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Mother and Sister of 'Honor Killing' Victim Break Silence

(Illustrative graphic)

(Illustrative graphic)

In an unusual breaking of the unspoken code of silence, a mother and sister of a woman killed in honor violence in a Muslim community have gone public about the crime.

Thamar Zeidan, a divorced woman of 33, was killed by her father, Munther, choked to death one afternoon in her West bank village of Dier Al Gusun.

Thamar had been accused by extended family members of “disgraceful and outrageous” behavior. After divorcing her husband four years ago (for the price of agreeing to give up custody of her children), she moved back in to her parent’s house.

 It was there that she met and become friendly with Iyad Na’lweh, a laborer. When she expressed her desire to marry Na’lweh, who had promised to help her get her children back, her family objected, saying that Na’lweh had a drinking problem.

But the rumors had already begun to spread. Family members circulated a petition against Thamar demanding that Munther  “reinstate the cultural and religious morals in his family.” The petition also said that Thamar’s “repeated behavior … violated God's law, customs and morality."  It was posted in five mosques in the area and eventually signed by more than 50 of Thamar’s relatives including Abed Al-Rahman Zeidan, a member of Hamas’ Legislative council.

In September, Na’lweh was seen outside of Thamar’s house, and men from the neighborhood moved in to attack. It was at that point that Na’lweh ran into the house.

“People said they had been together in her room for the past three days, but that’s impossible,” Thamar’s mother, Laila Zeidan said. “In fact I had been in the hospital and she spent the past three days in my room there.”

Munther called the police to intervene, which they did. The attackers were arrested, only to be later released.

Thamar was whisked away from the village and ensconced in her sister and brother-in-law’s house in Ramallah. Laila reports that without restoring the family’s honor, the extended family had intended on banishing them from the West bank. Rumors accused Munther of being mentally unstable.

"We did in fact meet and discuss the issue, and it was agreed upon to publish a statement disowning the father, knowing that the second option was to expel him and his family from the West Bank. In total, 51 people signed the statement," Abed Al-Rahman ,the Hamas lawmaker, was quoted as saying.

 “My husband is a peaceful man and this is completely out of character, but the pressure was too intense,” Laila said.

It was at this point that Munther went to Ramallah to bring his daughter home. Thamar’s sister, Suad, says, “He told us she will be safe and he won’t surrender to the family’s pressure.”

Yet, that is exactly what he did, choking his own daughter to death before going to the police station and turning himself in.

In a letter found later, which outlined his plan to murder his own daughter, Munther blamed family members who had circulated the petition for her death.

Don’t hold any kind of funeral for my daughter and don’t let those who signed the petition into my house,” Munther wrote in the letter.

Saud’s husband, Zaher Mohammed, said the immediate family was furious at those responsible for the petition. “Thamar’s sisters kicked relatives who came to pay their respects out of their house. They were angry because they believe these were the same people who helped spread gossip that led to killing Thamar,” he said.

Other relatives, like Thamar’s aunt, held a feast to celebrate the reinstatement of the family’s honor.

"Our goal was to protect the honor of the Zeidan family, because we are a conservative family with customs and traditions. I dealt with this issue in my personal capacity as a member of this family, and not in any other capacity," Abed Al-Rahman said.

Although the petition was viewed as an incitement to murder, Abed Al-Rahman denied that it was meant  to force Munther to kill his daughter, commenting that honor killings are "an assault on the sacred human spirit and are incompatible with the legal provisions that prohibit murder, except when justified."

Although the killing took place in September, Thamar’s mother and sister have now decided to go public about the murder to bring attention to the growing number of honor killings in Palestinian society.

“They took a piece of my heart. My only wish now is not to see anyone and live with my children alone. Every time I see Thamar’s children …,” Laila says, choking back her tears. “Her children and my children will always be rejected.”