Israa Gharib was killed by men and women of the clan

A tragedy of screams, a fractured spine and continuous brutal punches that persisted until the last breath of her fragile body. The hospital’s corridor looked like a silent death dorm, and the hands of the person recording the sound of the beating, through the phone, say that he has no means to help.

By Diana Moukalled

The “Hasbi Allah” phrase, (“Almighty Allah is enough for me”), that accompanied her clearly recorded tormented voice, doesn’t only reflect helplessness but also a conviction that what is happening couldn’t be resisted.

These were the last moments of the “collective execution” of Palestinian woman Israa Gharib, as documented in a harrowing video leaked from the hospital where she was staying.

Yes, it was nothing less than a collective execution, and claiming otherwise is like refusing to acknowledge the responsibility of those who participated in this young woman’s tragedy.

Israa Gharib.
Israa Gharib.

I am Israa Gharib

Israa’s entire life and death are almost documented in detail on the social media platforms, the era’s platforms. She’s a young woman, almost 21 years old, from Beit Sahour in Bethlehem governorate, West Bank, who worked as a make-up artist.

She became well-known to friends and neighbours in her surroundings thanks to her social media pages, where she used to share many photos showing her great ingenuity and passion for the profession. Most of her photos indicate that she was such an active, lively girl who loved her professional and social life.

The news of her death that spread on 22 August had many documented introductions which became known through the leaked audio recordings that Israa shared with her friends, narrating her story. She told them about her outing with a potential suitor and how this incident turned into the topic of interest of her whole family, especially her female cousins. Some of the audio recordings with Israa were leaked, in which she talks about disturbed familial relations between her uncles, and these revelations have been used to criticise Israa and her lifestyle.

Israa, who lived in a traditional conservative tribal society, seemed the weakest and most fragile among them. Hence, she was accused of bringing “shame” to the family, which is a pointless and meaningless accusation. The storm that her cousins stirred drove her brothers and relatives crazy. She was brutally beaten until her spine was fractured and then was taken to the hospital. Israa tried to hold it together and stay strong. She tried to consider that this was just one of the hardships that will pass quickly. So she posted a photo of her bruises to tell that she’s okay and will get over what happened, without further details or elaboration.

But her wish didn’t come true, and her death was declared later. A harrowing short video, in which we could only hear Israa screaming for help, was leaked, probably by the staff at the hospital where she was staying. She was beaten brutally on her hospital bed until she dropped dead. No one tried to save her, neither the medical staff nor the hospital’s security guards. Not a single person. As if she was killed in an isolated island, not in a public hospital and amid witnesses who chose to remain silent. Her killers walked safely out of the hospital without being arrested or even summoned until days after her death. And despite the government prosecutor’s claim that an investigation was opened, no measures were taken.

Isn’t the horrifying murder of this girl worth detaining defendants on remand? Shouldn’t the hospital staff, Israa’s family and friends be summoned? 

And who is that person who deactivated her accounts on social media and started blackmailing her friends who leaked audio recordings that documented what happened to Israa? Who is threatening to post photos of them as per a Facebook page statement? 

What’s worse is her family’s claim that she was possessed by a demon and that a sheikh tried to exorcise it out of her, according to the testimony of a so-called “forensic medical examination”. Israa’s brother-in-law had the audacity to threaten to resort to “tribal judiciary” and to take to court anyone who accuses the family of the murder.

Women, clans and laws

Israa’s case took me years back, especially to 2000 when I met Sarhan. I was working on a film about the murders of women, the so-called “crimes of honour” in Jordan. Sarhan is a young man who was imprisoned for six months after killing his minor sister after she was raped by a family relative. The rapist fled and the family decided that the problem’s solution was to kill the girl. Of course Sarhan took advantage of the “valid excuse” that gives men the green light to kill women under the pretext of “anger” and “defending honour”; a legal deficiency that most Arab countries haven’t gotten rid of yet, including the laws in the Palestinian territories where Israa lived and died.

“When the religion establishes a weak position for the women, and the clans exalt the role of men as leaders, breadwinners and owners of the lives and bodies of the family’s women. And when the law and authorities stand powerless and complicit, another victim like Israa will definitely fall again.”

In our meeting, Sarhan told me that he committed his crime due to familial and tribal pressure. In such contexts, the fact that his sister was a rape victim was overlooked. Thus, Sarhan and all men in the family decided that the girl’s raped body wasn’t her’s and that protecting her and treating her as well as helping her recover were all of diminished importance. Worse still, they decided to kill her just to get rid of “shame”. He explained to me how he, along with some family members, planned to commit his crime. It was a collective decision. He told me how killing his sister served him well and restored his place in the clan, which was looking down on him because his sister was raped. He told me back then: “in our society, nothing but death shushes people”.

And this collective decision isn’t exceptional. Most researchers in the murders of women in our traditional communities, especially tribal communities, have shed light on this dimension. Sometimes, group planning of the crime reaches the extent of providing weapons and collusion with the authorities and law. The law does not tolerate a premeditated murder but the perpetrators, sometimes with the assistance of lawyers, say that they unintentionally killed women out of rage. That’s exactly what happened with Sarhan and is definitely happening to many others.

Who killed Israa?

Israa’s murder is one of these crimes; the collective murders, fully accepted by the family members.

In her recordings, defending herself against what her cousins said, she was blaming them for calling her a “tramp”, a word used in Palestine as an insult to strong women. Israa, a veiled girl, was only a young woman who tried to create a social bubble – using social media and her profession in the beauty field – that would help her live the way she wanted. What she did was a normal thing, but her relatives used it against her.

Israa paid for the male acquired privileges in our region with her life. She was accused, beaten, killed and defamed. And it seems that she will be denied justice, with everything that’s going on from tribal pressures against the hospital where she was killed and in light of the Palestinian Authority’s incapability of arresting a single person, days after her murder.

Israa is a hero and a victim at the same time. And as we see the prevalence of similar stories of assault and aggression, she is not the first case, and this great interaction with her tragedy is only an indication of how this story struck a chord within our Arab societies.

We have victims that we must protect, and we have legal and cultural backgrounds that protect the aggressors. Yes, there is a collusion between tribal masculine cultures and religious values that have been centered on the idea that considers girls and women as “weak spots” and “fitna”.

When the religion establishes a weak position for the women, and the clans exalt the role of men as leaders, breadwinners and owners of the lives and bodies of the family’s women. And when the law and authorities stand powerless and complicit, another victim like Israa will definitely fall again.

Many were killed unjustly before her, isn’t it time for an uprising to stop the tragedy from being repeated?

Israa Gharib.
Israa Gharib.

Diana Moukalled is a Lebanese writer and journalist.

The article was originally published 1 September 2019 by Daraj. Read the original here. 

Translated and edited by AlJumhuriya/Docstream

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

Navigating a changing world: media’s gendered prism

IMS’ media reader on gender and sexuality