Hunted women of the Gaza

The Australian

[..] The dead woman was Dalal al-Behtete, a young woman from a struggling family in central Gaza. Seven other women have met the same violent and lonely fate across Gaza during a 10-day stretch this month. According to their assassins, their deaths gave them honour that their conduct in life had not. All the women had been accused of immoral behaviour. Some had been labelled prostitutes; others were branded for fraternising with men outside their immediate families.

So-called honour killings have been carried out here in the past, but even in this ramshackle, anarchistic and fractured society, women have never before been hunted down so blatantly.

Gaza, more so than anywhere else in the Palestinian territories, has been a feudal battleground of countless agendas, historical enmity, ideology and greed. Historically, clans and tribes have ruled the roost here, with factionalised militant ideologies running a close second. But the balance appears to have shifted during the past six months. Strict observance of Sunni Islam seems to have encouraged a fundamentalist trend that is making a play for influence, through the rigid enforcement of radical Islamic law espoused by the global jihad network that follows the bin Laden world view.

Sharia law appears to have drifted into Gaza, alarming Muslim and militant groups alike and sharply rattling the neighbour across the security barrier, Israel.

Change had begun in Gaza long before its women began to fall. Late last year, several internet cafes and music stores were bombed. In February, six pharmacies in the southern town of Rafah were also attacked because they persisted in selling Viagra to youths. In the past year, the name of a new group, first heard of after the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit last June, persistently has been linked to the unrest.

It calls itself the Army of Islam and consists of self-styled morality warriors who claim links to al-Qa’ida. Hamas, the most powerful of the militant groups and a joint partner in the new unity government, steadfastly denies that al-Qa’ida has established an organised presence in Gaza. If it is true that al-Qa’ida has done so, it cripples Hamas’s claims to be fighting for a Palestinian state alone and not being standard bearers of the global jihads.

Saha Rijab had never heard of the Army of Islam until she was dragged by her hair and tossed into a car by masked men with assault rifles hours before Dalal was murdered. From her hospital bed in central Gaza, she agrees to tell Inquirer of the ordeal that has left her legs riddled with bullets and nearly led her to become the eighth victim of Gazan women’s most terrifying month.

“I was taking clothes to my female neighbour and I had to pass my cousin’s house to get there,” she says, wearing a yellow-knitted cardigan and a brown hijab. “My cousin was inside and saw me passing and he opened the door and came outside. I didn’t look at him and he slammed the door against the wall.”

Saha’s cousin, Wael Rijab, is the head of the Hamas executive force in the northern Gaza Strip, the vanguard of the militant group’s strike power and a key player in the blood-soaked factional in-fighting of the past three months. He has accused his cousin of immorality for the past five years, seemingly because of her preference for jeans, tops and sometimes flowing hair instead of the Islamic jilbab. Just as damaging was his accusation of treachery; she was an avowed supporter of the Fatah movement that Hamas deposed in elections 14 months ago. Both groups have since been entangled in a struggle for power in Palestinian society.

“I kept walking and gave my neighbour the jilbab, then came back home,” Saha says, with her shocked 12-year-old son sitting beside her. “After that I took a taxi to the shop to buy fruit and some militants from the Hamas executive force were sitting in a Mitsubishi with darkened glass. Their windows were half open and they were looking at me.

“I was scared but I decided to just keep walking to my street. What else could I do?

“I was 20m away from my home, then their car moved and another one arrived; the cars started moving closer to me. They opened the door. They were masked and they were running after me, the driver and two others. I was a few metres away from a clothes shop, but they reached me and put their hands on me. They dragged me by the hair and clothes and pushed me inside the car. They blindfolded me and they tied my hands.

“When I took the blindfold off I was in a street full of taxis. They said: ‘Where are you going?’ And I said: ‘I am going to my street, I swear to God.’ They said: ‘You know God and you dress like this?’ I said: ‘I know God better than you.’ They said: ‘Are you Fatah or Hamas?’ I said: ‘I am Fatah’, and they replied: ‘We spit on Fatah.”‘

Then they announced their allegiance as followers of the Army of Islam and told Saha she should dress liberally only for her husband.

She retorted: “This is politics and you are trying to avenge something. I have nothing to do with it. If this is just about the way I dress I will start wearing the jilbab.

“They said: ‘We will beat you and force you to say, ‘I had sex with my son.’ Then they covered my eyes again. I could hear the sound of the sea and their mobiles were ringing all the time. We went to a market and they said: ‘So, you promise you have not been in contact with any other men?”‘

Terrified and haunted by the recent deaths of other women, Saha drew little comfort from the next words she heard: “OK, don’t worry. We will take you home.”

