A proposed bill to increase the sentences for Arab men who kill women ‘on the basis of family honor’ is not a step forward for feminism, but a step back.
The Justice Ministry recently presented a bill to the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice committee that would define murder on the basis of “family honor” as “aggravated murder,” which requires a sentence of life imprisonment.
At first glance, this might seem like a good change, but it’s not.
For the last two decades, I have been fighting the excessive use of this term – murder on the basis of family honor – to describe the murder of Arab women. Arab feminists from all over the world have struggled to eliminate the use of this term, which bears no actual relation to women’s lives. Books and articles have been written about the relationship between the female body and the “male honor” that tries to control that body. Women’s sexuality, intelligence, even their property have all been thrown together under the meaningless blanket term, “family honor.”
We have proven, case after a case, that a woman fighting for her inheritance, or for her children and her house, or to end a relationship with a drug dealer, is a free woman who can live as she chooses. And yet there is always someone who does not like that. And this angry someone whose honor has been bruised is always a male. It is very simple and has nothing to do with the honor of any man armed with a gun. This is called gender-based crime.
We briefly felt that some progress was being made and had a sympathetic ear among law enforcement agencies, judges, journalists and social workers for our demand to erase this term from the legal-social lexicon of the supposedly progressive and democratic state. I felt moments of solidarity and understanding and felt heard by Jewish women’s organisations and the families of Arab and Jewish victims. Slowly, the struggles against gender-based crime, violent men’s crimes against women for being women, began to intertwine, especially after the shocking week in which five women — two Arab and three Jewish women — were murdered.
And then, one fine day, the conductor of the enlightened and white chauvinist band that rules our lives, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, threw us down the stairs and set the women’s struggle for control of their own lives back 30 years. While the whole world tweets about “MeToo,” the Zionist minister promotes separation between different types of blood, between a battered Arab woman, a battered Russian woman, an Ethiopian woman, or any other “normative” type of Jewish woman.
Not in my name
On the face of it, as an Arab woman, I am supposed to be pleased with the harsher sentencing for Arab men who murder women. This classification is adorned with the “honor” of aggravated murder that requires life imprisonment. But I am not. I am furious that the policy of divide and conquer between Arab and Jewish women is also applied to femicide. How can I, as a feminist, accept that the state opposes equality before the law? How does giving a man who murdered his wife a more lenient sentence just because he is a Jew serve me?
It doesn’t. Not in my name or in the name of the struggle of the Arab women. We do not want this “honor” in any legal jurisdiction. The quiet perpetuation of the definition of murder “on the basis of family honor” contained in the State’s proposal is a prelude to the division of the feminist struggle into different backgrounds, circumstances, and groups of crimes perpetrated by men against women, regardless of religion or race.
And what will happen next? Will we once again hear about the Ethiopian who murdered his wife “given the background of the immigration crisis?” Or the Russian who had alcohol problems and quartered his wife’s body in Jerusalem? Or what went through the head of this rich Tel Aviv man who had the same bout of “uncontrollable envy” and shot his ex-wife dead? Do you really want to distinguish them from the shooter from the northern city of Daburiyya, who murdered his three daughters to take revenge on his ex-wife?
The murder of a woman, any woman, is always carried out under aggravated circumstances because she was born a female – a daughter, a mother, a girl and a woman in a patriarchal, masculine, and belligerent society where men dominate women, earn more than they do, govern and legislate in their name, and kill them 20 times a year. All male killers of women deserve life sentences. The fact that Ayelet Shaked is a woman does not prevent her from puncturing the wheels of feminist progress lead by women. While she is busy with annexation, occupation and settlements, the women on the other side of the struggle are looking for ways to unite forces rather than to force one another behind closed doors, a burqa, or a kosher partition at the Western Wall plaza.
Ayelet Shaked, don’t do anything in my name. Do not sabotage the efforts of Arab women, wearing your Orientalist glasses. The racial theories that you have derived through that gaze will not seep into the soil of true and robust radical feminism that is looking for ways to free women in the world from women like you.
The judicial system, which fails to prosecute 80 percent of the murderers of Arab women, will not be given brownie points just because of harsher sentencing in only 20 percent of the murderers brought to justice. A court system that sentences five murderers of a woman on the street to sentences ranging from one and a half to five years cannot hide behind anyone’s honor. Not yours, either, honorable minister.