• PALESTINE \ Sep 05, 2005
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    'Honor Killing' Feud Shows Arab Divide
'Honor Killing' Feud Shows Arab Divide

On Monday, dozens of Palestinian security officers deployed in Taibeh to keep the peace, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas asked his attorney general to prepare a detailed report on the incident. European representatives in the West Bank pressed local officials to ensure the safety of Christians.

The roots of the fatal feud lie in a love affair.

Hiyam Ajaj, 30, worked in a sewing shop in the mostly Christian village of Taibeh. She fell in love with her boss, Mehdi Khouriyye, and for two years they had an affair. About six months ago, she got pregnant, and several days ago, her family found out.

On Thursday morning, the woman was found dead in her family's village, Deir Jreer.

Her family said she became pregnant from being raped but nonetheless welcomed her death ? which they claimed was suicide ? as a just punishment. They defended the raid on Taibeh, aimed at houses of her lover's relatives.

But some Christians in Taibeh, mostly young men in the Khouriyye clan, said the attack's real motivation was religious hatred.

"The people of Deir Jreer are known to be racists," said Suleiman Khouriyye, a cousin of Mehdi Khouriyye, weeping and pointing to his burned home. "They did this because we're Christians. They did this because we are the weaker ones."

Malek Khouriyye, Suleiman's father, scolded his son for blaming sectarianism.

"We've been living together for decades and we've never had a problem," said Malek, sitting at a friend's house surrounded by his three sons and their wives, all of them now homeless.

"These are just some backward troublesome elements in society that are trying to create a problem between Christians and Muslims," he said.

According to the Khouriyyes and several other town residents, the mob that raided the village shouted anti-Christian slogans as they trashed and burned houses, including chants like "Let's burn the infidels, let's burn the Crusaders."

The Ajaj clan denied religious animosity motivated their attack.

"We burned their houses because they dishonored our family, not because they are Christians," said Khaled Ajaj, a cousin of the dead woman who participated in the raid.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi said Palestinians have increasingly resorted to tribal law for justice after more than four years of conflict with Israel.

The acts of violence and counter-violence in family feuds happen in part because there is no authority that Palestinians can rely on, she said.

"This is a very serious development," Ashrawi said. "We are witnessing some sort of regression in social norms. Palestine has always been famous for its tolerance, pluralism, amicable relations, lack of discrimination and sectarianism. It is quite alarming that such incidents should take place."

Last year, more than 30 women are known to have been killed in the name of family honor in the West Bank and Gaza.

However, women's rights groups say it is hard to count the actual number of "honor killings" in the Palestinian territories or in other male-dominated Arab societies where women are still slain for having sex outside marriage, dating, simply talking to men or even for being raped.

Such violence isn't limited to Arab Muslims.

In May, Faten Habash, a 23-year-old Christian from the West Bank city of Ramallah, fell in love with a Muslim man. Eventually, her father killed her, splitting her head open with a metal pipe. She was in a wheelchair with a broken hip, an injury she suffered when she tried to commit suicide by jumping out of her father's third-floor apartment.