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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 May, 2005, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Killed for the family's honour

By Orla Guerin
BBC News, Ramallah

There is growing concern among Palestinian human rights workers after the killings of at least six young women in recent months. The murders are described in some quarters as "honour killings". The victims are usually accused of behaving improperly and bringing shame upon their families. Orla Guerin has been piecing together some of the victims' stories.

Ramallah map

She was last seen at half past two on a Saturday afternoon looking down from a window in her family's apartment.

They live on a main road, in a building that houses an ice-cream shop. Outside a religious procession was making its way through the streets.

Someone walking in that procession, who knew her face and her troubles, glanced up and saw her.

Less than two hours later, she was dead - her skull crushed - reportedly by blows from an iron bar.

Her name was Faten. She was 22-years-old, a Palestinian Christian from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

After her lifeless body was found, her father and an aunt were taken into custody.

Death sentence

Faten had fallen in love with a young man called Samer, a Muslim, from Jericho. Her family disapproved of her choice.

Faten decided to use an ancient formula for resolving disputes, known in Arabic as 'Tanebeh'
In the last desperate weeks of her life, Faten knew a death sentence was hanging over her head, and she tried hard to escape it.

She attempted to elope, but did not get far and was sent home, to face the wrath of her relatives.

Some reports say beatings from family members resulted in a broken pelvis. Others that she sustained the injury when she jumped from a third floor window.

Either way she wound up in hospital, and her case came to the attention of the governor of Ramallah, Mustafa Issa.

He put guards outside her hospital room to keep her safe while she recovered.

According to the governor here is what happened next:

Faten decided to use an ancient formula for resolving disputes, known in Arabic as "Tanebeh".

The idea is that a woman in distress can appeal to a powerful tribe.

Faten approached a Bedouin tribe in Jericho, who took her in. They asked her father to promise she would not be harmed. After he gave his word, she was returned home.

Within days, she was dead. The governor is greatly troubled by her killing. It was he who looked up from the procession, and saw her face in the window.

'Strangled'

Forty-eight hours later, and a half an hour's drive away, two sisters were killed - this time in a Muslim home.

We were turned away from the family home in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabal Mukkaber. No one there wanted to talk
Police believe this was another so-called honour killing. The victims were a 20-year-old called Amani and her older sister Rodina, who was 27.

Both were married and both had apparently been strangled. A third sister was attacked but survived, and she is now in hospital.

We were turned away from the family home in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabal Mukkaber. No one there wanted to talk.

One local claimed the head of the household had passed away, and the killings resulted from a dispute about inheritance rights.

But the women's father is very much alive and now in jail, together with their mother. Their brother, the key suspect in the case, is apparently on the run.

As he was taken into custody their father was asked what had happened. He replied, calmly, that he came home to find that his son had killed his daughters.

"Why?" he was asked. "Because they dishonoured the family," he said.

"A married woman who goes with another man isn't good," he said, but added that he had told his son not to do it.

Yousra al-Azam
What was Yousra's offence against morality? Her family denied she committed any. But on her way home, she was ambushed and killed
We know nothing of the final days of Amani and Rodina. Did they too know that death was coming? Did they, like Faten, try to find a way out? There would have been few escape routes available, even if they had gone looking.

In recent months there has been an increase in honour killings in the West Bank and Gaza.

Women's rights activists say they cannot explain the upsurge.

But there has been an increase in general lawlessness in Palestinian areas. And in male-dominated conservative Palestinian society, if a man commits an honour killing he may get off scot-free.

There may never be justice for 19-year-old Yousra: shot dead in Gaza by gunmen from Hamas.

Witnesses said they claimed to be from a morality squad.

On the day of her death, Yousra shopped for her wedding dress, then sat on the beach with her husband to-be and another couple - her sister and her fiancÚ.

What was Yousra's offence against morality? Her family denied she committed any. But on her way home, she was ambushed and killed.

Perpetrator

In a jail in Nablus I once came face to face with the perpetrator of an honour killing.

The local police chief had opened the cells, and summoned all those accused of murder.

When they formed a line-up there was an odd man out. Small, very young-looking.

I asked what he had done. The police chief told me he was 17, and had turned himself in after killing his sister.

Back in Ramallah, Faten lies buried in the Christian cemetery, in a rough grave, without even a headstone. Her father was released from jail for two hours to attend her funeral.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 7 May, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.



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