JERUSALEM – Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas reinstituted the official death penalty this week in direct response to a recent episode of Hamas carrying out an “honor killing” that humiliated the Palestinian leader in his own media, a senior PA official told WND.
The PA Sunday enforced its first executions in three years, killing four convicted murderers in an apparent attempt to deter criminals and send a message to the public that law and order are being restored.
The Palestinian government in 2002 suspended the death penalty under intense international pressure. About 50 Palestinians are currently on death row, some for committing murder, others for allegedly collaborating with Israel.
An Interior Ministry official told reporters this week’s executions were part of a general campaign to rein in on violence.
“There is a new policy of enforcing the law, to face and fight the chaos and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories,” said Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa.
But a senior PA official told WND the suddenly re-established capital punishment law is Abbas’ response to an episode that recently embarrassed the Palestinian leader.
On April 8, Hamas Anti-Corruption Group, described by Israeli security sources as a kind of “morality police” operating within the terror group’s apparatus, reportedly carried out an extra-judicial honor killing of a Palestinian woman suspected of “indecent behavior.”
Yusra al-Azzami, a young female university student from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, reportedly was caught by Hamas, together with another female, riding in a vehicle with two men. The Hamas members, charged with imposing Islamic ideals, suspected the group of “immoral behavior” and shot at the car, killing al-Azzami and wounding the other occupants.
Hamas, though, made a mistake. According to Palestinian media reports, in the car with al-Azzami was her sister, her fiancee and her sister’s fiancee. The group said they were returning from finalizing preparations for al-Azzami’s upcoming wedding.
Al-Azzami’s fiancee described the episode to the Palestinian Press’ Internet site, a translation of which was provided by Israel’s Center for Special Studies:
“[After they shot at our car] four men got out of the [second] car and immediately surrounded us. They dragged us out of our car and beat our heads with clubs. … I think that they [the murderers] thought the sisters were with us to have a good time. I shouted as loudly as I could, ‘She is my fiancee, she is my fiancee,’ but they didn’t listen.”
Another news item in the paper’s print edition reported the murder and went on to harshly criticize Abbas “whose government does not provide the Palestinian people with the security it promised.”
The Center for Special Studies reports other Palestinian newspapers also cited the episode and blasted Abbas for increased lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza.
Hamas immediately published a response admitting its members, who carried out the murder, made a mistake. It claimed the militants acted on their own.
Late last month, the terror group settled the case with al-Azzami’s family using its own Islamic court, agreeing to pay the family $35,000 for the wrongful death.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, announced that “mistakes happen all over the world but Hamas is the only organization to admit them because it supports those who have been wronged.”
The settlement provoked a second round of Abbas bashing in the Palestinian media.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute, Muhammad Yaghi, a columnist for the Palestinian daily newspaper Al-Ayam, wrote, “the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatuses did not wake up and capture and punish the culprits. Must we fear for our lives or acquire weapons to protect ourselves from those who want to impose their ideas and way of life onto us by force? On January 9, 2005, did the Palestinian people not elect a president who waved the flag of security and tranquility?”
Mouwaffaq Matar, a columnist for the PA newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, asked “if Palestinian society understands the significance of armed groups taking upon themselves to determine [social] limits, to reward or punish civilians under the aegis of the national authority which is a local, Arab and international address. It signals the internal destruction of the national project … .”
“The whole thing completely embarrassed Abbas,” the senior PA official told WND. “Not only did it show Hamas is going around imposing their own law, but now it was all resolved publicly in [Hamas’] own courts, completely separate from any official Palestinian entity.”
According to the Center for Special Studies, the case “illustrates the methods of Hamas, which operates in the Gaza Strip like a ‘alternative Palestinian Authority,’ forcing the local population to accept radical Islamic codes of behavior. Hamas can do as it pleases, among other reasons, because of the weakness of the PA and its enforcement agencies.”
“Everyone was talking about Hamas creating a second government,” the PA official said. “Abbas had to do something, so he brought back the death penalty to show ‘look, I am in charge. I can execute people, too.'”