PALESTINIAN WOMEN: DEFENSELESS BEFORE THE LAW AND THE OCCUPATION

The Palestinian legal system disregards women during divorce proceedings and allegations of ill- treatment. Studies on gender violence preclude a context marked by Zionist aggressions.

Isabel Pérez | Gaza Strip
22 July 2016

Published originally in ‘Pikara Magazine’ (a feminist, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist project): http://www.pikaramagazine.com/2016/07/palestinas-desamparadas-por-la-ley-y-la-ocupacion/

In the Gaza Strip a new order issued by the Chief Judge of Supreme Court of Shari’a (Islamic Courts) has triggered bewilderment among the women’s movement. From now on, men who declare themselves victims of “domestic violence” will be able to open a case in order to get the divorce. Organizations working for the protection of women’s rights, the improvement of women’s legal and social status, and organizations providing psychological help to women have expressed their dissatisfaction with a patriarchal system that tends to defend more men than women. In Palestine, women’s life is constrained to an obsolete legislation, inherited from the Ottoman Empire, the British colonization, the Egyptian and Jordan administration, and the Israeli occupation with some attempts for the change that however, eventually, are never applied in real life.

“In the police stations there are dozens of cases of murders of women and thousands of complaints from women who suffer violence at home. This year two women have killed their husbands and they have done a law”, denounces Nadia Abu Nahla, director of the Gaza branch of Women’s Technical Affairs Committee (WATC).

The decision of the Chief Judge of Supreme Court of Shari’a in Gaza, Hassan el-Juju, has angered the defenders of Palestinian women’s rights. With this law, the perspective of gender violence is totally canceled.  

“What they are seeking is that every man who wants to get divorced doesn’t have to pay anything to his wife”, assures Abu Nahla noting that the majority of divorced women are economically dependent on the money that, by law and according to the marriage contract, a husband who wishes the divorce must contribute.

“Besides, men do not give that money, 3,000 or 4,000 Jordanian dinars, at once. It’s paid in installments —adds Abu Nahla—. The Shari’a Tribunals are sexist tribunals. As a woman you don’t feel justice is done”.

Several studies indicate that the post-war period in Gaza and the growth of poverty, which affects more than 65% of population in the Gaza Strip (with a food insecurity hitting 72% of that population), bring about an increase of violence against women. However, neither this indicators nor the recommendations of some organizations, have helped to change the mind of the Chief Judge of Shari’a Courts in Gaza. In an interview inside the headquarters of Aisha Association for the Protection of Woman’s, the director Reem Frainah explains that a month before being proclaimed the new law some judges of the Shari’a Court in Gaza (and al-Juju himself) attended one of their workshops.

“We debated on the damage suffered by women versus the damage suffered by men in divorce proceedings — explains Frainah—. We also talked about the quantity of money that a man (in case of divorce) loses as it is not comparable to the sum of money that a women loses. She loses her family. The society does not look at her with the same respect it looks at a divorced man. It is clear that al-Juju’s decision is in favor of men”.

Frainah insists that she made it clear: the money that husbands must pay to their wives in case of divorce is not a revenge but a protection and a right.

“A divorced woman does not seek to become a millionaire — asserts Frainah—. Divorced women are psychologically destroyed. My twenty-three-year experience working with women tells me that here women prefer peaceful solutions avoiding the courts because they don’t want to lose their children”.

When the Law is Your Enemy

The Law is different in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. In Jerusalem, where Palestinians are considered by the Israeli occupation as “immigrants” in their own land, some married couples cannot reside in there. Israel, with its policies and citizenship laws, violates the right to a family life.

The history of colonization and occupation of Palestine is still present in the legal system. Palestine was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1516 until 1917, then came the British Mandate until 1948 the year of the Nakba in which the State of Israel was established and Palestinian people was expelled. At that time, Egypt took over the administration of the Gaza Strip and Jordan annexed the West Bank. In 1967, Israel occupied the rest of Palestine and it was not until the Oslo Accords, in 1994, that a Palestinian Authority was created taking the power to enact a new legislation; however, it did not significantly change the aspects that harm women’s right. Since 2007, the political division between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank is another factor affecting the unification of legislation.

