By: Morton A. Klein
September 2, 2003

Are Women Well Treated By The Palestinian Authority, As Howard Dean Recently Suggested?


NEW YORK – In response to the recent statement by former Vermont Governor Howard Dean suggesting that women are well-treated by the Palestinian Authority, the Zionist Organization of America has expressed concern that Dr. Dean’s advisers have not fully informed him about the widespread abuse of women in PA-controlled territories.


The Forward reported (Aug.29,2003) that Dr. Dean said: “Palestine is the best hope for peace in the Middle East, partly because Palestinians have experience with Israeli democracy and involve women in their political life.”


In fact, only 7% (5 out of 88) members of the Palestinian Legislative Council are women. And as of 1999, just less than 1% (22 out of 3,439) members of local Palestinian Arab town councils were women. (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 8, 2002)


The ZOA notes many reports indicating abuse of women by the PA:


Poll Finds Majority of Palestinian Arabs Support Wife-Beating: A September 2002 poll taken by a leading a Palestinian Arab polling agency, the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, found:


* 56.9% of Palestinian Arabs “believe that a man has the right to beat up his wife if she underestimates his manhood.”


* 56.2% of Palestinian Arabs “support the physical abuse of a wife if she insults her husband in front of his friends.”


* 51.8% of Palestinian Arabs “support a man’s abusing his wife physically if she does not obey him.”


* 51.7% of Palestinian Arabs “recommend beating up a wife if she does not respect her parents, sisters, and brothers-in-law.”


* 59.1% of Palestinian Arabs “believe it is the right of a man to decide for his wife whether or not to work outside the house”; 66.4% “believe it is even worse for a woman to swear, curse, or use bad words than for a man”; 73.9% believe that women should “concentrate on their becoming good wives and mothers rather than get preoccupied with their rights”; and 82.3% “believe that it is a wife’s obligation to obey her husband.”


* 56.7% of Palestinian Arabs know a woman who was assaulted by her husband (up from 34.7% a year earlier).


Women Killed in PA Territory to “Protect Family Honor”:
Palestinian Arab women who are suspected of committing moral infractions are sometimes murdered by family members in order to “protect the family honor,” a practice which the Palestinian Authority regime has made little effort to stop. “The sheer scale of the phenomenon, along with the weakness of the laws and the lack of a concerted effort on the part of concerned individuals and institutions to deal with the matter, all contribute to worsening the problem in a society that believes restoring honor can only be achieved by the spilling of blood,” the Palestinian Arab newspaper Jerusalem Times has noted. (June 1, 2001)


The article quoted Ayda Masoud, a researcher for the Women’s Support and Rehabilitation Program, as saying: “The problem of honor killings is more serious than I had thought before working with the program. I was awestruck by the scale of the phenomenon in Palestinian society.” Dr. Iyad Siraj, director of the Gaza Psychological Health Program, was quoted as saying that it is common among Palestinian Arabs to believe that “a woman is among the possessions of a man.”


Sheikh Hazem Al-Siraj of the Palestinian Alms Committee was quoted as saying that when a defendant who is accused of an “honor killing” is tried in a PA court, “leniency is exercised if witnesses confirm that the woman sinned.”


PA Doesn’t Enforce Laws Against Sexual Harassment of Women:
“Sexual harassment is a common problem around the world but in [PA-controlled territory] the phenomenon is characterized by several properties that make it more serious than in other places [such as] the wide spread of the phenomenon, the lack of laws against it, and the feebleness with which laws that do exist are implemented,” according to the Palestinian Arab newspaper Jerusalem Times. (August 11, 2000)


PA’s Judges Look for Ways to Excuse “Honor Killings”:
“[In ‘honor killings’ of women], judges and police officers have been known to side with the ‘wronged’ man. In areas under Palestinian control, judges usually look for ‘justifiable excuses,’ according to Nadera Shalhoub Kevorkian, a criminologist at Hebrew University who participated in a UNICEF study.” (Jerusalem Post, July 4, 2000)


Palestinian Arab Law is “Lenient” on “Honor Killings”:
” ‘Honor killings’ of women are regarded with leniency by the law in Jordan and Palestine,” according to Palestinian Arab activist Daoud Kuttab. (Jerusalem Post, Dec. 16, 1999)


22% of Palestinian Arab Women Are Victims of Sexual Assault:
A study by the Gaza Psychological Health Program in 1999 found that 22% of Palestinian Arab women “experience sexual assault.” (Jerusalem Times , Oct.8, 1999)


“Palestinian Arab Society Applauds ‘Honor Killings’ of Women”:
Reuters reported on Nov. 10, 1997, that when a resident of PA-controlled Jericho murdered his sister for alleged sexual misconduct, “Arab society applauded his deed.” A spokesman for a Gaza women’s group said that 20 “honor killings” of Palestinian Arab women were reported in Judea-Samaria and Gaza during 1997, “but the number of honor killings is much higher and they are not reported in this tribal society.”