She was right to be wary. Minutes later, she tells Inquirer, the car stopped and she was thrown outside into the dirt. She wriggled furiously to free herself as the first bullet thudded into the bone just below her knee. Two more pierced her lower legs before the gunmen sped off.

At the Jabaliya police station, which notionally investigates crime in the north of the Gaza Strip, five officers usher us inside the dingy office of the lead junior officer. Two officers sit behind a desk, and others sit on old foam mattresses on single beds along the wall. There is no computer, let alone a typewriter, no files or cabinets, not even a notepad. The officers received about 30 per cent of their annual salary last year and have no operational budget of which to speak. But it isn’t their dearth of resources that has left them hamstrung; it is the impossible task of taking on the perpetrators.

“What could we do even if we wanted to?” asks an officer, who refuses to be named. “We are ruled by the tribes and we will not fight the Hamas executive force.”

In the case of Dalal, after escorting her body to the morgue and advising her distraught father of her death, the police will play no further role. Justice, if it is delivered, will be played out Gaza-style, in a cycle of vengeance.

But with the rising power of the so-called Army of Islam, even that seems unlikely. Dalal and three other women murdered during the 10-day stretch – Ibtisam Mohammed Abu Genas, Samira Tohami Debeki and Amany Khamis al-Hussary – were victims of killers who claimed the ideological backing of the fledgling group, even if the murders stemmed from bids for family honour.

The deaths pose a significant issue for the new unity government on many fronts, especially Hamas. No one in the uneasy Fatah-Hamas alliance wants to be seen to be linked to extremism, especially of the Salafi-Islamic kind.

Israel has long feared that Gaza will be turned into a platform for al-Qa’ida and the consortium of international jihadis that have emerged in its likeness. Creeping sharia law at the border is a worst-case scenario for the Jewish state; it fears it will lead to imported and intensified jihadism.

For Hamas, the links appear to be just as troubling. Saha says she recognised her tormentors as being members of the Hamas executive force.

Soon after Inquirer’s visit to Dalal’s grieving family, our translator receives a phone call from a cousin confessing to the murder. In a menacing tone, the man says he too is an executive force member and warns us not to publish the dead woman’s story.

“These are the worst days ever here,” Saha says, knowing well the risks she faces for speaking out.

“Hamas believes that women cannot be the ones who lead. So long as Hamas is in Gaza, the situation will keep developing.”

March 26, 2007 | 3 Comments »

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  1. I recall too how Yasser’s staff complained of how bad he smelled. Must have been the high demon count. Must be why so many muslim men wear horrid strong colognes…..to cover up the smell of the demons.

  2. Very interesting, Teshuvah.

    I’m recalling how Romanian Deputy Chief of Intelligence, Ion Pacepa, outed Yassir Animalfat.

  3. I corresponded for a time with a man from either Syria or Lebanon, I can’t remember which now, who converted from Islam to Christianity. He was horrified at the rampant homosexuality in Islam and said it was the norm. Homosexuality is only considered bad by Muslims he said, if one is the receiver of the action. Something like the accounts below from 2001 and 2002. Machoism and Misogny are both satanic. [Ted: sorry to burden your server with this much, but I think the links are dead now.]

    The Sexual Rage Behind Islamic Terror

    FrontPageMagazine.com | October 4, 2001

    ALL SERIAL KILLERS, almost without exception, are severely sexually abused as children. The kind of people who hijack a plane with innocent people and drive it into a building with thousands of other innocent people are related to this phenomenon.

    When sociopaths rape and kill, they do not see their victims as human beings, but only as objects. This is because the sociopaths were themselves, at one time, used as objects – as their bodily integrity was repeatedly violated. The rage that results from sexual abuse is one thing, but when combined with living in a dysfunctional culture of sexual repression and misogyny, where love is reduced to violent domination, it is quite another.

    Throughout the Islamic Middle East, men and women are taught to be vehemently opposed to pleasure, especially of the sexual variety. Men are raised not only forbidden to touch women, but to even look at them. Sex before marriage is not just a sin — but a criminal offence. It is punishable by a severe beating at best, and an execution at worst.

    The sexual privileges that are allowed in Islamic cultures are permitted to men. Women’s sexuality and social independence represent major threats to male supremacy and are tightly controlled. Thus, as the Moroccan feminist Fitna Sabbah reveals in her book Woman in the Muslim Unconscious, there is a disturbing conflict in the Middle East between sexual libido and repression. A deep-seated fear of, and hostility to, individuality prevails, and its main expression exists in misogyny.

