For years Palestinian women’s groups have been arguing that so-called honour killings – that is, murder of women by their families – were not, as Israeli Jews liked to believe, proof of “Arab” backwardness but rather largely a consequence of racism in Israeli society that refused to tackle the social causes of these women’s deaths head-on.
Police left Palestinian society in Israel to sort out the problem (typically until the woman had been killed) rather than intervene and the courts usually gave a heavily reduced sentence to the family members involved on the basis that the “honour” component was an extenuating circumstance (treating it as a sort of crime of passion).
A report in Haaretz reveals that in Lod and Ramle, the heartland of these killings, not one woman was murdered last year. And that the reason was a dramatic change of policy by the police after a spate of earlier killings caused them great embarrassment.
The Israeli police did two radical things. First, they finally listened to the advice of women’s groups and are now taking a much more aggressive approach to deter families from considering murder an option. And second, they have stopped relying on the community’s most conservative men to solve the problem for them.
‘For years the police turned to sheikhs and various uncles and relatives, hoping to calm things down. We would send the sheikh to talk to the husband or brother, in order to prevent the murder,’ a senior officer in the Central District told Haaretz, ‘but in many cases it just didn’t work. Often the police would see these people as mediators when, in fact, they supported the murder.’
So, in fact, as the women’s groups long argued, there is nothing inherent about Arab men murdering women. As with criminals everywhere, men who contemplate murdering a wife or relative just need to fear the force of the law, backed by social opprobrium, to be deterred.