MYTH: Palestinian “honor killings” are a thing of the past.


Honor killings are perpetrated against a family member (almost always a woman) who is judged to have acted socially or culturally unacceptably and brought dishonor to the family.

According to the Palestinian Human Rights and Democracy Media Center, there were 20 honor killings in the West Bank and Gaza in the first 10 months of 2019.  “The state of women’s rights in Palestine remains at a standstill, and women are still being murdered,” the organization said in a statement.  “Women remain the most prominent victims of the male culture and of the violence that grows out of it, while this culture elevates men beyond the culture of shame, appoints them as masters and guardians of morality – even when they act immorally – and grants them complete immunity” (Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, “After alleged honor killing, Palestinians examine discriminatory culture,” Jerusalem Post, (September 6, 2019).

One of the “honor killings” was believed to be Israa Ghrayeb, a 21-year-old makeup artist who reportedly posted a picture of herself on Instagram with a man who had proposed to her before they were formally engaged. Hasan Shaalan noted that, “Among very conservative Muslims, their going out together would be seen as inappropriate and potentially bringing shame to the whole family” (Hasan Shaalan, “Three family members charged in killing of Palestinian woman,” Ynet, September 12, 2019).

One story said her relatives beat her to death on August 22, 2019, but the family claimed she died of a heart attack (Haya A.Y. Abu Shukhaidem, “Palestinian teen’s suspected ‘honour killing’ provokes outrage in West Bank,” Middle East Eye, September 1, 2019). Another version said she was killed by her brother but the family said she jumped off a second-story balcony because she had been “possessed for some time” (Caterina Minthe, “A woman is not a man’s property” – Inside Israa Ghrayeb’s “Honor Killing” Murder,” Vogue, September 4, 2019).

Three of Ghrayeb’s relatives were charged with manslaughter, but the Palestinian Attorney General ruled out honor killing as a motive.

Ramallah-based journalist Dima Abumaria told Minthe, “Every year we have more cases of girls being murdered under the guise or ‘honor.’  Killing under the name of honor is being used as a tool to murder females for whatever reason that sick person or family has in mind.”  According to Minthe, the government created a “safe house,” but most women “are caught, tortured, locked up, forced into marriage, or killed” before they can get there.

The killing of Ghrayeb provoked widespread protests and is likely the reason a poll of Palestinians shortly afterward included a question about “honor killing.”  An overwhelming majority of 81% said it is a heinous crime that should be punished severely, 7% said it is a normal crime that should be punished like any other crime, and 10% said it is an understandable act that should be punished lightly (September 11-14, 2019, PSR).

Nevertheless, an op-ed in the official Palestinian Authority daily several years earlier observed, “There are some who even praise and glorify this [honor killings] as a manly, heroic act, turning it into an aspect of [our] culture that molds the character of Arab and Islamic societies.  If we wish to free our society from this crime’s octopus grasp, we must first admit that without a cultural revolution that will cleanse our perceptions, our books, and our heritage from sanctifying murder performed in the name of Allah and honor… we will not be able to take a single step towards lessening this crime…” (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, August 6, 2012, translated by PMW).

Honor killings are part of a more endemic problem related to the “domination of a male-patriarchal culture” that justifies violence against women, according to Birzeit University lecturer Bader Al-A’araj. He explained, for example, that the concept of “marital rape” is not part of Palestinians’ social consciousness.  He said some of his students couldn’t understand how someone could rape his wife. “There are assumptions that the husband has sexual rights to the wife, and she does not know that there is a concept of ‘marital rape.  Her body is a right permitted to the man or the husband” (PA TV, Gently, November 20, 2019, translated by PMW).

“Part of our identity is to kill women, to beat women,” explained Israeli Arab lecturer Yusuf Jabareen. “Palestinian identity has its charms, but there are things that we have adopted from Arab culture for centuries, which harm the individual and the woman” (PA TV, June 24, 2012, translated by PMW).

The Palestinian Authority has no law, according to the State Department’s Report on Human Rights Practices, “that specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem.”  It does, however, have an “honor killing” law that removed protection and leniency for perpetrators of crimes in defense of family honor.  Nevertheless, 13 women were reportedly killed in 2012, 28 in 2014, and 27 in 2018.

Jewish Virtual Library: Myths & Facts

1 In 1959, for example, Israel complained that two countries (Liberia was one) moved their embassies from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in response to US pressure. In 2002, Congress passed a law that said that American citizens who wished to do so could have “Israel” listed as their birthplace on US passports. The State Department, however, refused to do so. The parents of Menachem Binyamin Zivotofsky, an American citizen born in Jerusalem, sued the State Department to force the government to enforce the law. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which held that the president has an exclusive power of recognition, and, therefore, Congress may not require the State Department to indicate in passports that Jerusalem is part of Israel. “Dismayed: U.S. Court Refuses to Enforce U.S. Law Granting Jerusalem-Born U.S. Citizens Right to Have ‘Israel’ Listed on Official Documents,” Zionist Organization of America (July 15, 2009); instruction from the Department of State to all diplomatic posts, February 20, 1959, in FRUS, 1958–60, vol. 13, 147; memorandum of conversation, March 9, 1959, in FRUS, 1958–60, vol. 13, 151–52; “Supreme Court Strikes Down ‘Born in Jerusalem’ Passport Law,” Associated Press (June 8, 2015).
2Arieh Avneri, The Claim of Dispossession, (NJ: Transaction Books, 1984), p. 272; Kedar, Benjamin. The Changing Land Between the Jordan and the Sea. (Israel: Yad Izhak Ben-Zvi Press, 1999), p. 206; Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, (NY: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 529.

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