A Woman’s Right

This article is also featured on Lay of the Land:

A Woman’s Right

Israa Ghrayeb was 21 years old.  Like most millennials, Israa was social media “obsessed” (to use the vernacular) but little did she know that the platforms so many of us take for granted every day to share the titbits of our lives that are envy inducing to our online communities, would lead to her death.

Israa’s only crime was that she dared meet a young Arab man in a restaurant and document it by sharing it to social media platform, Instagram.  Millions of people do this every day and while this meeting was innocent enough, it inspired the rage of the male members of her family to severely beat her. Israa did not meet a stranger that she did not know, she met the man she was intending to marry.

When the family found out, Ghrayeb’s brother, Ihab, allegedly beat and tortured her in their family home.

Trying to escape the violent blows inflicted on her, Israa then fell from the second-floor balcony of her parents’ home and was reported to have broken her spine.

Her brother, who is a Canadian resident, was apparently incensed by the video – saying it “dishonoured” the family by presenting herself with her husband-to-be ahead of the actual wedding, according to local media.  Her father had allegedly ordered her brother to beat her after family members witnessed the footage online.

After being admitted to hospital following the initial attack, Ghrayeb said she would not be able to work for the next two months as she waited for a spinal cord operation in a post on her Instagram account.

“I’m strong and I have the will to live – if I didn’t have this willpower, I would have died yesterday,” she said. “Don’t send me messages telling me to be strong, I am strong. May God be the judge of those who oppressed me and hurt me.”

After posting this message, her brother, along with other male relatives, reportedly brutally beat her in the hospital. Footage surfaced on social media of her screaming and begging for her life during the attack.

Israa succumbed to her wounds and passed away. Israa Ghrayeb became the latest horrific statistic in an “honour killing”.

Palestinians took to the street to protest Israa’s death and an end to honour killings.

Israa’s death is not isolated.

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#WeAreIsraa. Outrage follows 21-year-old Palestinian woman Israa Ghrayeb murdered by family members in suspected ‘Honour Killing’.

Honour killings are not a new phenomenon.  In fact, this heinous occurrence has been practiced from as early as Roman times and is prevalent today in North Africa and the Middle East but don’t think that western countries are exempt – incidents of honour killings have been reported in the UK, USA, Canada and others.

The term “honour killing” sounds like a really ridiculous paradox, after all there is absolutely no honour in killing anyone – how could there be? But the issue here isn’t really about honour but more about control over reproductive power. This being said it is not always sexual in nature or about controlling sexual behaviour but rather about fertility.

Say what?

Now I am scratching my head in confusion as much as you are but these horrendous events occur because in some communities that are patrilineal in nature, a woman’s right to govern her own reproductive freedom. In these societies, women are seen as reproductive factories not seductive sirens.

This makes this barbaric act a lot more complex than originally thought, but in most cases, honour killings occur because women in communities that adhere to strict religious doctrine are expected to toe the line and behave in accordance. In Pakistan for example, women’s right to life are conditional on their “obeying certain norms and traditions.”

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No More Violence. More women in Pakistan are demanding an end to gender-related violence.

Nighat Taufeeq of the Women’s Resource Center Shirkatgah in Lahore, Pakistan says: “It is an unholy alliance that works against women: the killers take pride in what they have done, the tribal leaders condone the act and protect the killers and the police connive the cover-up.”

Honour killings are seen as less serious than murder. Sounds like a contradiction but women are being killed for “infractions” ranging from dressing more western to adulterous affairs. This is becoming more and more common, especially in societies that adopt Islamic sharia law even though in centuries past, they have occurred in ancient Rome or medieval times. In some communities, where women are gaining economic power and adopting more customs, there are men that feel that they have to act out in some way, usually violent, to regain some control.

Women who have been raped are also seen as bringing “disgrace” to their families and it is shattering that they become victimized twice over. Should pregnancy result from this, the consequences are catastrophic.

Homosexuality is also seen as legitimate grounds for killing. The United Nations and other NGO’s are alarmed by this phenomenon and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees state that “claims made by LGBT persons often reveal exposure to physical and sexual violence, extended periods of detention, medical abuse, threat of execution and honour killing.”

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Horror Not Honour. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) estimates that perhaps as many as 5,000 women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the victims are at least four times more.

So surely divorce or a court injunction against possible perpetrators would be the solution?

Sadly, this is usually a trigger for violence against women and for many; the feeling is that hope is lost.

What can be done, if anything, to stop honour killings or as they are called in some countries “crime of passion”?

The first step would be to be to really understand the “honour code” and learn from the lessons in history. For some cultures this practice is repugnant but in others it is acceptable “code”. One solution that has been discussed is “naming and shaming”. Another possibility is in communities where honour killings are seen as part of religious doctrine, to prove that this is not the correct interpretation of the Quran.

