The murder of Hamda Abu-Ghanem, whose bullet-riddled body was found in mid-January at her parents' house in Ramle, surprised nobody.
As police set about their investigation, everyone was aware that the victim's brother had been threatening to kill her, and that long before the murder, she had taken refuge in a battered women's shelter.
It was a typical "honor killing," meant to remove some perceived stain on the family's reputation.
The perpetrators of most honor killings in the Arab community are not apprehended. Hamda's murder, however, was one too many for the women in the Abu-Ghanem family. She was the eighth woman to be murdered in the extended family in the last six and a half years. All her predecessors also lost their lives in "honor killings."
This time, instead of keeping mum when the police questioned them, the Abu- Ghanem women gave detailed testimonies of everything they knew. One said she had seen Rashad enter the house where Hamda was. Shortly afterward she heard shots and seconds later saw Rashad, the key suspect, fleeing from the building.
The victim's mother told the police that Rashad had forbidden his sister to leave
the house after some men had called her a "prostitute."
"It was a women's revolt against the men of the family. While the men refused to cooperate with the police and forbade the women to speak, the women revealed all. They decided to put an end to the bloody circle of silence," Chief Inspector Haim Shreibhand, who was in charge of the investigation, told Haaretz.
The detectives gathered testimonies from 20 Abu-Ghanem women and assembled the pieces of the puzzle together into an indictment, he said.
Kamal Rashad Abu-Ghanem, 30, was arraigned in Tel Aviv's District Court yesterday for murder. His cousin Mahmoud, who was also arrested, was released for lack of sufficient evidence to file charges.
Rashad Abu-Ghanem was charged with entering the family's home, in Ramle's Juarish neighborhood. His sister was alone in the house, lying on her bed. She probably knew she was about to die. He went up the stairs with a loaded 9-mm. handgun, entered his sister's room and fired nine bullets at her.
Before Hamda, the other women of the Abu-Ghanem family who lost their lives for honor were Naifa, Suzan, Zinat, Sabrin, Amira, Reem and Shirihan.
Like some of the other victims, Hamda had spent the last few years in a shelter, hiding from her brother. Her "crime" was apparently her numerous telephone conversations, and being seen talking to her cousin once.
About a year ago, she asked to move back to her parents' house in Ramle. A few months later, she filed a police complaint against her brother, who had assaulted her. He was arrested, but later released by the court.
"The hardest thing at these murder scenes is the awful silence," said Yifrah Duchovny, Coastal Plain police commander. "Nobody cries, nobody speaks."
"We held everyone who was in the neighborhood at the time of the murder for questioning, and started collecting testimonies. The first one who cooperated with us, perhaps without meaning to, was a relative who said the murder wasn't justified, that Hamda had not breached any honor. Then a female relative agreed with him," Shreibhand said.
The detectives told Hamda's mother, sisters and cousins what the first two relatives had said and asked for their opinion. "Gradually they started to speak. Each one started by saying she had had enough, that she didn't want this situation to continue. The mother, who had first stood behind her son, suddenly started speaking against him, sharing things she knew with us. She said she was angry that he had murdered her daughter."
Hamda's sisters went further. When they confronted Rashad at the police station they spat out at him: "You're a dog," and "Sit in prison for life, murderer." One of them asked him, "Why don't you try to murder me too? I'm not scared of you any more."
The men, on the other hand, hardly said a word to the police. "After the women began to talk, they found themselves receiving threats," said Shreibhand.
The witnesses have been put in safe houses, for fear the men would try to harm them. However, several women were not comfortable in the safe houses and are returning to the neighborhood. "The relations between the men and women in the family have become really tense. We've had special meetings about how to protect the women after they testify and we have a plan," the inspector said.
However, Aida Touma-Suleiman, director of the Women Against Violence group in the Arab sector, said she has grave fears for the women's lives. "I support these brave women. They finally broke the circle of blood and silence. But I'm also afraid they will be hurt. As long as there is no witness protection program, these women will be abandoned after they testify. They may have been courageous, but they have also sentenced themselves to death," she said.
Rashad Abu-Ghanem is represented by Attorney Giora Zilberstein.