November 25, 2005.
203 Human Rights Watch interview with Taysir Mansur (Abu al-`Aiz), head of Ramallah police, Ramallah, November 25, 2005.
204 Human Rights Watch interview with Tawfiq Mansur (Abu Muhammad), head of the Nablus prison, Nablus, November 27, 2005.
205 For more information on shelters in the OPT, see subsection on Inadequate Shelters for Victims of Violence in chapter V.
206 Human Rights Watch interview with Reem Hamad (pseudonym), Nablus, November 23, 2006.
207 Human Rights Watch interview with Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas, Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, East Jerusalem, June 14, 20 6.
208 Human Rights Watch interview with Ohayla Shomar, director of Sawa, East Jerusalem, November 9, 2005.
209 Human Rights Watch interview with Rahma Mansur, director of communications development, Bisan Center for Research and Development, Ramallah, November 14, 2005.
211 See Muhammad M. Haj-Yahia, The Approach of Palestinian Physicians Toward Wife Abuse (Ramallah: Bisan Center for Research and Development, 2003).
213 Ibid, p. 79, n. 211.
214 Ibid., p. 72, n. 211.
215 Ibid., p. 79, n. 211.
216 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Hussni Atari, head of Ramallah hospital, Ramallah, November 22, 2005.
217 Human Rights Watch interview with Halima Abu-Sulb, attorney, Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), November 14, 2005.
222 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker [name withheld], Nablus, November 13, 2005.
223 The Resolution was approved by the FIGO General Assembly at the XV FIGO World Congress of Gynecology and Obstetrics, Copenhagen, Denmark, 3-8 August 1997. See http://web.amnesty.org/pages/health-ethicsfigovaw-eng (accessed May 17, 2006)
224 Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, The Politics of Disclosing Female Sexual Abuse: A Case Study of Palestinian Society, Child Abuse and Neglect, Vol.23, No.12, p. 1282.
225 Human Rights Watch interview with Nashat Ayush, chief prosecutor for Hebron, Bethlehem, May 15, 2006.
227 Human Rights Watch interview with Yusif Nasrallah, former head of prosecutions for the West Bank, Ramallah, May 22, 2006.
229 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Jalal `Abd al-Jabar, former head of the Abu Dis Forensic Institute, Bethlehem, November 15, 2005.
231 Human Rights Watch interview with Dr. Jalal `Abd al-Jabar, former head of the Abu Dis Forensic Institute, Bethlehem, November 15, 2005.
235 Human Rights Watch interview with Reem Hamad (pseudonym), Nablus, November 23, 2005.
236 Dr. Greg Larkin, Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and an expert in the field of forensic documentation of intimate partner abuse, states that there is no reliable test for virginity. Hymens can be torn by a range of common activities, and the presence of an intact hymen does not signify abstention from sexual intercourse. E-mail message from Dr. Greg Larkin to Human Rights Watch, February 14, 2006.
238 Information in this section is based on the findings of a study carried out by Birzeit University Institute of Law in the West Bank in 2005, unless otherwise noted. The forthcoming publication is entitled: "Informal Justice: the Rule of Law and Dispute Settlement in Palestine" and will be available from Birzeit University Institute of Law. The findings were related to Human Rights Watch during an interview with the research coordinator, Du`a Mansur, Ramallah, December 7, 2005.
239 Human Rights Watch interview with Du`a Mansur, Law and Society Unit, Birzeit University, Ramallah, December 7, 2005.
240 The sources of tribal law according to several tribal notables include ancient (pre-Islamic) customs, Islamic law (shari`a), and civil law. See Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Mapping and Analyzing the Landscape of Femicide in Palestinian Society (Jerusalem: Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, 2004), p. 49.
241 Human Rights Watch interview with Du`a Mansur, Law and Society Unit, Birzeit University, Ramallah, December 7, 2005.
243 Ibid, p. 48, n. 241.
245 Ibid., p. 53.
246 Human Rights Watch interview with Taysir Mansur (Abu al-`Aiz), head of Ramallah police, Ramallah, November 25, 2005.
247 Human Rights Watch phone interview with Manal Awwad, director of the Womens Empowerment Project of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, October 12, 2005.