    Socially segregated from women, Arab men succumb to homosexual behavior. But, interestingly enough, there is no word for “homosexual” in their culture in the modern Western sense. That is because having sex with boys, or with effeminate men, is seen as a social norm. Males serve as available substitutes for unavailable women. The male who does the penetrating, meanwhile, is not emasculated any more than if he had sex with a wife. The male who is penetrated is emasculated. The boy, however, is not, since it is rationalized that he is not yet a man.

    In this culture, males sexually penetrating males becomes a manifestation of male power, conferring a status of hyper-masculinity. It is considered to have nothing to do with homosexuality. An unmarried man who has sex with boys is simply doing what men do. As the scholar Bruce Dunne has demonstrated, sex in Islamic societies is not about mutuality between partners, but about the adult male’s achievement of pleasure through violent domination.

    There is silence around this issue. It is the silence that legitimizes sexual violence against women, such as honor crimes and female circumcision. It is also the silence that forces victimized Arab boys into invisibility. Even though the society does not see their sexual exploitation as being humiliating, the psychological and emotional scars that result from their subordination, powerlessness and humiliation is a given. Traumatized by the violation of their dignity and manliness, they spend the rest of their lives trying to get it back.

    The problem is that trying to recover from sexual abuse, and to recapture one’s own shattered masculinity, is quite an ordeal in a culture where women are hated and love is interpreted as hegemonic control.

    With women out of touch – and out of sight — until marriage, males experience pre-marital sex only in the confines of being with other males. Their sexual outlet mostly includes victimizing younger males – just the way they were victimized.

    In all of these circumstances, the idea of love is removed from men’s understanding of sexuality. Like the essence of Arab masculinity, it is reduced to hurting others by violence. A gigantic rupture develops between men and women, where no harmony, affection or equality is allowed to exist. In relationships between men, meanwhile, affection, solidarity and empathy are left out of the picture. They threaten the hyper-masculine order.

    It is excruciating to imagine the sexual confusion, humiliation, and repression that evolve in the mindsets of males in this culture. But it is no surprise that many of these males find their only avenue for gratification in the act of humiliating the foreign “enemy,” whose masculinity must be violated at all costs – as theirs once was.

    Violating the masculinity of the enemy necessitates the dishing out of severe violence against him. In the recent terrorist strikes, therefore, violence against Americans served as a much-needed release of the terrorists’ bottled-up sexual rage. Moreover, it served as a desperate and pathological testament of the re-masculinization of their emasculated selves.

    Jamie Glazov holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Soviet Studies. He is the author of 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. Born in the U.S.S.R., Jamie is the son of prominent Soviet dissidents, and now resides in Vancouver, Canada. He writes the Dr. Progressive advice column for angst-ridden leftists at EnterStageRight.com. E-mail him at jyglazov@hotmail.com.

    Homosexual customs return to Kandahar
    01/16/2002
    SUMMARY: Taliban rule is over in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Western journalists have already noted that traditions of homosexuality are re-emerging.

    Taliban rule is over in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and Western journalists have already noted that traditions of homosexuality are re-emerging.

    Kandahar’s Pashtuns have started to become visible again with their “ashna” — teenagers who are groomed for sex. Before the Taliban took over in 1994, Pashtuns could be seen everywhere with their young boys on whom they showered expensive gifts. Living in poverty, the boys could not refuse the Pashtuns.

    Once a boy becomes the property of a Pashtun, who is usually married with a wife and family, he is marked out. The Kandaharis, however, accept Pashtun relationships as part of their culture. Pashtun and their ashna “beloveds” have been part of everyday life for centuries.

    “In the days of the Mujahidin, there were men with their ashna everywhere, at every corner, in shops, on the streets, in hotels: It was completely open, a part of life,” Torjan, 38, one of the soldiers loyal to Kandahar’s new governor, Gul Agha Sherzai, told the Times newspaper.

    “They are just emerging again,” Torjan said. “The fighters too now have the boys in their barracks. This was brought to the attention of Gul Agha, who ordered the boys to be expelled, but it continues. The boys live with the fighters very openly. In a short time, and certainly within a year, it will be like pre-Taliban: They will be everywhere.”

    Repressed homosexuality?
    FRIDAY OCTOBER 05 2001
    Michael Griffin The Taleban
    Seven years after the Taleban movement was founded, the features of its leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, are unknown outside Kandahar, where he lived with his wife and children until the events of September 11. He has been described as about 44 years old and “unusually tall” for an Afghan; alternatively “heavy-set” or “distinguished”. His right eye is stitched shut, the result of an encounter with Soviet soldiers when he was a Mujahidin commander with the Harakat-I Inqilab-I-Islami Party. The left eye, his few visitors allow, has a “hawk-like, unrelenting” gaze.

