BETHLEHEM, West Bank (AP) — The brutal killing of a battered wife in front of horrified witnesses in an open-air Bethlehem market prompted angry accusations Wednesday that Palestinian police and courts ignore violence against women.
Nancy Zaboun, a 27-year-old mother of three, had her throat slashed Monday after seeking a divorce from her abusive husband of 10 years. The husband was arrested at the scene and is the prime suspect, West Bank officials said.
The case reverberated across Palestinian society because of the brutality of the attack. However, violence against women continues to be tolerated — similar to attitudes in other parts of the Arab world — and women’s rights activists say abusive husbands are rarely punished.
Zaboun was regularly beaten by her husband, 32-year-old Shadi Abedallah, at times so severely that she had to be hospitalized, said Khaula al-Azraq, who runs a West Bank counseling center where Zaboun sought help.
Even so, Abedallah was never arrested. Police only made him sign pledges he would stop hitting his wife, said al-Azraq, adding that Abedallah himself is a former police officer.
Zaboun was killed after attending a hearing in her divorce case. She was walking on the steep paths of an open-air market — not far from the Church of the Nativity, marking the traditional birthplace of Jesus — when she was fatally slashed.
On Wednesday, several dozen women staged a memorial for Zaboun in the Bethlehem market alley where she was killed, holding signs and chanting, “No to violence against women.” One sign read, “Shame on us Palestinians for killing our women.”
Women have scored some breakthroughs in traditional Palestinian society in recent years, including gaining a greater role in public life. However, tribal laws still remain strong, and violence against women is generally viewed by police as an internal family matter.
Al-Azraq said violence against women appears to be on the rise because of a deteriorating economic situation and because abusers don’t fear punishment.
Last year, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed a decree that ended a long-standing practice of treating killings within a family with leniency. Justice Minister Ali Mohanna said such killings are now treated as any other slaying, and claims of assailants that they were protecting “family honor” are no longer taken into account.
Zaboun’s husband could face life in prison if convicted, the minister said.
Thirteen women were killed by family members or in suspicious circumstances blamed on relatives in 2011, said Farid al-Attrash of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights. In 2012, 12 women were killed by relatives, including three in so-called “family honor” cases, he said. Those include suspected adultery and similar cases.
Zaboun was married at age 17, and the couple has three children, ages eight, six and three. Al-Azraq said the beatings began immediately after the wedding.
Abdel Fattah Hemayel, the district governor of Bethlehem, said the authorities stepped in at some point, attempting to solve what he described as a family dispute. He confirmed that the husband was asked to sign pledges to stop beating his wife.
Rabiha Diab, the women’s affairs minister in the Palestinian self-rule government, said the killing of Zaboun, and the failure to prevent, it were troubling.
“Every once in a while, there is a case that makes us feel worried and afraid that we are going back to square one (as women),” she said, noting that law enforcement agencies need to look at what they can do to protect women.
She called for harsh punishment of Zaboun’s killer. “We should set an example because … he slaughtered her like a sheep,” she said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.