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West Bank: Palestinian Authority Announces Planned Changes to Penal Code in Response to Case of Honor Killing

(Nov. 13, 2019) The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs has responded to a wave of public protests over an alleged honor killing case by stating it will introduce a new family protection law before the end of 2019. The new law would amend the penal code to establish a minimum age for marriage, review current legal protections for victims of domestic violence, impose harsher penalties on perpetrators, and train the police force in assisting victims.

The Palestinian nongovernmental organization Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling (WCLAC) has reportedly documented a total of 23 killings of women in the West Bank and Gaza in 2018—10 in Gaza and 13 in the West Bank.

Draft Law

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs is drafting a family protection law, which the Palestinian Authority plans to publish before the end of the 2019. Amal Hamad, the head of the ministry, said the law would establish a minimum marriage age and other protections for women from gender-based violence. In addition, the ministry would review current protections for women to best assess where protections could be expanded.

The draft domestic violence law aims at preventing violence against women and protecting survivors. It would require that the police be trained in how to identify and screen victims of domestic violence. It would also include provisions allowing the emergency protection of victims by implementing restraining orders against perpetrators, including removing them from the victim’s house. Finally, the draft law would enhance penalties for committing physical violence against women and penalize marital rape.

Facts of the Case

Israa Gharib was a single, 21-year old woman from the city of Beit Sahour, West Bank. On August 9, 2019, Gharib went to the hospital with a broken spine and bruises on her body. News sources indicate her family had beaten her after pictures and videos of her and her fiancé together surfaced on social media before the couple had concluded their marriage contract. On August 22, 2019, Gharib’s family announced that she had died due to clotting in her heart.

A spokesperson for the woman’s family denied that the family had anything to do with her death or the bruises on her body. He also stated that Gharib was haunted by a demon (jinn), which is why she was screaming when she was admitted to the hospital.

The doctors who attended her have thus far not disclosed any information about Gharib’s case under the orders of the public prosecutor, who has demanded complete secrecy during the investigation of the case. The Public Prosecution has ordered the medical examiner to exhume Gharib’s body and perform an autopsy to determine the cause of her death.

Charges Filed

The Public Prosecution has charged three of Gharib’s relatives with manslaughter under article 330 of Law No. 16 of 1960 on the Penal Code (English translation) for assaulting and unintentionally killing her. Article 330 stipulates that whoever commits manslaughter must be punished by imprisonment with hard labor for a minimum of five years. The Public Prosecution has not released the relatives’ names yet.

Under article 326, of the Code, the offense of murder entails a punishment of 15 years of imprisonment with hard labor, while article 328 punishes the perpetrator of murder of a sister, daughter, or mother with the death penalty.

Public Reaction to the Case 

Some Palestinian women’s rights activists have argued that Gharib’s family murdered her because they saw pictures and videos on Instagram of her with her fiancé together and alone, before the couple had signed their marriage contract. The details of the pictures and videos have not been disclosed. Those activists have tried to raise public awareness of the case through social media campaigns, such as using an Arabic hashtag that translates as “#WeAreAllIsraaGharib,” and organizing protests and rallies calling for greater legal protections for women in cities throughout the Palestinian territories. Public protests have occurred throughout the Palestine territories and the Arab world as part of the “Tala’at” movement, which aims to bring violence against Palestinian women to an end.

Israa Gharib’s case has become a matter of great public interest locally and regionally in the Arab world. The widespread public scrutiny of the case has caused her family to break their silence and respond to the domestic violence allegations against several family members. The Public Prosecutor has issued a statement acknowledging that Gharib’s case has gained the attention of the public, feminist organizations, and community foundations, and that the final report of the medical examiner, which will have a significant impact on the case, is currently being prepared and has not been issued yet.

The Office of the Head of the Palestinian National Authority, Mohammad Shtayyeh, has issued a statement that affirmed the office’s commitment to seek justice for Israa and publicize the final results of the police investigation. He also called for the maximum penalty for those responsible for Israa’s death.

Prepared by Molly Cox, Law Library intern, under the supervision of George Sadek, Foreign Law Specialist