In the Gaza Strip there is the Family Law (1964), in the West Bank the Jordanian Law of Personal Status (1976), along with other laws addressing marital issues, custody, polygamy, obedience, adultery (also a criminal case —Criminal Code—) or inheritance.

“Since the first Palestinian parliament was formed we have been fighting to have a new law —explains Mona Ashawa from the Department of Women Issues in the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, PCHR— In Egypt or Jordan those laws have already developed into new ones, but here there is a great discrimination against women”.

The Palestinian Basic Law, which works as a temporary constitution, sets up that the main source of legislation is the Islamic Law (Shari’a). The sunni school of jurisprudence in Palestine is based on Imam Abu Hanifah Annua’man, the Hanifa school. Even so, the Palestinian feminist movements argue that the laws are a tool used to subdue them with a more than questionable religious basis.

Ashawa mentions that many of the cases of gender violence, rapes, or even incest are solved through the so-called ‘informal justice’ system:

“All this is a taboo in our society and victims show up in a police station or a judge with difficulties. Everything is kept in totally silence or secret. Families normally visit a mokhtar [an elderly patriarch] and sometimes he decides that the victim, specially if she has been raped and is pregnant, marries the rapist”, says Ashawa.

Cases of “honor crimes” are treated by the Criminal Code, not the Islamic one. In Gaza, while a person who commits robbery faces death penalty, a husband who kills his wife is imprisoned for a few years and can be freed after paying a fine. Adultery, understood as a consensual sexual relationship, is reserved both for Shari’a and Criminal Code. In these cases, the adulterous -married- woman loses all her economic and social rights, and the adulterous man receives a warning from the judge.

As for the divorce, there is the talaq, an unilaterally divorce requested by the husband just pronouncing his intention verbally. If she is the part who wants to ask for divorce we will talk about tafriq and this can only be for certain raisons and submitting evidences:

“If he is absent and no one knows where he is; if he is not providing his wife economically; if he goes on a trip for more than a year; if he is imprisoned for minimum three years; if he is mentally ill or has sexual problems. The wife can also ask for divorce if there is a conflict, that is, if her husband beats her. In all cases she must give evidences which is very complicated”, notes Ashawa.

Very few women can opt for the khula’  to get the divorce. Khula’ consists in giving back to the husband the amount of money he paid for marrying her. Helpless, many women renounce their rights only for getting the divorce; however, even this room is blocked by the social norms, stronger than the law itself:

“Society blames women for the divorce. The culture influences more than the legal system for a woman who wants to speak up and get divorced. It is normalized. There is no awareness of gender violence”, regrets Ashawa.

The Violence of the Israeli Occupation against Palestinian Women

According to researches by the Institute of Woman’s Studies at the University of Birzeit, the increase of gender violence is related to the increase of Israeli violence and its occupation policies.

“Most reports on gender violence don’t contextualize and that is a serious theoretical-methodological mistake — declares Eileen Kuttab, director of the Institute—. Women, and then children, are victims of men who are victims of the Israeli occupation”.

Kuttab highlights that the Palestinian women are objective of the Israeli occupation’s project. Israeli forces detain and humiliate Palestinian women, and so do the inhabitants of settlements in West Bank.

“They target the Palestinian woman because she is the one who gives birth. This a central issue in the Zionist way of thinking. They (Zionists) know that by the year 2020 we will be more than them, demographically speaking — claims Kuttab—. Woman is the symbol of strength and steadiness and the Zionists want to destroy that. Women are also used to make pressure on Palestinian men during interrogations”.

In the West Bank or Jerusalem where, unlike Gaza Strip, the presence of Israeli army in the streets continues, the Palestinian woman is despised daily at the Israeli military check-points:

“Inspections are not respectful — assures Kuttab—. They break women’s private space. There are also women who were killed under false pretexts or in ambulances whilst waiting to give birth”.

Soraida Hussein, founder and director of the Women’s Technical Affairs Committee, remarks that every single woman experiences violence and the greater of this violence is the one exerted by the Israeli occupation.

“It’s military violence, bloody and colonialist violence. Their plan is to kick us out of here, like it is happening since October 2015”, she says.

Women movement’s activists in Palestine insist on the idea that their cause must be as urgent as the struggle for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state.