    He assiduously cultivates this air of enigma in a refusal to be photographed, and by delegating all but the most crucial encounters with non-Afghans to colleagues or underlings. He has visited Kabul once since the Taleban captured it five years ago. What scant media access the Mullah permits tends to reinforce his image as a sphinx-like visitor from another plane of being.

    The atmosphere in his immediate court, by contrast, is relaxed and informal. Commanders come and go, dipping their fingers into the communal cooking pot and contributing at liberty to whatever discussion is going on. The Mullah keeps a strongbox by his side, handing out expenses as and when required. This is expected under the Pashtun tribal code, known as pashtunwali, in which relations between men are seldom hierarchical.

    Muhammad Omar’s first explanation of the Taleban’s mission was that it had arisen to restore peace, to provide security to the wayfarer and to protect the honour of women and the poor. But the rise of the mullah under the Taleban proved to be less a return to the elusive values cherished in pre-communist times than the stupefying of a spiritual tradition that once traced its origins back to the footsteps of the Prophet.

    The sayed, the pir and the alim, Afghanistan’s spiritual aristocracy, comprised a legacy that combined “High Church” trends in Islamic thought with a popular belief in spirit possession and anchored them in the everyday life of the village. The Taleban buried them all and the mullah, a cross between a country parson and a Shakespearean clown, recited the funeral rites.

    The young taleb, or religious students, who rallied to the cause were the product of the Deoband school of Sunni thought, founded 130 years earlier in Uttar Pradesh, India. The Deobandis represent the extreme of attempts to regulate the personal behaviour of their pupils, having issued nearly a quarter of a million fatwa on the minutiae of everyday life since the beginning of the 20th century.

    Boys enter the system as wards, exchanging life in a poor family for bed, board and an austere catechism that will one day lead to life as a mullah. It is tempting to identify in this early separation from female relatives the origins of the extreme misogyny that, even more than the objective of a pure Islamic state, lent cohesion to the Taleban as they marched into and subdued non-Pashtun lands.

    But Taleban misogyny went so far beyond what is normally intended by the word that it qualified as a kind of “gynaeophobia” so broad that a glimpse of stockinged foot or varnished nail was taken as a seductive invitation to personal damnation.

    Women had to be covered, closeted and, where necessary, beaten to prevent more sin from being spewed into society. Part of this anxiety was sexual and could be attributed to the highly charged rules of pashtunwali under which girls embark on the perilous road to puberty at seven when they are separated from boys and men. From then until marriage, youths have no permissible contact with the opposite sex beyond the members of their own family.

    In Kandahar, the custom of seclusion had given rise to a rich tradition of homosexual passion, celebrated in poetry, dance and the practice of male prostitution. Heterosexual romance, by contrast, was freighted with the fear of broken honour, the threat of vendetta and, ultimately, death by stoning. In Pashtun society, man-woman love was the one that dared not speak its name: boy courtesans conducted their affairs openly.

    The taleb grew to maturity on the gruel of orthodoxy, estranged from the mitigating influence of women, family and village. This made early recruits to the movement disciplined and biddable. If their gynaeophobia appeared the product of a repressed homosexuality on the march, Taleban cohorts also conjured up echoes of a medieval children’s crusade, with its associated elements of self-flagellation and an innocent trust in the immanence of paradise.

    The versatility of the Taleban elite, who alternate as military chiefs, governors and ministers, as well as mullahs, combined with the ingrained Afghan practice of adopting noms de guerre, argues in favour of the thesis that the movement merely clothed its membership in ecclesiastical titles to disguise their origins. This process of “clericalisation” similarly transformed each enemy defection into a Damascene conversion, just as the enforcement of Sharia-based edicts in non-Pashtun regions added a patina of religion to what was essentially the imposition of martial law.

    It also veiled a coat rack of skeletons. “Mullah” Muhammad Hassan, the Governor of Kandahar, had nothing to do with the religious world before his emergence as the Taleban’s number three, while “Mullah” Borjan, the movement’s Rommel until his death in 1996, was a former Afghan army officer who had served under King Zahir Shah. Other military figures were in the Afghan Army until 1992, making a mockery of Mullah Muhammad Omar’s claim that his goal was to rid Afghanistan of “time-serving communists”. — Michael Griffin is the author of Reaping the Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan, Pluto Press (www.plutobooks.com).

  4. This is the medieval, backward world of the depraved, dsyfunctional muslim “man”. And these are the vile, barbaric, evil fiends in which the world expects Israel to make peace with. Those that easily murder women in their own families over a sick, perverse sense of “honor” will somehow live in peace with Israel if only Israel makes more concessions.

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