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“A woman is not a man’s property” – Inside Israa Ghrayeb’s “Honor Killing” Murder

Isra Ghayeb

Portrait of murdered Palestinian Israa Ghrayeb. Illustration by @reemkelattar on Instagram

The news that a 21-year-old Palestinian woman Israa Ghrayeb was murdered on August 22, sparked international outrage, a social media campaign, and ensuing news headlines. Ghrayeb, a makeup artist, reportedly died in hospital following severe injuries inflicted upon her some two weeks prior. Details surrounding the murder are conflicting. It is reported that her brother assaulted her in retaliation of her posting a video of her with her fiancé. Meanwhile, the family has released a statement stating that the cause of death was Ghrayeb jumping from a second-story balcony, having been “possessed for some time.” She broke her back and suffered cuts to her face.

Haifa al-Agha, Minister of Women’s Affairs of the Palestinian National Authority, spoke to people protesting the murder in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. “If there was a crime, the perpetrator will be tried,” she said. On Monday, Mohammad Shtayyeh, Prime Minister of the State of Palestine, announced the arrest of three people in connection to the case. Speaking to Vogue Arabia, Ramallah-based journalist Dima Abumaria says, “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.” As for Ghrayeb’s case going viral, Abumaria says, “Maybe it will highlight the issue of killing women in the West Bank and Arab societies in general.”

Killing under the name of honor is being used as a tool to murder females

In Palestine, the government has established a “safe house” for girls and women under threat. Most don’t make it however, as they are caught, tortured, locked up, forced into marriage, or killed. Abumaria says, “I spoke with a mother whose 16-year-old daughter had escaped with her boyfriend. They caught her, though an uncle who was educated prevented her from being killed. The girl was given the option to marry him and she did. The mother told me, ‘She brought shame to the family when she decided to go out in public with him. She humiliated her brothers and dad. She was given a second chance because the boyfriend was a good guy and decided to marry her.'” Today, at 26-years-old, the woman is depressed, not speaking with anyone, and is the mother of a two-year-old daughter that she does not want to see.

Photo: Facebook/Israa Ghrayeb

In the July/August 2017 issue of Vogue Arabia, Sheikha Lulu M AlSabah stated, “We need to change the notion that a woman is a man’s property. We need to disassociate the idea that there is any honor in murder. The shame is on the murderer himself, not on the woman.” As co-founder of Abolish 153, launched in 2014, the Sheikha is campaigning for stricter punishment for the murder of women. Article 153 of Kuwait’s penal code stipulates that a man who finds his wife, daughter, sister, or mother engaging in “zina,” a sexual act outside marriage, and reacts by killing her, should be fined KD14 (US $50) and  serve up to three years in jail. Zina is an umbrella term that can also include shaming a family by refusing an arranged marriage, becoming pregnant outside of marriage, leaving home without permission, being raped, or attempting to divorce an abusive spouse. It is believed that a family’s reputation “resides within the female body, and that a girl or woman’s ‘shame’ can only be cleansed with the shedding of her blood at the hand of a male relation.”

In 2018, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas made changes to legislation to protect women from such murders. Despite this, the number of women killed has risen: from 13 murders in 2012, to 28 in 2014 and 27 in 2018 (UN Commission on Palestinian Women). Two laws have been abolished or amended: Article 308, which let rapists avoid punishment by marrying their victims within five years, and Article 99, which granted judges the authority to reduce sentences related to murdered women.

Women being murdered is an international crisis, irrespective of class, color, or creed. In France, 74 women have been killed by their partners in 2019 alone. The previous year, it was 120. The numbers are on the rise, with one woman murdered in France every two days.

For centuries, men have attempted to quell their aggressive narcissism by murdering women. In 2003, French musician Bertrand Cantat was convicted of killing actor Marie Trintignant after flying into a jealous rage when she received a text message from her ex-husband. Cantat rained 19 blows on Trintignant’s head, yet was sentenced to only eight years, of which he served four.

Now, basic understanding of mental health studies can show that when women are murdered by men, narcissism is the root cause. Psychotherapist Sandy Hotchkiss purports many factors supporting this. A narcissist does not believe that there is anything wrong with his actions. Rather, he projects and inflicts shame on his victim. He is arrogant, with low self-esteem, and degrades his victim with verbal insults, threats, and physical punishment in an attempt to re-establish his own ego. A narcissist is consumed with envy. He considers himself superior to his victim. He therefore feels insecure when she makes choices outside of his authority. A narcissist harbors a deep sense of entitlement. The victim who does not agree with his perceived superiority can be considered mentally unsound, even “possessed.” The narcissist expects people to praise and agree with his actions. If he physically attacks his victim, she “deserves” it. He does not anticipate punishment by society nor the law. The victim is at his mercy. Finally, a narcissist does not recognize his boundaries or even see his victim as her own person.

A video posted on Instagram by journalist Loubna Khalkhali shows a teenager confirming that he would kill a disobedient woman. When asked what gives him the right, he replies, his father, uncles, and relatives. He continues to say, “It’s not wrong. It’s our honor.” When the journalist presses that the victim is a person, with the right to do what she wants, the young man responds, “No, she’s a girl.”

While narcissism is typically conditioned from birth, and nurtured when boys are raised within a masochistic, male-dominated culture, aggressive narcissism that results in the murder of women must be on the receiving end of just punishments as stipulated by laws.

Legislation is not enough. International communities, men and women around the world, have the power and platforms to voice their outrage, change cultural mores, and save women’s lives. Let us commit to the re-education of the murdering narcissist; we, as a people, are only as strong as our weakest link.

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