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A Palestinian girl who was raped and impregnated by her two brothers was later murdered by her own mother – even though her daughter was the crime’s innocent victim – in another of the disturbingly common, if vastly underreported, instances of “honor killings.”
The mother will be sentenced in two weeks, but a harsh penalty is not expected.
According to a Knight Ridder report, court records show that Rofayda Qaoud was raped by her brothers, Fahdi, 22, and Ali, 20, in a bedroom they shared in the family’s three-room house in the town of Abu Qash in the West Bank. When her mother found she had become pregnant, she insisted her daughter commit suicide, and even bought the unwed teen a razor so she could slash her own wrists. When the daughter refused, Amira Abu Hanhan Qaoud took matters into her own hands and murdered Rofayda to restore her family’s “honor.”
Entering her sleeping daughter’s bedroom last Jan. 27 with a plastic bag, razor and wooden stick, reports Knight Ridder, the mother told her daughter: “Tonight you die, Rofayda.” Wrapping the bag around the teen’s head, Qaoud cut her daughter’s wrists, while ignoring her cries of “No, mother, no!” Qaoud then struck her daughter in the head with the stick to finish off the job, said the report.
Every year, dozens and probably hundreds of brutal “honor killings” of Palestinian women and girls – most of whom are virtually blameless – go unreported, according to an anthropologist’s recent study.
In a story for World and I magazine, James Emery says women in the communities of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Israel and Jordan are killed by male kinsmen in an attempt to protect the reputations of their families.
Emery says the women “are murdered in their homes, in open fields and occasionally in public, sometimes before crowds of cheering onlookers.”
Most occur among Muslims in poor, rural tribal areas or among uneducated urban dwellers, he says, although the practice is not explicitly condoned by the Islamic holy book, the Quran.
In the feudal, patriarchal societies of the Middle East, writes Emery, “honor is based on what men feel is important, and reputation is everything.”
“Unfortunately,” he says, “thousands of women have been killed in the name of honor because imagination and rumors are as important as actions and events.”
When a girl’s chastity is in question, he says, her family feels the shame, even if she is raped or the rumors prove unsubstantiated.
“A woman shamed is like rotting flesh,” a Palestinian merchant told Emery. “If it is not cut away, it will consume the body. What I mean is the whole family will be tainted if she is not killed.”
Emery says the reasons for honor killings include allegations of premarital or extramarital sex, for refusing an arranged marriage or attempting to obtain a divorce, or simply for talking with a man. The murders normally are carried out by fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins or sons.
Among Palestinians, all sexual encounters, including rape and incest, are blamed on the woman.
“The issue of consent is irrelevant when it comes to honor killings,” says Marsha Freeman, director of the International Women’s Rights Action Watch. “It has to do with the woman being defiled. It completely objectifies the woman as being about her sexuality and purity. It makes her not human.”
Under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, at least 25 “official” honor killings occur each year, says Emery, but the actual number of deaths is much higher.
Because honor killings are accorded special status, murderers serve little or no jail time, the anthropologist notes. Some men convicted of premeditated murder serve as little as three months and are treated as celebrities by family and friends upon release.
Emery has done extensive research in Palestinian communities and has lived and traveled overseas for a number of years. He is an expert witness on Asian and Arab culture in civil and criminal cases and a lecturer on Middle Eastern terrorism.
He says the murder of females in the Middle East is an ancient tradition that began prior to the arrival of Islam in A.D. 622. Arabs sometimes buried infant daughters to avoid the possibility they would later bring shame to the family, Emery notes.
In the case of Rofayda Qaoud, the mother will appear before a three-judge panel on Dec. 3. She says her husband, Abdul Rahim, urged her not to do it, and said the Quran forbids “honor” killings. The Knight Ridder account says Rofayda gave birth to a healthy boy last Dec. 23, who has been adopted by another Palestinian family.
Honor killings committed in the heat of passion generally carry a light term – six months to one year in jail. Qaoud’s premeditated act is likely be earn her a stiffer sentence – perhaps three to five years, said the report. Yet the fact that she was attempting to save her family’s honor means she’s not guilty of premeditated murder, which can get the death penalty. The two brothers are serving minimum 10-year jail sentences for raping their sister.