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Women mourning

Honor killings: a brutal tribal custom

Walter Rodgers

December 7, 1995
Web posted at: 10:30 p.m. EST (0330 GMT)

From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers

TAIBEH, Israel (CNN) -- A woman's death has raised disturbing questions about "honor killings" in certain Arab villages of Israel. According to the tribal custom, a father, husband, brother or son is duty-bound to kill a female family member who allegedly has brought shame on the family. A cultural conspiracy of silence often hides the brutality.

Rudayena Jemael, 37, was shot in the head while she slept in her home. There was no forced entry, no robbery. Police say her 20-year-old son is the prime suspect. They think he killed her because she wanted to remarry, 19 years after her divorce.

Salim and his Mother

"I think he killed her," said one woman. "You can see in his face. He killed her and he didn't even cry."

The son, Salim, who denies the murder, had a party after his release from jail.

Israeli police say there isn't enough evidence to prosecute yet. Still the police told CNN they are "absolutely convinced the son had at least one accomplice carrying out the murder."

Salim's father, Rudayena's former husband, defends his son. "It was all village gossip," he said. Men of the family, asked who murdered the woman, say, "Only Allah knows."


Such killings are endemic throughout much of the Middle East, where tribal custom prevails. In Israel, outrage over honor killings has the power to unite Arab and Israeli women like nothing else can.

Women have been murdered for dating without a brother's permission or for marrying outside the faith. When a young girl is sexually molested by a father or a brother and becomes pregnant, the girl may be blamed and sometimes executed. If a man rapes a woman, tradition holds she has brought the family shame; tribal custom says her brother may kill her.

"I despise this society," said Faten, Rudayena's daughter. "I am against these honor killings that Arab society supports."

Despite increasingly stiff penalties for honor killings, women say courts still take the man's side. "They excuse men; they say men have the right to kill," said one woman.

Ibtihaz Hasoun

Ibtihaz Hasoun, accused of shaming her family, was recently stabbed to death by her brother, who had summoned villagers to watch him murder his "fallen sister." The villagers celebrated the honor killing.

"She married someone outside the village," said one man. "We would do the same thing."

Kamel Hader

Forty years ago, Kamel Hader killed his unmarried sister when she came home pregnant. Today, he vows he would do it again. "If a woman does something wrong you are supposed to kill her to regain family honor," Hader said. "Otherwise, we live in shame." (119K AIFF sound or 119K WAV sound)

Exact figures on how many women die in honor killings are impossible to come by. Unlike the case of Ibtihaz Hasoun, the executions are usually spoken of in whispers. As a CNN crew prepared this story, a shadow of a woman approached and whispered, "There are many women who die in these deserts. ... Who cares about them?"

The roots of honor killing are ancient and pre-Islamic. At Rudayena Jemael's memorial service, women listened to chants from the Koran saying, "In the day of judgment, Allah will ask, why do you kill innocent women?"

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