248 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker [name withheld], Ramallah, November 7, 2005.
249 Human Rights Watch interview with Ghassan Faramond and Asem Khalil, Institute of Law, Birzeit University, Ramallah, July 28, 2006.
250 Human Rights Watch interview with Ghassan Faramond and Asem Khalil, Institute of Law, Birzeit University, Ramallah, July 28, 2006.
251 See Tobias Kelly, Working Paper No. 41 Access to Justice: The Palestinian Legal System and the Fragmentation of Coercive Power, Development Research Centre, London School of Economics, March 2004.
252 Ibid. Original Arabic laws on file with Human Rights Watch.
253 Human Rights Watch interview with Lina `Abd al-Hadi, legal advisor to the governor of Nablus, Nablus, November 27, 2005.
255 Human Rights Watch interview with Attadal Al-Jariri, head of social work, Palestinian Working Womens Society for Development (PWWSD), Ramallah, November 7, 2005.
256 Human Rights Watch interview with Lina `Abd al-Hadi, legal advisor to the governor of Nablus, Nablus, November 27, 2005.
258 Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Awad, Womens Empowerment Program, Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Gaza, November 28, 2005.
259 Ibid. n. 253
260 Human Rights Watch interview with Farid al-Jalad, former minister of justice, Ramallah, November 26, 2005.
262 Since that time WCLAC reported to Human Rights Watch that a second shelter has opened and is running successfully in 2006.
263 All the facts in this paragraph are based on information provided by Tawfiq Mansur, head of the womens section of the Nablus prison, Nablus, November 27, 2005.
264 Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Awad, head of the womens empowerment program, Gaza Community Mental Heath Program (GCMHP), Gaza, November 28, 2005.
265 Human Rights Watch interview with Ghadir al-Shaikh, attorney, PWWSD, Tulkaram, November 16, 2005.
266 Human Rights Watch interview with Jihad Abu al-`Ain, director of the Bethlehem Home for Girls, Bethlehem, November 29, 2005.
267 Human Rights Watch interview with Manal Awad, head of the womens empowerment program, Gaza Community Mental Heath Program, Gaza, November 28, 2005.
268 Human Rights Watch interview with Diane Mbarak, Ministry of Social Affairs, Azaria, November 25, 2005.
269 Human Rights Watch interview with Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas, Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, East Jerusalem, June 14, 2006.
270 Human Rights Watch interview with Diane Mbarak, Ministry of Social Affairs, Azaria, November 25, 2005.
271 Human Rights Watch interview with Su`ad Abu Dayya, Head of Social Work Unit, Womens Center for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC), East Jerusalem, November 9, 2005.
272 Human Rights Watch interview with Amal al-Ahmad, director of Nablus shelter, Nablus, November 13, 2005.
273 Human Rights Watch interview with Amal al-Ahmad, director of Nablus shelter, Nablus, November 13, 2005.
274 Human Rights Watch interview with Amal al-Ahmad, director of Nablus shelter, Nablus, November 13, 2005.
276 Human Rights Watch interview with Attadal Al-Jariri, head of social work, Palestinian Working Womens Society for Development, Ramallah, November 7, 2005.
277 Human Rights Watch interview with Amal al-Ahmad, director of Nablus shelter, Nablus, November 13, 2005.
278 Human Rights Watch interview with a woman residing in the Nablus Shelter [name withheld], November 23, 2005.
279 Human Rights Watch interview with Jihad Abu al-`Ain, director of the Bethlehem Girls Institution, Bethlehem, November 29, 2005.
281 Human Rights Watch interview with Hassan Abu Libda, then Minister of Social Affairs, Ramallah, December 1, 2005.
282 Human Rights Watch interview with Jihad Abu al-`Ain, director of the Bethlehem Girls Institution, Bethlehem, November 29, 2005.
286 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker at the Bethlehem Girls Institution, Bethlehem, November 29, 2005.
287 Human Rights Watch interview with Jihad Abu al-`Ain, director of the Bethlehem Girls Institution, Bethlehem, November 29, 2005.
288 Human Rights Watch interview with a social worker at the Bethlehem Girls Institution, Bethlehem, November 29, 2005.