Palestine: UN tracks rising violence against women in Gaza
“We can attribute this to the fact that most people were exposed to traumatic incidents during the war, and one way people react to stress is to become violent.”
GCMHP, which runs six clinics and treats an estimated 2,000 mental health patients a year, carried out a post-war assessment, interviewing about 3,500 Gaza residents, said al-Nounou.
“This war was extremely harsh, people felt insecure, vulnerable and unable to protect themselves, their children and their families; when people were trapped at home this increased the stress and anxiety,” said al-Nounou.
Sahar (who wanted her family name omitted), aged 36, divorced her husband in February due to the physical and psychological abuse she endured leading up to and during the war.
“He beat me severely and I was fainting from the stress,” said Sahar. “He forced me to engage in sexual intercourse against my will.”
Sahar brings her two-year-old daughter to the Palestinian Centre for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR) to visit the daughter’s father. The court ordered supervised visits after Sahar’s ex-husband and his brothers tried to take her daughter away by force.
“Before the war the centre was facilitating supervised visits for 30 families, but now it is doing this for 60 families,” said Bakr Turkmani, an attorney at the PCDCR.
“The number of divorce and separation cases has increased significantly since the war, and domestic violence played a role in the increase,” he said.
“My husband beat me and insulted me,” said another victim of domestic violence from Gaza City who preferred anonymity. Recently divorced, she also brings her nine-month old son to PCSCR for weekly supervised meetings with his father.
“If I do not accompany the victims to the police station, their reports of abuse are not accepted,” said Turkmani.
Human rights centre
Director of the women’s unit at the leading Palestinian human rights organisation, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), Muna As-Shawa, said the centre had received reports of increased domestic violence and sexual assault during and after the hostilities. The unit had counselled over 600 women.
“During and after the war women struggled to fulfil their roles as mothers, and care for their children without electricity and water, while under attack,” said As-Shawa, “and if the husband died, sometimes the father-in-law took the inheritance and tried to take custody of the children.”
PCHR is providing legal advice to widows.
The Women’s Affairs Centre (WAC) in Gaza said it had organised meetings with 200 women across Gaza after the war.
“Many women who never experienced violence at home, were beaten during the war,” WAC director Amal Siam told IRIN.
Scores of women who lost their husbands came to WAC seeking assistance after their fathers-in-law tried to take custody of their children, said Siam, adding that there had been an increased number of divorce cases during the hostilities.
According to UNIFEM, the results of the first UN inter-agency gender needs assessment are due in May.
24 March 2009
A month-long investigation also obtained evidence of civilians being hit by fire from unmanned drone aircraft said to be so accurate that their operators can tell the colour of the clothes worn by a target.
The testimonies form the basis of three Guardian films which add weight to calls this week for a full inquiry into the events surrounding Operation Cast Lead, which was aimed at Hamas but left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, including more than 300 children.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) refused to respond directly to the allegations made against its troops, but issued statements denying the charges and insisted international law had been observed.
The latest disclosures follow soldiers' evidence published in the Israeli press about the killing of Palestinian civilians and complaints by soldiers involved in the military operation that the rules of engagement were too lax.
Amnesty International has said Hamas should be investigated for executing at least two dozen Palestinian men in an apparent bout of score-settling with rivals and alleged collaborators while Operation Cast Lead was under way.
Human rights groups say the vast majority of offences were committed by Israel, and that the Gaza offensive was a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket attacks. Since 2002, there have been 21 Israeli deaths by Hamas rockets fired from Gaza, and during Operation Cast Lead there were three Israeli civilian deaths, six Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian fire and four killed by friendly fire.
"Only an investigation mandated by the UN security council can ensure Israel's co-operation, and it's the only body that can secure some kind of prosecution," said Amnesty's Donatella Rovera, who spent two weeks in Gaza investigating war crime allegations. "Without a proper investigation there is no deterrent. The message remains the same: 'It's OK to do these things, there won't be any real consequences'."
Some of the most dramatic testimony gathered by the Guardian came from three teenage brothers in the al-Attar family. They describe how they were taken from home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of Israeli tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing, and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them. "They would make us go first so if any fighters shot at them the bullets would hit us, not them," 14-year-old Al'a al-Attar said.
Medics and ambulance drivers said they were targeted when they tried to tend to the wounded; sixteen were killed. According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of Gaza's 27 hospitals and 44 clinics were damaged by Israeli bombs.
24 March 2009
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- Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Rashida Manjoo*
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