Samah Saliame: How to End Honor Killings
Samah Salaime spoke with Connection Point Project Manager Najuan Daadleh about how “the childhood trauma which resulted from [witnessing honor killings], along with [her] professional background as a social worker …” led her to found Na`am, an organization that works to end honor killings.
When I was in the ninth grade, I remember the first woman who was killed in my village. She was 15 years old and her father forced her to drink poison. They claimed that it was something to do with honor. At around the same time, I heard about another woman from my village who was killed by her father. She was pregnant when he murdered her. As I was growing up, I heard about many more similar cases.
As an adult I decided that I couldn’t be silent about this anymore. I think that the combination of childhood trauma which resulted from the two cases I mentioned, along with my professional background as a social worker, were the main factors that pushed me to start organizing public events to address the social phenomenon of honor killings.
After spending a lot of time challenging honor killings within the Arab community and witnessing an escalation of women being murdered by either their husbands or male family members in Led, Ramleh, and Yaffa (mixed cities in Israel with both Jewish and Arab populations), I wrote a proposal to form an organization to focus on this issue. With the support of Echoing Green, in 2009 I founded the organization Na`am (“Yes”).
Women in mixed cities suffer from high rates of unemployment, divorce, domestic violence, and early marriage. These conditions have major implications on the social status of women.
Arab girls/women in these cities face unique challenges because the majority of the population is Jewish and most services are designed for the Jewish population. In this environment, there is an Orientalist approach to most social services and law enforcement agencies, especially when dealing with domestic violence. The Israeli police claim that according to Arab culture women’s issues should be resolved behind closed doors and within the family structure. The Israeli police perceive murder cases as something that is accepted as part of the Arab culture. The stereotypes and prejudices about Arab culture and Arab women that police have prevent them from upholding their responsibility to enforce the law.
Just to give you an example of how bad the system is, of 13 cases of honor killing in Ramleh and Led, only two men were charged for their crimes. The rest went free.
Furthermore, when an Arab woman files a complaint against her husband or brother to the Israeli police—which is considered to be an occupying entity by the Arab population —she is often perceived to be betraying her community. This move is considered to bring disgrace and shame to the family.
The few services that are available to Arab women do not meet their needs because they are based on false conceptions of the culture. In certain cases when women placed a complaint with the police system they were sent to shelters, only to eventually return home and be killed. As a result of this, a lot of women prefer to be silent about their suffering.
This was what happened with Yasmin Abu Soualouk. Yasmin was shot by her husband and survived. However, when her husband was released from prison he shot her again, and this time she died. In many ways, it was obvious that this would happen. Yasmin’s husband was a very violent man yet neither the police nor the social service organizations interfered.
Our main mission at Na`am is to fight the phenomenon of honor killings. We have a holistic approach that is based on cultural sensitivity and competency. We are very active in the community in order to raise awareness about our services. We organize protests, engage in community projects, and write letters to the government. And we work on reducing the unemployment rate and the rate of school dropouts among women.
We have groups we facilitate in schools that are designed for girls. The groups are called “Girls for Girls.” We recruit girls who don’t face violence within their families and who have feminist perspectives to help us raise awareness among other girls. Through these girls, we also receive information about other girls who are suffering from violence/domestic violence. For example, one of the girls who is participating in this project informed us that her older sister is being treated in a violent way and we were able to intervene to help her.
We are also working with the office of social services so that they expand their services to meet the needs of Arab and Muslim women in a culturally competent way. For example, currently there is only 1 shelter for Arab women while there are 13 for Jewish women. There are approximately 4,000 Arab women and girls in distress and the only shelter that is available can contain only 100 of them.
And we are working with the Israeli police. We work with these policemen on how to deal better with cases of violence that occur in the Arab community. We are actually working on producing a movie that will focus on the different approaches and strategies that the police system should take when dealing with violent cases.
With everything we do, we think it is critical to train the community leaders (sheikhs) so they know about the law, about violence, and about ways to protect women. It is very important to have them engaged in this process. They are our key figures in the community.
I believe that in spite of all the oppression and suppression that women are suffering from, there will come a day when a major change will take place. When that day comes, we will have a huge celebration to mark the existence of no violence against women.
The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.
- Revolutionary Idea: Stop Calling Honor Killings ‘Honor Killings’ (thegloss.com)
- Harsh West Bank `honor killing’ brings tougher law (sfgate.com)