For the first time ever, a battered women's shelter has been established in Gaza, and some Arab women have even found the courage to ask for help.
The safe house opened its doors two months ago, and thus far eight women have availed themselves of the services to be found there.
Four are currently living in the center, which has enough space for 50 women. One of the four is nearly ready to have her baby; she came to escape a violent husband who was beating her. Two are minors who were abused by family members and then forced into prostitution.
All are being guarded by Hamas police; the facility is located in a large compound of the Hamas Welfare Ministry next to a rehabilitation unit for young offenders.
According to local lawmaker Huda Naeem, there were no records of “honor killings” in Gaza last year, something she called a “positive development.” Sharia (Islamic) law -- fostered by the Islamist environment in Gaza -- has often in the past justified such murders. However, attorney Sobheya Joma at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) told Reuters that many times deaths are written down as “accidents” or “cause unexplained.” This, she said, leads to doubts.
Several of those who have sought the safety of the shelter were minors, according to resident psychiatrist Suhad Qanita. Others visit just briefly and discreetly for professional advice and support.
In the past, women who were being abused had been transferred to Palestinian Authority areas in Judea and Samaria in order to keep them safe from angry relatives. That option has become much more difficult, however, although the cause of the problem is not clear.
According to Reuters, the reason for the difficulty rests with Israel and its “blockade” of Gaza. However, land crossings into Israel are open daily and many medical patients and other people pass through the Erez Crossing without difficulty, as long as they have a permit provided by the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Perhaps it is the reluctance of the Hamas government to allow its residents to leave the Gaza enclave that is complicating the matter.