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We must not fail Madeline Jarabia

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“Hi mom, I am just calling you to say happ… “. 

Her injuries reveal what happened even if her family denies that she was hit, beaten and strangled. On Thursday May 28, 2020 a 20-year-old woman was admitted to al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip in critical condition with visible bruising all over her body including strangulation marks across her neck. Within 24 hours doctors would pronounce her dead. Her name was Madeline Jarabia and she is the most recent instance of a Palestinian woman to have been murdered by her family in a suspected case of femicide. 

Madeline lived with her father, step-mother and siblings. According to Quds News who interviewed unnamed sources close to the family, Madeline was forbidden to speak with her mother after her parents divorced. But on the occasion of the Eid holiday in late May, she broke the house rules and phoned her mother. The call lasted a few seconds. The line went dead after Madeline uttered, “Hi mom, I am just calling you to say happ…” 

It wasn’t until 3 p.m. the following day that she arrived at the hospital, with visible and fatal wounds. 

After she died, an employee at the forensic department leaked to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights that death was the result of physical abuse, “torture and beating, causing bruises all over the victim’s body in addition to strangulation attempts,” a statement said. 

“Police sources stated that the young girl was beaten by her father due to a family dispute and the police opened an investigation into the incident. Security services are still searching for the girl’s father until issuing this release,” the statement continued. 

Palestinian women in Gaza experience violations that consist of and are not limited to harassment, psychological and physical violence, early marriage, gender discrimination, educational and occupational inequality, and patriarchy. The list of injustices could go on. 

All of the above is compounded by the widespread notions about women and our restricted roles in society. We are forced to fight all that to exercise our original and guaranteed rights.

We are familiar with upsetting stories of persecuted women. Many girls and women are killed by their family members in the context of what is locally referred to under the euphemism of “dignity issues,” such a shameful and odious concept. In these circumstances, women are accused of conducting actions in contradiction to conventions on tradition, culture and religion. Do these arguments, rather excuses, sound persuasive? What a sin to judge others in this horrible way. 

Will Madeline’s killers be prosecuted?

 Palestinian women hold placards and shout slogans during a rally to protest against the rising incidents of violence against women in Gaza City March 03, 2014. Twenty-six women were slain by relatives in the West Bank and Gaza in 2013, twice as many as the year before. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)
Palestinian women hold placards and shout slogans during a rally to protest against the rising incidents of violence against women in Gaza City March 03, 2014. Twenty-six women were slain by relatives in the West Bank and Gaza in 2013, twice as many as the year before. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

“Hello mom, I am calling you to say happ…”

This emotional moment interrupted is believed to have been interrupted by her brutal father who rushed to hit Madeline. Some local outlets reported family members’ tried, unsuccessfully, to stop him.

Madeline’s half-sister then defended their father in a post to social media, writing on Facebook, “My father is innocent, and we will sue everyone who spreads this rumor legally and tribally.” 

When will loyalty to systems of violence end?

Madeline is not the only Palestinian victim of gender-based violence. This year alone, there are 18 cases of Palestinian women killed in suspected cases of femicide, according to Hala Marshood, a researcher and activist in the Palestinian feminist movement Tal’at. Official figures from the Palestinian government do not exist. 

We know of 18 cases so far, 4 of them from Gaza. (It is important to note that these are only cases that we know of and that were covered by media. We are pretty sure that there are cases which we haven’t heard of, and these do not include cases of violence that didn’t lead to death.)

This last series of actions and crimes shed light on the persistent duty of the governmental bodies to take charge of their responsibilities to pass punishments against family members who kill or injure women in their family. Authorities should not accept any excuses for such inhumane actions. 

Palestinian women take part an event against violence towards women in Gaza City on October 10, 2019. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)
Palestinian women take part an event against violence towards women in Gaza City on October 10, 2019. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

We must realize the role of awareness in these issues and we should spread these stories, inform women of their rights and help them escape violence. 

We will never stop hearing stories of women who are murdered, oppressed and suicidal without a major shift. From my view of point, the only solution starts with speaking out: women should rebel against all actions to limit and quiet us. We should share our stories, make demands, seek our rights, and appeal to specialized organizations that support women.

Madeline’s murder took place in the context of a series of killings that have enveloped public consciousness. Her life was taken three days after the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Two days later, a Palestinian was killed by Israeli police. Eyad al-Halaq was shot to death in Jerusalem’s Old City, near the school he attends for Palestinians with disabilities. Eyad has autism and his teacher attempted to intervene and calm a situation that began at a checkpoint. When the Israeli soldier shot Eyad, he was reaching for his cellphone in his pocket. Israeli police later said they thought he had a gun. He did not. 

On June 9 women and girls from the Tal’at movement, supported by a group of men, launched a protest over these lives and against killings from oppressive forces. Demonstrations were held in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Ramallah, Haifa and Rafah–the only demonstration in Gaza. I was disappointed by the limited number who protested in Gaza, which was around 15.

Seeking our freedom as women must happen at the same time as acquiring our national freedoms. It is vital to take this stand in the face of a conservative society. Women and men, side by side, should do the best themselves to change this miserable reality because no one else will do it for us. 

There is no free country without free women. 

Editor’s note: This post initially gave Madeline Jarabia’s surname as Jabara. Thanks to Abdeen Jabara for translation help.

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Our condolences to those who loved her and treated her with the dignity every human being deserves.

Corning, New York