Honor killings, or crimes committed against women who have supposedly "transgressed social codes of honor," are still a major problem in several Arab countries. Palestinian Israa Ghrayeb, a 21-year-old, is the latest victim of a horrifying crime that has been committed under the pretext of honor. In reality, it's a result of misogynistic and patriarchal systems that aim to oppress women. Even worse, to kill them.
It all started when a man asked for Ghrayeb's hand in marriage — something that both families had agreed on. As an engaged woman, as the patriarchy would have it, it was acceptable for her to be seen in public with her fiancé. She followed the rules of the male-centric system and even took further precautionary measures. She went out with her fiancé and his sister to a nearby coffee shop.
The patriarchy, a decades-old perception that men are held in higher esteem due to the existence of a Y chromosome in their body cell, is such a backward system with rules that haven't been adapted to fit the digital world. Israa was being a regular millennial when she decided to post a video of her fiancé to social media. It was a "fatal error" because her family turned out to be members of the patriarchy. The clip was sent by her cousin, according to Annahar, to her male relatives (father and brothers). Her brother then beat her to death. She succumbed to her injuries on Thursday.
The 21-year-old victim was allegedly beaten and tortured by her brother - a reportedly Canadian resident - because her actions were apparently "dishonorable" to the family. Posting a video of happy moments is now a crime?
The victim's family has since denied the allegations. Instead, they claimed the 21-year-old died of a heart attack. In a phone call with Annahar, Israa's brother-in-law, Mohammed Safi, said she snuck out of the house to solve an issue with her fiancé, and that's when she fell from the balcony and broke her spine. He then said the young woman died of a heart attack following her injury. The brother-in-law also confirmed "her brother didn't come from Canada to beat her like it's being said. In fact, he doesn't even live there."
"The sound of her screaming in the hospital will never leave me"
"I couldn't sleep tonight. The sound of her screaming in the hospital will never leave me. God bless her. Some have confirmed Israa Ghrayeb was beaten to death. I reject injustice and oppression in all its forms, and so imagine when it's a woman at stake? 'God seeks revenge on every fallen man who exercises his backwardness, ignorance, and domination over a woman.'"
Now, that's what the brother-in-law claims. Is it just a cover-up story? Probably. Safi, aka the spokesperson of the victim's family as Annahar reported, insisted that Israa's death was an accident and that her family had nothing to do with it.
"If her family wasn't OK with her going out with her fiancé, she wouldn't have posted about it on social media," he told Annahar. But then again, if her family was indeed OK with it, why did she have to "sneak" out of the house in the first place?
The brother-in-law also claimed that the videos taken at the hospital, in which the victim can be heard screaming, were not because she was being beaten by her family, but because "she was fighting with the nurses who wouldn't give her her phone so she could call her mother."
Safi seems to be overly involved in covering up what could be the truth and denied all facts reported by social media users. This includes the fact that the brother's initial physical assault is what caused severe injuries to the victim's spine. She was admitted to the Arab Society Hospital in Bethlehem for treatment. From the hospital, the victim had posted a selfie of her bruised body on Instagram with a caption that read:
"I am better now. Alhamdulillah."
She posted another photo to remind people of her strength and power.
"I'm strong, and I have the will to live — if I didn't have this willpower, I would have died yesterday," she wrote.
"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."
But, her statements were short-lived. She was reportedly assaulted a second time whilst at the hospital, which many have claimed to be the cause of death. The exact details of her death remain unclear.
"She deserves justice"
"Israa was murdered by members of her family after she posted a selfie video of an outing with her fiancé. The crime is being called an 'honor' killing, but this is misleading and false. There is no honor in murder," the Palestinian rights group Adalah Justice Project said in a statement.
If her death is confirmed to be a so-called "honor killing," it would be the 19th case in Palestine this year, according to Arab News. Though no action has been taken against Ghrayeb's brother, judges in the country often give reduced sentences to defendants who are found guilty of such crimes. In 2014, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that judges in first instance courts reduced sentences on claims of "honor killings" in 29 out of 37 rulings, in a random sample of cases between 1993 and 2013.
This happens despite the fact that Palestine's President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in 2011 abolishing Article 340 of the 1960 Penal Code, which allowed for a sentence reduction in cases claimed to be an "honor killing." In 2014, the president also issued a decree amending Article 98 of the penal code, which also gave murderers lenient sentences if the crime was committed in a "state of great fury" as a result of "unlawful and dangerous act by the victim." Yet, judges in the West Bank often use Article 99 of the penal code to reduce sentences by half when the victim's family waives its right to seek prosecution. "Article 99 provides reduced sentences for mitigating factors but does not set out what they are," as pointed out by Human Rights Watch. This was amended in 2018 as the law now prohibits the use of mitigating sentences in serious crimes against women and children.
But, in Israa Ghrayeb's case, who knows whether her brother will be arrested or not. He regarded it as an "honor killing," but it is nothing short of a horrendous murder. And there is nothing honorable about killing another human being. There is nothing honorable about toxic masculinity trying to police female behavior and sexuality.
Following her death, the Arabic and English hashtag #WeAreAllIsraa began trending on Twitter. Social media users are calling for justice and highlighting the real consequences of the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, and misogyny.