In a first in the Arab world, a Palestinian hip hop group is raising awareness of ‘honour killings’ through a powerful music video.
The haunting ‘If I could go back in Time’ was launched simultaneously in the West Bank town of Ramallah and the Israeli town of Haifa this month.
The song begins, over images a young woman lying dead in a forest with, “Before she was murdered, she wasn’t alive. We’ll tell her story backwards from her murder to her birth,”
Then the dead body floats back to a standing position. A bullet enters her forehead. Her brother is pulling the trigger. As the story keeps going backwards, we see her being forced into the boot of a car by her father and brothers, fighting with them about who she will marry – and then as an innocent child when they all lived happily in the same home.
The video ends with a sculpture in Arabic: “Freedom for my sisters.”
The song was written by Palestinian rappers DAM, an all male hip-hop group. They are accompanied by Amal Murkus, a Christian singer from an Arab village in the Galilee. The video had UN funding and it is being promoted by UN Women and other groups fighting violence against women.
“We feel that when there’s a crime against a woman it’s seen as the end of the story,” DAM member Tamer Nafar said at the press conference in Ramallah. “No one asks the right questions. No one tries to she light on the human face, it’s just another death. A death justified by the mere fact of being a girl.
Above: Video launch in Ramallah – L to R DAM band members Suhel Nafar and Tamer Nafar; Women’s activist Soraida Hussein; soloist Amal Markus and DAM rapper Mahmood Jrere. (Image credit: UN Women)
The video is not based on one particular case, but is an amalgam of the stories they learnt about when they were researching the project. Honour killings were taking place while they were working on the video. Amal Murkus said the death that hit her hardest was that of a woman from her hometown of Kafr Yasif, in the Gallillee. Twenty six year old Nasrin Musrati was shot in the street after she’d taken her children to school. She had been living in the town’s shelter for battered women for two years.
“She was extremely beautiful, and there were always a lot of young men following her around. She knew she was going to be killed one day,” Murkus said.
Globally, around five thousand women and girls are murdered or abused each year as punishment for behaviour judged damaging to their family’s reputation – hence the name “honour” killing for an act actually lacking in any honour.
Inspector Ramadan Awad, Chief of Police in the West Bank town of Hebron argues that in most cases, "family honor" is a pretext. “Men will kill to clear the path for remarriage, to get their wives' gold or because of problems in the family,” he said.
A woman can also be killed for expressing a desire to choose her own husband, saying she wants a divorce, or trying to claim an inheritance. Mostly it’s because she is suspected of infidelity. Nothing needs to proven. Being seen talking on her mobile phone can be enough.
Inspector Awad spoke after a particularly gruesome case in his district in 2010, when 20 year old Aya Baradiya was thrown alive into a well, with her hands and feet tied, and left there to die. Her uncle killed her, because he didn’t like the man who had proposed to her.
In Gaza and the West Bank, 29 women were murdered between 2007 and 2010. The numbers have increased since: 13 women died in 2011 and 12 so far this year.
The killers mostly go free. If they are sentenced, it will only be for a few months. The maximum sentence of six months in the West Bank was increased after Aya Baradiya was found in the well in Hebron, which sparked national outrage. However, that increase hasn’t been enforced yet.
Over in Israel, where there is a large Palestinian population (twenty per cent of Israelis are Palestinian Arabs), there is no leniency in sentencing for such crimes. But there are few successful prosecutions. Palestinian women’s groups accuse Israeli police of not investigating these cases properly. But Israeli police deny that, claiming the families cover up for each other after the murders.
Sergeant Limor Guetta of Israel’s Ramle Police says that when they arrive at the victim’s home the most eerie thing is the silence. She says it’s the mark of an honour killing.
“When you come to a crime scene like this you find there are no witnesses, nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything, nobody’s crying. Sometimes you don’t even have blood stains because they’ve scrubbed the crime scene clean. In fact it’s often a neighbour who’s called us, and the woman has been lying there dead for hours,” said Sergeant Guetta.
For all these reasons, Palestinian women’s groups argue that ending “honour killings” depends not on changing the law, but on changing attitudes within Palestinian society. And they say this video is a first step.
Irris Makler’s is author of Hope Street, Jerusalem. She blogs at hopestreet.com.au