Tomorrow, 25 November 2011, marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, which was adopted by the UN in December 1999 to eliminate violence against women around the world and to urge governments and governmental and international organizations to organize activities to raise awareness on the magnitude of this issue.
The significance of this day lies in addressing what has been achieved and what has to be achieved in the field of elimination of violence against women.
In recent years, Palestinian women have suffered severely due to the violence they have been subjected to for years as a result of the exceptional conditions they are forced to endure. They are victims of the crimes committed by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) which created harsh and cruel living conditions. Furthermore, they are subjected to local community's physical and psychological violence practiced against them as part of socio-cultural heritage.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) documented the killing of three women in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) in 2011, while 35 other women were wounded. On 1 January 2011, Jawaher Abu Rahma, 35, was killed due to the inhalation of tear gas fired by IOF during a demonstration organized by Palestinian and international activists against the construction of the annexation wall in Bil'in village, west of Ramallah. On 08 April 2011, Najah Harb Salem Qdaih, 41, and her daughter Nidal Ibrahim Hamdan Qdaih, 19, were killed, while her other daughters, Nida', 18, and Fida', 15, sustained serious wounds, in an Israeli raid on their house in 'Abassan village, east of Khan Yunis.
This deterioration of the human rights situation and living conditions in oPt greatly affects the Palestinian women generally and in the Gaza Strip in particular. Additionally, the ongoing Israeli-imposed closure prevents thousands of women from enjoying their right to an adequate standard of living. As a result, their social life has been affected, due to which the local community's violence against them has increased.
Moreover, Palestinian women suffer from violence practiced against them by the local community in its many forms. In 2011, PCHR documented the killing of three women in the Gaza Strip and West Bank due to security chaos and misuse of weapons.
The year 2011 witnessed a clear improvement in the measures taken to put an end to violence practiced by the local community, particularly crimes committed to maintain "family honor". On 15 May 2011, President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decision with power of law, which would abolish the eased sentences issued against the crimes committed to maintain "family honor". Under this decision, article 340 of Chapter I/Part VIII of the Jordanian Penal Code No. 16 of 1960, applicable in the West Bank, is abolished. The decision also stipulates the amendment of article 18 of the Palestinian Penal Code No. 74 of 1936, applicable in the Gaza Strip, as the phrase “that does not include crimes committed against women to maintain ‘family honor’” was added at the end of the article.
PCHR welcomed the decision at the time and hoped that this decision would be a step towards the elimination of these crimes, as those who commit these crimes enjoy the immunity granted to them through the issuing of eased sentences against them. As a result, this phenomenon has been prevalent in the Palestinian society and resulted in opening the door for undermining the principle of the rule of law.
In light of the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, PCHR emphasizes the need for putting an end to this suffering. PCHR:
1- Calls upon the international community to urge Israel to respect human rights and international humanitarian law and to put an end to the violation of the Palestinians' rights, including women's right;
2- Calls upon the international community to an urgent intervention to force Israel to lift the closure imposed on the Gaza Strip and enable civilians, including women, to enjoy all of their rights, which are denied due to the closure;
3- Calls upon the Palestinian Authority to take the necessary actions to put an end to the internal violence practiced against the Palestinian women;
4- Calls for joint efforts of the government and civil society organizations to put an end to violence against women in oPt; and5- Hopes, in view of the Palestinian reconciliation, that the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) will resume its activities and will develop a unified Palestinian penal code that conforms to the spirit and essence of the Palestinian Basic Law and to international human rights standards in order to guarantee public rights and freedoms.