Msg # 400
Date: 28 Sep 91 17:17:27
From: William Bowles
Subj: 'Femicide' in Israel
11:30 am Sep 25, 1991
COPYRIGHT PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
450 Mission Street, Room 506
San Francisco, CA 94105
SPECIAL FEATURE -- 780 WORDS
HONOR KILLING FUELS DEBATE OVER WOMEN AND ISLAM
EDITOR'S NOTE: The trial of an Arab father from Galilee charged
with the honor killing of his daughter has set off a heated debate in the
Arab and Hebrew press over the impact of Islamic fundamentalism on
women's rights. PNS correspondent Jill Hamburg reports on the
controversy from her base in Jerusalem.
BY JILL HAMBURG, PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
JERUSALEM -- When 19-year-old Ibtisam Habashi told her family she
was pregnant and wanted to wed the baby's father, it was only days
before her arranged marriage to another man. Several male relatives
bound and murdered her, then set her body on fire.
Fanar (Arabic for "lighthouse"), an Arab feminist group in Israel that
demonstrated against the July killing, charges dozens like Habashi are
murdered each year in villages in northern Israel's Galilee. Their
crime is violating "family honor," maintained through the chastity of
Haifa University sociologist Majed al-Hajj says no statistics on honor
killings exist but estimates the number at three a year.
Today, as Habashi's father stands trial for the murder, the incident has
fueled a heated debate in the Hebrew and Arabic media over women's
rights -- and whether Islamic fundamentalism is responsible for the
persistence of honor killings.
For Fanar's activists, the answer is yes -- and no. Before venting their
anger at the mosques, they denounced Israel's justice system for what
they charge is a "hands-off attitude" toward village and clan
"Police officers have handed young women runaways over to village
elders, knowing they might be killed," says Fanar founder Manar
Hassan, a 28-year-old Muslim from the Galilee. "The government
wishes to maintain good relations with our traditional leadership."
Some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs live in Israel.
But Fanar's demonstrators, many themselves Muslims, also fault
powerful local fundamentalists and call instead for Islamic reform.
"Murdering daughters," they chanted, "is not Islam, but blasphemy."
Honor killings occur among Christians in Greece and Italy as well as
among Arab Muslims, says anthropologist Rima Hamami of Temple
University. And fundamentalist leaders rarely preach in favor of the
killings. But many Arab women say fundamentalism's effective
clampdown on their daily lives has subtly encouraged the practice.
With varying success, fundamentalist leaders have moved to prohibit
dancing, music and beach-going in recent years. Many women have
voluntarily veiled themselves in a "hijab," or headscarf, to express
their own religious rebirth. But others have put it on out of fear,
gangs of young boys began attacking bare-headed women in the streets,
with the approval of fundamentalist leaders.
A recent Arab women's conference also blamed fundamentalist
influence for increasing female school drop-out and plummeting
levels of women's public participation.
Fundamentalists, however, hold that their duty is to prepare the social
ground for the emergence of a future Islamic state so they concentrate
on a "moral" agenda. Women's behavior is a key focus. The new
behavior codes are also promoted as a "national duty," Hamami
explains, as a way to honor the nearly 1,000 "martyrs" of the four-year-
To the women who have become born-again Muslims, these changes
are welcome. They even see embracing fundamentalism as a kind of
"Before, I used to be scared of everything," says Assia, a journalist's
assistant in Gaza, who wears a floor length grey coat and white hijab.
"Now I feel very strong. A woman wearing the hijab feels it's a
weapon -- that she's defying all the world."
Assia also insists that Islam protects women's rights.
"From the moment she's born until she dies, a Moslem woman is
guaranteed the right to money, to a dowry, to alimony and social
security and the right to work, if she wants to," she says.
But Fanar's activists, and other Islamic feminist reformers, want to go
further and build a more tolerant Islamic society, based on the Koran,
which would give women equal opportunities and liberties.
Tirhani Abu Dakka, a heroine in Gaza since she suffered a miscarriage
during imprisonment in Israel without charges, is one such reformer.
"Real Islam, based on the Koran, is not against offering women all
their legitimate rights," she says.
The committee she heads runs coops which offer women an income
and independence, and the chance to leave their houses. "We are not
fundamentalists, but we're faithful," she says. "There's no conflict
between Islamic law and the things we want."
Another reformer, West Bank attorney Renda Siniora, organized a
study group for women on shari'a, or Islamic law, under the tutelage of
a leading Palestinian sheikh. When they are through, these Arab
women lawyers will be well equipped to fight legal discrimination.
"Current laws don't suit us or recognize women's involvement in the
labor force and in the national struggle," Siniora says.
These Moslem feminists have also found common cause with Israeli
Jews fighting violence against Jewish women. By linking the
oppression of women in both religious communities, they denounce
fundamentalism without blaming Islam itself.
"Our people are turning to fundamentalism to deal with the stress of
social change and modernization,"observes Nabila Espanioli, an
Israeli-Arab activist in Haifa. But the murder of women -- "femicide"
- is separate, and crosses religious lines. "Women are being violated
because they're women. It's not specific to Arab society."
(09251991)**** END **** COPYRIGHT PNS
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