Hundreds of Palestinian Arab Women Beaten or Raped in 1997:
In Judea-Samaria and Gaza during the period from January through September 1997, and 47 Palestinian Arab women filed complaints of having been raped, 398 filed complaints that they were beaten by their husbands. (IINS News Service, Nov. 30, 1997)


Palestinian Arab Girls Pressured to Get Married at Age 13:
“It is now common to wed girls who are barely 13 or 14 years of age,” according to a report in the Palestinian Arab newspaper Jerusalem Times (May 10, 1995). “A part of this complex problem is the practice of polygamy, which is effectively legal.” A teacher in PA-controlled Beit Fajjar reported that “the girls begin getting engaged in the seventh and eighth grades,” and a gynecologist in PA-controlled Bethlehem said that she sees women “from about 15 villages in the Bethlehem district, and 80% of these are married at less than 16 years of age.”


Women Raped by PA Policemen in Jericho:
An investigative report by the Israeli daily Ma’ariv (March 24, 1995) found a pattern of “random beatings, rapes, and torture” committed by PA policemen in Jericho, which had “turned the lives of the city’s 12,000 residents into a living hell.” The article described several brutal rapes by PA policemen, which the PA leadership refused to investigate on the grounds that in each case, “she consented.”


PA Police Chief Implicated in Rape:
In early 1995, the PA’s chief of police in Gaza, Ghazi Jabali, reportedly raped a local woman. In order to preserve “family honor,” the woman’s family forced Jabali to marry her. In July 1995, she was found shot to death. (Al Akhbar, July 17, 1995)


Abuse of Women by the PLO Prior to the Establishment of the Palestinian Authority Regime:


“Collaborators” Were Actually Killed to “Preserve Family Honor”:
The leftwing Israeli human rights group B’Tselem reported in early 1994 that “nearly all” of the 107 Palestinian Arab women murdered by the PLO’s “Fatah decency squads” during 1988-1993, supposedly because they were “collaborating” with Israel, “were in fact victims of honor killings.” (Associated Press, Feb. 15, 1994)


PLO Killers Targeted Women Who Work Outside the Home:
“During the intifada all those elements that wanted to impose a conservative way of life on society…made women who worked outside their homes suspect of collaboration with the authorities. These relatively independent women, not subjected to constant supervision by the family men,” became the targets of PLO death squads. “In 1989, sewing-shop owner Varda Safariye was murdered, and in 1991 the Fatah Hawks murdered Na’ama Jouda, who worked in a sewing shop in Deir el-Balah…


“In 1989, six women who worked in medical institutions were murdered—five nurses and one cleaning woman in a clinic—after being accused of collaboration…many nurses decided not to risk their lives and resigned…The murder of the Abu Shawish sisters had particularly great impact. Aisha Abu Shawish was chief nurse and department head in the Nasr hospital;four hooded men murdered her in her home with axes. Her sister Susan Abu Hussein was murdered in the hospital.” (Ha’aretz, June 17, 1994)


Wife-Beating Common Among Palestinian Arabs:
Palestinian Arab Prof. Mohammed Haj Yahya said in a lecture at Bir Zeit University, near Ramallah, in 1993 that “39% of the women in Palestinian society suffer from wife battering,” but “women are afraid to complain due to social pressure. He said “attitudes in the male-dominated Arab society made wife-beating legitimate.” (Al Fajr, April 8, 1993)


Women Raped to Punish Their Husbands for Working in Israel:
During the spring of 1989, there were numerous reports in the Israeli press of Palestinian Arab women who were “gang raped by masked Arab terrorists” because their husbands “persist in taking jobs in Israel for the purpose of supporting their families. ‘Offenders’ are first warned, and if they persist the terrorist underground visits their wives when they are away, and amid cries of ‘Allah is great’ and ‘Death to the Jews,’ perpetrate their dastardly crime.” There were also cases in which women were raped by PLO squads “after being accused of promiscuity and cooperating with the [Israeli] authorities.” (Jerusalem Post, April 27, 1989; Jewish Post and Opinion, May 31, 1989)