The battle to end honour killings is a long and arduous one but necessary. Perhaps the starting point is learning to respect life – not end it. That is the true shame and dishonor. The right to live in dignity and safety is a woman’s right.

 

 

 

First do no harm

This article is currently featured on Lay of the Land:

First do no harm

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct privilege of attending a rehearsal by a fantastic organization called Ukuleles for Peace. The brainchild of Briton, Paul Moore, who realized that something positive had to come out of the chaos of the second Intifada,  this outfit endeavours to bring together Jewish and Muslim youth in Israel to find common ground by creating beautiful music together. The instrument of choice? Ukuleles.

Now one would think that the idea of 12 youth from various backgrounds creating harmony while strumming their ukuleles would melt the most cynical of hearts. It did for some – but not others. The 12 unsuspecting students and their stringed accoutrement unwittingly unleashed chaos on social media.

Screenshot_2019-08-22-07-48-33-546_com.twitter.android.pngThere were a few who took great exception to this story and unleashed a tirade of accusations – accusing those of supporting this project of being “naïve” and of “not taking into account the threats posed by Iran or Hamas” and that we needed “to go back to lalaland with our ukuleles”.

This was quite a strong reaction and it made me wonder what triggered this kind of negative response. Was it the idea of youth from two different communities coming together? Was it that someone not Israeli had identified an opportunity and come up with a solution how to transcend the chaos and conflict and create something positive? Was it the ukuleles?

Whatever it was, it triggered a very aggressive reaction – and an all-out social media war.  Many who support this initiative felt compelled to jump in and defend the other position and it got me thinking, we are all working on the same side so why is there such mutual aggression?

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the mediums of choice for anyone wishing to share an opinion.

These social media platforms, while being very positive and useful mediums for sharing your message also has a dark side. These platforms have also provided a space for many who think that they are “experts” or at the very least keyboard generals.  In the war against racism, discrimination and antisemitism, social media is fast becoming the biggest battlefield.

As the mega-superstar, Lady Gaga, once said social media is the toilet of the internet.

Nothing is off limits – body shaming, parenting shaming, political viewpoint shaming is all the rage and if anyone can find something about you to insult, you bet your bottom dollar that they will.

And if you are a Zionist –whoo boy, it is open season for attack!!!

It is important to engage and be engaged BUT the how we do it is so important. At a time when antisemitism is rising around the world and many of us feel vulnerable; afraid and attacked (especially by trolls who hide behind the anonymity of a keyboard) is the right response to be as aggressive and abusive?

I am of the opinion that it is not. It is one thing to stand strong and unwavering in your identity – it is another to abuse someone else for a divergent opinion. Make a point emphatically but don’t personally attack people. In other words, play the ball not the player – that way you don’t come across as aggressive – and keep your credibility.

The way that we make our arguments in a public sphere has tremendous impact on our community – and Israel. We forget that the words we say have power. Aggression only serves to harm an empathy and open-mindedness that many have for hearing our point of view.

Have we lost our ability to have intelligent, nuanced conversation?

The whole point of social media is to create community and it is a great medium for connecting Israel to our diverse diaspora communities and is a great opportunity to engage on issues which can be very emotive. This can be done without baying for blood or verbally abusing someone with a different opinion. It only harms us.

Sometimes it is hard to keep a level head – the world seems so polarized, divided between left and right, pro and anti and often nuance and context are the first casualties. Antisemitism is rising; it makes us angry and rightly so.

I believe we need to show up. Show up for the conversation, no matter how difficult it may be. I sincerely believe that very time we engage, like or share on social media, send an email, we stand on the shoulders of the generations that came before us who had no voice and we speak for them.  It is a moral imperative to talk, to engage with others, to take advantage of the uncomfortable questions not just as an opportunity to present Israel’s side of the argument but to truly listen to the concerns of others. Instead of shutting down, let’s learn how to answer effectively, factually and with maturity.

We can go on the offensive and fight fact with fact but it is not about who screams the loudest. It is about fighting the injustice of hatred and also making sure that Israel’s narrative is presented in a way that does not bring harm to the image of the country her civilians and our diaspora communities. It is a hideous side effect that every time there is a conflagration or issue in Israel, those who hate take their tempers out on our diaspora communities.

We also need to celebrate the small victories. In a region where terrorism and incitement are all too often the norm, small occasions that bring together people from different backgrounds are cause for celebration – not condemnation.

Perhaps we should take the oath that doctors take before we react emotionally on social media. Our words have consequences. Perhaps it is time to take the oath first do no harm.

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