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Violent death of Palestinian woman generates debate on gender violence in …

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Violent death of Palestinian woman generates debate on gender violence in ...

When a young woman came into Al Hussein hospital with a fractured spine and wounds on her body and face, the doctors initially thought they were facing another daily case of traumatic injuries.

The doctors who work at that hospital in the West Bank are used to dealing with young patients with serious injuries.

Al Hussein is located near the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, whose streets lead to refugee camps, Israeli checkpoints, and barriers separating Israeli-occupied territories from Palestinian-inhabited areas – areas of frequent confrontation and violence.

But Israa Ghrayeb's story was different. It was the plot of a tragedy that would provoke widespread protests against gender violence in Palestinian society.

"This will be a transformative case and we will always remember Israa Ghrayeb," says Randa Siniora, who runs the Palestinian Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling.

Two weeks after her first medical visit to Israa on August 10, the girl was taken back to the hospital. But this time, the doctors could do nothing to help. She was dead.

Police officials, now under heavy popular pressure to unravel the case, said Israa was beaten and died from her injuries.

Last week, Palestinian Attorney General Akram al-Khateeb said Israa was a victim of domestic violence by members of his family.

Three male relatives of the young were reported for participating in her death. For activists, the case reveals the lack of a legal basis for the protection of Palestinian women.

"Israa was very independent and outgoing," a friend of hers told BBC News, describing her as vibrant and motivated. "Her dream was to be successful and famous in her profession," he added.

The 21-year-old was known in the village of Beit Sahour near Bethlehem.

Israa was a makeup artist and her photos on Istagram attracted thousands of followers.

"I loved this black look I did," wrote the young woman on the social network, showing the photo of a model she made up with black smoky eyeshadow.

Israa was from a conservative family that adopted strict rules of courtship between young men and women. The use of social networking seems to have been an important element among the circumstances that led to her death.

She would have posted a picture with her fiance in a cafe on Instagram. Her social network account was later deleted.

According to local media, members of Israa's family considered it dishonorable that she had been publicly seen with a man, although the two young men had started relationships after obtaining consent from their relatives.

Israa's family members claimed that she herself caused the injuries that led to her death. Her brother-in-law, Mohammed Safi, said the young woman suffered from psychological problems and fell off her porch – a version the researchers described as "invalid."

A smiling Israa posted pictures of the injuries on social networks, apologizing for having to postpone her makeup schedule. "I fractured my spine and I have to have surgery today. If the operation goes well, I will warn you. If not, I will have to cancel everything."

Although she was attended by a medical team and made radiographs, no action was taken by the police on the "signs of abuse" identified by the professionals who attended her.

'Possessed by evil spirits'

Israa's body was buried according to Islamic tradition – a few hours after death. The case could have ended there if not for a Palestinian Facebook group called "Do you know him?"

This group exposes men who mistreat women or cheat on their wives.

The group posted a recording of Israa screaming as she was beaten by her brothers, brothers-in-law and her father at the hospital.

Prosecutors said last week it was a merger of two recordings made seven hours apart, while the hospital categorically denied that the beating occurred on its premises.

But complaints through the Facebook group have spread and concern about the truth behind Israa's death has spread.

The group also published WhatsApp talks between Israa and her cousins ​​in which she said she was leaving, with family consent, to a man who would soon become her fiancé.

The hashtags "Israa Ghrayeb", "There is no honor in honor killings" and "We are all Israa Ghrayeb" have come to dominate Twitter in several Arab countries.

"In this particular case, social media has played an important role in lobbying the authorities to work hard to resolve the case," says Tala Halawa of BBC Monitoring, who watched as the episode unfolded on the Internet.

"Thousands of tweets and Facebook posts have called for justice for Israa and several women have shared their fears and personal stories."

Women's rights activists began to gather outside the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.

They called for laws designed to protect women from domestic violence and accused the authorities of failing to protect Israa and not engaging in investigating her death.

"From the beginning, I thought there was something strange about Israa's case. I didn't believe the story that she would have fallen off the balcony," says Randa Siniora. "(The family) said she was possessed by evil spirits," she says.

Siniora refers to press interviews by Israa's brother-in-law after the case gained notoriety, in which he said the girl was possessed. The explanation was one of the arguments used by activists protesting for a more thorough investigation.

"The devil is in your head, not in the women's body," read a sign carried by a protester. Amid the wave of street protests and demonstrations on social networks, new expertise in Israa's body was made.

A report from a pathologist said she died of respiratory arrest due to lung collapse caused by multiple trauma and injuries. The Palestinian Advocate General said Israa's death was the result of "torture and abuse".

The explanation that she had fallen off the balcony was "fabricated" to "confuse the investigations," he said. Contacted by the BBC, a family member said he would not speak up.

The two hospitals that attended Israa said they informed family policy and protection groups about suspected abuse when she was admitted. But law enforcement has not yet explained why no action has been taken.

Increased violence

Israa's story is not an isolated case. The Palestinian Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling said it reported 24 deaths of women following gender-related violence in the same region where Israa lived and in the Gaza Strip.

Human rights group Al-Haq is trying to draw attention to what it calls the "alarming increase" of incidents of violence against women, including murders.

Activists blame the culture of impunity, spurred on by a Criminal Code from the 1960s, when Jordan occupied this region on the border with Israel.

Some of the rules under criminal law have loopholes that are used by Palestinian courts to pardon or grant lenient penalties to men who commit violence against women when they argue that they have acted to protect family honor.

Thousands of so-called "honor killings" occur every year worldwide.

The Palestinian Authority made changes to the law in 2011 to prevent the use of the honor argument to justify crimes.

But a 2017 United Nations report says that judges still mostly resort to Articles 90 and 100 of the Penal Code, "the application of which mitigates the penalty for murder, even if the victim comes from the same family as the killer."

The UN document also says Palestinian women have suffered "multiple types of discrimination and violence", both public and private.

"They suffer from the violence of the Israeli occupation, either directly or indirectly, but they also suffer from a system of violence that emanates from tradition and culture, full of patriarchal social normals."

There is another problem related to the way Palestinian law deals with families affected by a case of violence, says Randa Siniora.

She says the legislation does not require relatives who can be witnesses to provide information to the police, which helps strengthen men's power in the household.

Activists point out that the Palestinian National Authority is part of a series of international conventions that oblige it to adopt measures to preserve human rights to prevent gender violence.

The UN said in 2017 that it was concerned about the "lack of implementation" of these guidelines.

A campaign is currently in place demanding justice for Israa. Suheir Faraq, one of the spokespersons for this movement, argues that changes must be social and legal.

She argues that Israa's abuses were widely known.

For Faraq, it is necessary to provide assurances so that women like Israa can believe that help and protection can be received. "There needs to be a mechanism so that women are not afraid to report (abuse and violence)," he says.

. (tagsToTranslate) west bank (t) feminicide (t) patriarchy (t) feminism (t) machismo (t) violence against women (t) Palestinian UN (t)

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