Israel on Tuesday appointed the first-ever female judge to serve in the country’s sharia court system.
The unanimous appointment of Hana Khatib, hailed by some Arab lawmakers as “historic,” was carried out by the Committee to Elect sharia judges, known as qadis, which is headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Khatib is from the town of Tamra, located in the lower Galilee region. She practices family and sharia law, according to an online advertisement for her firm.
Sharia courts in Israel deal with personal status issues for the Muslim community, such as marriage, divorce, conversion, inheritance and prevention of domestic violence.
They have existed in what is now Israel since early Ottoman times and through the British Mandate, and were recognized by the State of Israel upon its founding in 1948.
Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home party, said the appointment of a female Muslim religious judge “should have happened a long time ago.”
“This is great news for Arab women and the Arab society,” she said in a statement. “I’m excited over the choice, and hope this is the bellwether for further appointments of women.”
Arab-Israeli lawmakers hailed the appointment as an achievement for Arab-Israeli women in the Jewish state.
MK Aida Touma-Suleiman (Joint List), who is the chairperson of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality, called the appointment “a historic step in the Arab feminist movement in Israel, a step that benefits not only Arab-Muslim women, but the entire Arab population in Israel.”
She said that in 2000 she filed a petition on the subject to the Supreme Court, and at the start of her tenure as a lawmaker in 2015, she, along with MK Issawi Farij (Meretz), followed up the petition with a Knesset bill.
MK Osama Saadi (Joint List), a member of the Committee to Appoint Judges, said Khatib’s appointment was “a very important step in the right direction for a proper and worthy Arab representation in the judiciary.”
The Abraham Fund, an Israeli nonprofit working on Arab-Jewish coexistence issues, said in a statement: “The appointment of a Muslim woman to the important role is a historic step that signals Arab women to aspire to leadership positions.”
Khatib will be sworn in by President Reuven Rivlin in a few weeks.
There are not many female qadis around the world. Two women serve as sharia judges in the neighboring Palestinian Authority.
There are nine regional sharia courts in Israel as well as an appeal courts, with Tuesday’s appointments bringing the number of qadis in the Muslim system to 18.
AFP contributed to this report.