Daily Israel Report

Op Ed: Taming the Wild East -- Arab Honor Killings in Israel

What is really going on in Lod, where many 'honor kilings' occurred recently, is that Bedouin were exposed to modernity.
By Phyllis Chesler
First Publish: 10/31/2010, 3:12 PM / Last Update: 10/31/2010, 3:56 PM

Flash 90

The Arab and Muslim world are, by nature, chronically violent. In addition to tribal and family feuds, religious and political wars are ever-constant, as are slavers, gun-runners, pirates, tyrants, torturers, and garden-variety thieves and gangsters. Add the routine and savage persecution of non-Muslims and Muslim dissidents, the savage subordination of women, the rise of jihadic terrorism and foreign wars to this mix, stir, and you've got the modern Middle East.

What can it mean when civilians demonstrate against "violence" in such a setting? Are they talking about petty crime waves—or about honor killings? Can such demonstrations even take place in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, or Pakistan?

Not really—but they can and do take place in Jewish Israel. For example, on October 22, 2010, in Lod, a well-orchestrated demonstration, ostensibly about the rising rate of community violence, drew serious media and political attention. The signs were in both Arabic and Hebrew and read: "The police are the main suspect"; "No to racism, yes to freedom"; "Enough with house demolitions! Yes to solving murders"; "Ilan Hariri [the Jewish mayor of Lod]: Enough! Go home!"; "No to violence in all its forms."

What were these demonstrators really protesting? Were they actually blaming the Israeli government for not being able to crack down more effectively on the 20 percent of the population which is Arab and which is, ostensibly, committing the violence?

On October 28, 2010, Prime Minister Netanyahu vowed that Lod "will not become the Wild West." He might as well have said that he plans to tame the far wilder East. Nevertheless, Netanyahu pledged 130 million NIS ($36 million) "to save crime-ridden Lod." He stated that the government has also sent in large numbers of Border Policemen and "municipal inspectors" to crack down on the crime wave in Lod.

Israel has a relatively good record in terms of helping potential honor killing victims escape and survive and in arresting and prosecuting honor killers.

For example, in 2007, Hamda Abu-Ghanem, 18, was shot to death in Ramle, Israel by her brother because some men in her town had referred to her as a prostitute. She was the eighth woman to have been murdered in her extended family in seven years, and the family's women finally went public. In a plea bargain, an Israeli court sentenced the brother to sixteen years in prison.

In 2007, 21-year-old Nadia Abu Amar of Jerusalem was murdered by her three brothers and her uncle because she refused to marry the man she was engaged to and because she got her father arrested and convicted for assault. One of the brothers received a sentence of 27 years in prison, one received a 12 year sentence; the other two perpetrators got six years.

In 2008, a court in Nazareth, Israel sentenced Khaled Muslemi to 14 years in prison for attempting to murder his sister in an honor killing because he had heard rumors that she had been behaving promiscuously. The Israeli court stated:

The despicable, repetitive phenomenon of murder…of innocent women under the pretence of 'honor killings' must be condemned in the harshest manner possible…Acts such as the defendant's bear no honor. They bear only shame and disgrace. The court is disgusted by the defendant's decision to be his sister's executioner.

Such sentences are not often handed down in Mecca, Baghdad, Islamabad, Kandahar—or even in Amman, Gaza, or in the PA.

For example, in 1997, in a small village in Jordan, 21-year-old Rania Arafat was honor-murdered by her younger brother, who was chosen precisely because minors receive a reduced sentence. Her aunts ordered her murder because she refused an arranged marriage and then dared to elope with an Iraqi man of her own choosing. Rania's killer probably did not spend more than a few months in jail.

In 2003, Rofayda Qaoud of Abu Qash in the PA areas was murdered by her mother Amira Qaoud, who put a plastic bag over her head and sliced her wrists with a razor. Her crime? Rofayda had been raped by her two brothers and impregnated. Her mother-killer, Amira, was expected to receive at most three to five years in prison. It is not clear if she did so.

In 2005, a group of Hamas gunmen shot 20-year-old Yusra al-Azzam to death after they found her picnicking on the beach with a man. The man, it turned out, was her fiancé. Hamas disavowed the killings but released the killers because they were related to a powerful Gaza clan. The Mufti of Gaza later ordered that 25,000 Jordanian dinars ($35,000) of "blood money" be paid to the al-Azzam family.

But what is really going on in Lod, a city which is nine miles from Tel Aviv and the home of Israel's large international airport?

The Israeli police claim that 11 of the recent murders (three in the last month alone) which took place in Lod were honor murders; they have arrested two professional killers who were hired by families to "cleanse their shame." Both cases involved women engaging in unacceptable relationships with men.

The Arabs in Lod claim that the "violence" is due to a lack of social services. In Arabic, the media only refers to "violence," not to "honor killings." Ari Cadri, the attorney for the suspects, is threatening to sue the media for claiming that the "the two suspects were hit men or operating a business for honor killings."

Here's the background.

Eighty percent of the Lod population is Jewish. Twenty percent is Arab. In the 1960s, a large number of Bedouin began moving to Lod looking for grass for their sheep. At first they settled in tents. Later they built wooden huts, then sheet-metal houses, then regular concrete houses, and finally villas. According to a source who must remain anonymous, "All that time, the state did nothing to move them back to the Negev. Nobody knows why, maybe because the local authorities did not complain since they employed some of these Bedouin for very low salaries."

In the last decade, through the media and education, and by dint of living with a more modern Jewish population, these Bedouin were exposed to modernity. Their daughters started dressing in modern style, started adopting a modern lifestyle, and started to go to high schools and universities. According to my source: "The men could not stand this and started to kill them for bringing shame on the family by dressing in modern style, by going to school or by refusing to marry their cousins."

In addition, the Bedouin traditionally tend to resort to violence whenever a dispute erupts due to the realities of living in a harsh and unforgiving desert. They do not expect the police, social workers, or a central government to solve their conflicts or to enforce their customs. According to my source, "Even a generation after leaving the desert they still retain a Bedouin mindset, which is well expressed by the Bedouin proverb: 'You can take the Bedouin out of the desert, but you can't take the desert out of the Bedouin'".

In a sense, what is happening in Lod is a miniature version of the problem that Europe now faces with a non-integrated Muslim population. Illiterate, unskilled immigrants from rural areas of Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Pakistan, Bangladesh, etc. have flooded Europe. They watch Jihadic programs via satellite television, and attend fiery reactionary sermons. Many, not all, have little desire to become modern or western; they view doing so as an act of shameful surrender. Many, not all, are now also theologically and politically radicalized. They are also honor murdering their women and attacking the police, both verbally and physically, accusing their adopted countries of "racism" and "discrimination," and demanding a place for their customs: Sharia law, face-veiled women, gender-segregated public facilities, halal food, etc.

I suggest that this may be the proper framework in which to view the problem of violence in Lod, Israel.

The article also appeared on newsrealblog.com.

Prof. Chesler  is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. She is the best selling author of "Women and Madness" (1972), "The New Anti-Semitism" (2003) and "The Death of Feminism: What’s Next in the Struggle for Women’s Freedom" (2005) and appears often in international media interviews. She is an activist in women's causes and an expert of the issue of women in Islam. She lives in New York City.