Analysis

When Jewish Women Are Murdered, Nobody Uses Culture as an Excuse

Attributing the murder of Israeli Arab women to 'violent Arab culture' is a racist attempt to seek cover from blame – and fails to protect the victim

Jack Khoury
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Police at the scene of the shooting of a young woman in Lod, March 13, 2019.
Police at the scene of the shooting of a young woman in Lod, March 13, 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Jack Khoury

In a famous scene in the 1996 American film “A Time to Kill,” a white lawyer (Matthew McConaughey) recounts to a jury the shocking story of a black girl who was viciously raped by two white men. The girl’s father, a hardscrabble laborer (Samuel L. Jackson), shot the two to death after their arrest, while they were in police custody. The prosecution was now demanding that the girl’s father face the death penalty.

The black man’s lawyer demands his acquittal and concludes by asking the jury to close their eyes and imagine the girl as a white girl. The jury acquitts the father, who returns to his family.

Fast forward to the Israeli town of Lod in 2019. The police knew that 18-year-old Diana Abu Qatifan, who was from a Bedouin family, was at risk of being killed. She was brought to the station and told of the danger. According to the police, the young woman refused offers to be taken to a women’s shelter.

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On Wednesday, she was shot to death in a car in Lod. She had been engaged to marry a Bedouin man, Bakr Abu Ghanem, but reportedly encountered resistance from her family because it was not an arranged marriage. The police have arrested several suspects, but the question is whether law enforcement agencies did all they could to protect the young woman’s life.

A few days before the murder, one of the officers handling the case arranged a meeting between the families and got them to sign a document in which they committed not to harm Abu Qatifan and to allow her to marry the man whom she wished to. The document proved worthless.

Women’s groups in Lod have said the police failed to provide her with a social worker or any other outside assistance from someone could have explained her options to her. The police have said they did everything they could, but their claim provides only part of the picture, to say the least.

For decades, the police have been involving community dignitaries, public officials and family members in efforts to resolve conflicts between clans and Bedouin tribes. This may be effective in settling local conflicts, but not in cases in which criminal gangs set the agenda.

Tribal and clan structures are no longer capable of protecting members of Arab society, certainly not women. An armed man bent on murdering a relative will not be deterred by a document signed by community notables. This should concern not only the police, but also the tribal, religious and political leaders of Arab society, which is being swept by a flood of violent crime.

The police and the Israeli public believe that nothing can be done about violence in Arab society, explaining it as the result of a different mentality and culture. They simply attribute it to family “honor killings.” But when women are murdered in Jewish society no one looks for cultural justifications or resorts to explanations of “family honor” as an excuse. Murder is murder.

Attributing murder to a “violent Arab culture” is nothing more than an racist attempt to seek cover from blame. The police have to understand that Abu Qatifan, like other murdered Arab women, was an Israeli citizen entitled to the same services and protection as anyone else.

The police have to do their homework, which includes involving the various professionals, including Arabs, at local government agencies. They have to go beyond an antiquated and even primitive approach to dealing with violence in Arab society.

If progress is to be made in this regard, perhaps the public security minister, the police commissioner and the social services minister should put themselves in the position of those jurors in “A Time to Kill.” They should close their eyes and imagine a Jewish Diana Abu Qatifan as their daughter or other family member.

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