The horrific “honor” killing of Aya Al-Baradeih, the university student from Surif near Hebron at the hands of a gang affiliated to the Hamas and led by her uncle, is not the first crime of its kind in Palestine. 23 Palestinian women were killed for “honor” since the beginnings of 2011, among them were 9 women from Hebron.
On May 6 2011, the body of Ayah Al-Baradeih, a 20-year-old Palestinian woman, English literature student in the third year at Hebron University, a noble-minded and liberated woman, and an activist in the field of democracy, was found dropped in a well on the top of a hill of Surif town. The well is located just three kilometers from Al-Baradeih’s house. Surif is a beautiful town that extends on the slopes of the hills of the mountains to the northwest of Hebron city. Ayah was disappeared on April 20 2010. Her family informed the police three hours after she did not return home.
Searching for Ayah continued during the past 13 months. In the end, the Palestinian police, relying on the help of a volunteer, found a body decomposed inside a well located in the town where Ayah resided. Col. Ramadan Awad, “Abu Issa”, chief of Hebron’s police, was very sad and helpful when I called him to ask about further details about the murder of Ayah. He said: “Since the disappearance of Ayah, we infiltrated civil police among the residents of Surif in order to collect information about the circumstances of her disappearance and her relationship with everybody, including family, relatives and friends. Our first impression was that Ayah had not disappeared but was murdered for ‘honor’.”
He stated that the criminals who carried out the murder of Ayah, Ayman Abu Saleh, Nasser Al-Ghour and her uncle Iqab Al-Baradeih, 37, were elements from Hamas, religious figures. They were unhappy with Ayah’s activities at Hebron University after she had helped a number of students to distinguish between religious intolerance and radicalism, and between commitments to the principles of the Islamic religion. which are against extremism. Ayah’s activism led to a massive loss of followers for the Islamic movement at the University of Hebron. This made the religious figures angry with Ayah and they issued a death sentence against her, said Col. Awad.
Col. Awad exposed another scandal. He stated that “23 Palestinian women were killed for “honor” since the beginnings of 2011, among them were 9 women from Hebron”. He told me with bitterness in his voice: “The time has come to break the silence about this crime and to end it. Enough women have been murdered, enough have been buried while they still alive. We can not go back to the era of ignorance. We are today in the twenty-first century, and we all are sons of women,” said Awad. He added that women are slaughtered like sheep by their families for trivial reasons. He added that facing the “honor” killing crime is a responsibility of every educated woman and every womens organization. Women must address these crimes and call for an end to it.
From The University To The Well
The sudden disappearance of Ayah caused her parents great suffering, especially the weaker part in the family, her mother Fatimah who was not able to stay home because of the shameful rumors which were spread in the town. The uncle of Ayah, who murdered her, spread in the town rumors that his niece had informed him during a phone call that she had decided to go away and live as she wanted. In Arab societies, women can only leave the house of the family when they get married. Before that, women cannot live alone. Ayah’s mother was not able to show her face to the neighbors after the unexplained absence of Ayah, and she left home.
Ayah was a handsome and intelligent woman. Several people went to the house of her family and asked her parents to marry her, among them was a University colleague who she loved, who came only one month before her murder. Her colleague sent his family to Ayah’s parents to ask them to approve the marriage of their daughter. It is part of the traditional marriage custom in the Middle East that the family of the man goes to the house of the woman to ask her parents for marriage. Usually it takes some days until the bride’s family gives an answer to the groom’s family. During this short time, the bride’s family takes on their responsibility to ask about the groom’s past and future: Who is he? Who is his family? Does he have a job, does he pray, etc. Usually, all the MALE members of the bride’s family have the right to take part in the final decision of the marriage, even if they are not adults.
The father of Ayah delayed his response to the family of her colleague, who in turn sent very important personalities from the city of Hebron to Ayah’s father in order to beg him to respond to the request for the hand of his daughter. The father, who finally gave a positive answer before the Hebronite personalities, swallowed his words after awhile and refused the marriage. It came out that the groom who asked for Ayah’s marriage had a political affiliation with Fatah, while the brother and uncle of Ayah had political affiliations with Hamas. This political difference was the grave crime which led to murder of beautiful and intelligent Ayah.
Ayah was unhappy with her father’s decision, and she called her colleague to promise him that she would not marry anybody except him and that he should not give up. Her brother heard her phone conversation and beat her without mercy. She went to her uncle and asked him for help, she thought that he would be able to help her. The criminal uncle gave Ayah his cell phone to call her colleague and to tell him that the problem was on its way to being solved. But the uncle was thinking to solve the problem in his own way, by throwing Ayah down the well. During this engagement process, Ayah disappeared.
