GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In 1984, the TV movie "The Burning Bed" opened Americans' eyes to the long-cloaked reality of domestic violence. It helped establish in American minds the validity of desperation as an extenuating circumstance in certain criminal cases.
More than 30 years later, in a statement issued Dec. 18, an alliance of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations is calling on the Palestinian judiciary to consider the effects of domestic violence as a woman appeals her death sentence in the slaying of her husband.
The case is the first in which the death penalty has been issued against a Palestinian woman since the Palestinian Authority was established in 1994. The Al Muntada alliance, which comprises 14 women's and human rights organizations, fears that carrying out the sentence would pave the way for more death penalties against Palestinian women, including those reeling from the growing phenomenon of domestic and social violence.
Anzeh's husband beat her, according to Zeinab al-Ghonaimi, director of the Center for Women's Legal Research and Consulting in the Gaza Strip (CWLRC).
Media outlets, such as France 24 on Dec. 13, noted that Gaza public prosecutor Ismail Jaber was quoted by AFP as saying, “On the day he was killed, [Anzeh] had asked her husband out for some fresh air near their small home in a poor district of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. They traveled a short distance by donkey cart before her husband wanted to relieve himself. She then pulled out the knife she bought several days earlier and stabbed him in the back several times.”
Lawyer Bakr al-Turkmani, coordinator of investigations and complaints in the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) in Gaza, denounced the judgment and demanded its re-examination, arguing that the death penalty is not a deterring sanction and is “inconsistent with the modern philosophy of punishment, based on doing no harm to neutral third parties.” He told Al-Monitor that Anzeh "has a 2-year-old child who already lost his father … who was murdered, and now he may also lose his mother as well. This would jeopardize his future in the absence of any official child-care institutions in Gaza.” A reduced sentence would help mitigate the problem, he noted.
He said that the ICHR is highly concerned about this case as this judgment sets a historical precedent in the Palestinian territories.
"We are closely following up on this case to make sure [Anzeh] gets a fair [hearing] and to try to ease the verdict. The death penalty was issued by the Court of First Instance and is being challenged before the Court of Appeals, which is scheduled to hold a hearing in January 2017 to examine the case,” Turkmani said.
Ghonaimi told Al-Monitor that Anzeh is being neglected by her own family, who did not hire a lawyer to defend her.
She continued, “This forced the court to appoint a lawyer who failed to properly follow up on her case. This is evidenced by the fast indictment issued by the court against her. This shows that [Anzeh] has not received a fair trial.”
Ghonaimi told Al-Monitor tha under tribal court traditions, Anzeh's family had the opportunity to settle the case by compensating her husband's family with money, but her family refused. Ghonaimi alleged this was because Anzeh is a woman.
“If the perpetrator was a man, his family would have paid the [settlement] to the victim’s family as an alternative for punishment and death sentence. This shows the discrimination of families between women and men,” she said.
“This is why the CWLRC decided to help [Anzeh] and to appoint a lawyer for her case in an attempt to have the sentence reduced,” Ghonaimi said. Even though Anzeh confessed to the crime, the CWLRC is striving to reopen the proceedings, charging that the court did not examine the case’s extenuating circumstances, she said.
“The accused was abused by the victim, her husband, who used to beat her,” Ghonaimi said.
She also said the CWLRC will be taking several steps to have the sentence reduced, either by requesting the Court of Appeals to take into consideration the motives or by pressuring Anzeh's family to reach a settlement with the victim’s family to have the charges dropped.
Amal Siyam, director of Women's Affairs Center in Gaza, said a lack of laws that protect women against domestic violence could have pushed Anzeh to commit the crime.
“Women in Gaza are marginalized and battered at home. Yet we are not claiming that [Anzeh] did not do something wrong. We are seeking that the courts take into account the harsh conditions she was living under, which could lead to a reduced sentence,” Siyam said.
A 2012 study by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics found that 37% of Palestinian women have been subjected to domestic violence at the hands of their husbands. About 51% of these women live in the Gaza Strip.
Nafez al-Madhoun, chairman of the Higher Judicial Institute in the Ministry of Justice and secretary-general of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), stressed that the death penalty is provided for in the Penal Code of 1936.
He told Al-Monitor, “We, as a Palestinian society, do not distinguish between a man and a woman in terms of sanctions, which apply to everyone. It does not make sense for human rights and women’s organizations to demand equality between men and women and then demand a reduced sentence for [Anzeh].”
Madhoun said it is very unlikely that the PLC will abolish the death penalty, as Palestinian society is a tribal community, where people still commit acts of vengeance. “If local authorities do not achieve justice and properly punish murderers, the security situation would be undermined,” he said.
Anzeh is pinning her hopes on the help of human rights’ and women’s organizations to save her from the gallows. Ghonaimi said that if the family of the victim, Rabie Abu Anzeh, decides to relinquish its legal right, Anzeh's sentence could be reduced to five years in prison. This, however, is still a long shot.
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