Col. Awad said: “Ibrahim Al-Baradeih and his wife (her parents) filed a complaint about the disappearance of their daughter who went to the University on Tuesday morning, April 20 2010, but did not return home. This opened an investigation and we investigated all possibilities, including a kidnapping or an escape from home. We called several people and asked them about Ayah. Among them was a young man, 37, from Hebron city. The man was accused by the girl’s father that he knew the location of Ayah. He had asked the father to marry her but the family refused him. We suspected him and subjected him to further investigation. He was released by the court after 35 days of arrest.”
He added: “We continued our investigation inside the university. We found that Ayah was studying English in the third year, she had excellent social relations with others, and she had a good reputation, high culture, and a strong character. Their actions were balanced at the university, everybody respected her and there were no suspicions of ethics or security hovering around her. This information baffled the investigating officers”.
“Last Friday, May 6 2011 we received information about a dead body in a well in Khallet Abu Sulaiman near Surif village. The well is located in a remote area far from Surif, about three kilometers, and near the apartheid wall. We went to the place of the well, accompanied by prosecutors and civil defense, to extract the body. We needed two days to gather all the victim’s body parts inside the well. We found the handbag and the clothes of Ayah in the well. Inside the handbag we found Ayah’s ID, a picture of her brother who studies in the Ukraine, the university card with her picture, and a photo of her younger brother. The public prosecutors confirmed that the body belonged to Ayah. We have arrested the suspects, among them her uncle, who confessed to the crime less than three hours after his arrest. He revealed further information about the crime.”
The name of Ayah’s uncle is Iqab (what means “punishment”). He said during the investigation: “I went to the University together with Ayman Abu Saleh and Nasser Al-Ghour. I asked Ayah to ride my car, she first refused, but when I told her that I had good news for her, she thought that I had convinced her father to approve her marriage and she came with us. We hit her in car and we put her in a box. She screamed, but we used gas spray to silence her screaming. She was unconscious until we got to the area where the well is located. We took her out of the box and tied her with ropes.
She awakened while we were cuffing her, some minutes before throwing her in the well, and she begged me and sought the help of the Lord not to harm her. She said: ”in the name of the Lord of all mankind, and in the name of God, I ask you, my uncle, my uncle, my uncle to free me. Please release me for God’s sake. Please do not drop me into the well. What did I do that deserves killing me? My uncle, please help me!”. But I was determined to kill her by the help of my friends, religious figures with Hamas.
According to the person who had asked Ayah’s father for her hand, he had known Ayah for only one month before her murder. He said: “I insisted to marry Ayah because I was amazed by her and I loved her very much. Her family rejected our marriage for unjustified reasons. Once they said it was because of the difference of age between us, as I was the age of 37 and Ayah was 21. They claimed that I was from the city and Ayah from a town. Another excuse they used was that the family of Ayah was not from the same political affiliation as I was. All these invented reasons increased my determination to marry Ayah in the right way according to customs followed in Palestine.”
Ayah’s lover was very sad and asked: “Why did they kill her? Nothing happened between me and Ayah. I just met her and sent my mother and sister to ask her family for marriage. We did not perpetrate a crime. We just loved each other. It was an innocent love. If Ayah’s family suspected her, why did they not take her to the doctor for the necessary medical examination which could remove their suspicions?” (He meant that he had not touched Ayah and that she was still a virgin). He added: “I do not understand why they suspected her. Why did her uncle invent that I had a sexual relationship with Ayah? What kind of mentality and imagination does he have?” He cried from the depth of his heart and said “God bless Ayah and her soul in eternal peace. She was a victim of her uncle.” He added: “He is not an uncle, he is a wild animal, he is not human. May God have mercy on Ayah and take revenge on him.”
The reaction to the crime in all the West Bank prompted President Mahmoud Abbas to issue orders to the judiciary to consider strict punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes. Col. Awad said that president Mahmoud Abbas had promised to sign a decree that scraps provisions that make killing for “family honor” a mitigating circumstance. Under the new laws, honor killings will be dealt with in accordance with Article 328 of the Penal Code, which provides for a sentence of life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone who commits a crime of honor killing.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had promised several times that he would change the shameless law protecting perpetrators of honor killings by the International Women’s Day of 2010. But this did not happen until the murder of Ayah and the discovery of her body. And now again, Abbas has backtracked on his promises, the law change has been frozen for unknown reasons.
Hebron University faculty issued a statement in which they condemned the murder of the Ayah. They said: “Ayah was an example of honor, chastity and decency. Her murder was perpetrated at the hands of a malicious rogue and irresponsible group, which is incompatible with the principles of Islamic religious tolerance, and the magnanimity of Arab civilization and culture, and brings us back to ignorance.” The statement called on the Palestinian Authority to sign into law tougher punishment for the criminals in order to be a lesson for all who are tempted to abuse the sanctity of blood. The statement also called on the tribesmen to consider the crime an intentional murder.
In the meantime, women and human rights activists are organizing several protest activities in which they sit-in before the governorate of Hebron and demand harsh sentences to criminals. In another demo, women raised the picture of Ayah and carried signs reading “Aya is a martyr”, “Criminals should be sentenced to death”.