Thamar Zeidan married when she was just 16, and had her first child at 17. While this is not uncommon in traditional Palestinian society, the marriage eventually foundered. Four years ago, she and her husband divorced and she moved back to her parents’ home in the small conservative village of Deir Al Ghusun near the West Bank town of Tulkarem.
The circumstances surrounding her marriage are murky, and her ex-husband refused to be interviewed. Her mother Laila (not her real name), told The Media Line that Thamar’s in-laws accused her of adultery. Her husband used to lock her in the house when he went out. To gain her freedom, Thamer’s had to give up custody of her three children when they divorced.
Honor killings are a very sensitive subject in Palestinian society, and Thamer’s family has never spoken to the media before. In an exclusive interview, her mother and sister told the story that ended when Thamar’s father murdered her three months ago. He is currently in a Palestinian jail awaiting trial.
Thamar had a male friend, Iyad Na’lweh, a laborer who worked in Israel. He was married, but his wife and children live in Jordan. He fell in love with Thamar and promised her that if she became his second wife (legal in Islamic law) he would help her get her children back.
She wanted to marry him, but her family objected, saying he had a drinking problem. It is not clear if they had a physical relationship, although the autopsy showed no recent sexual relations.
On the night of September 17th, Na’lweh was seen outside Zeidan’s house. Rumors, many of them false, began to spread.
“People said they had been together in her room for the past three days, but that’s impossible,” Laila said. “In fact I had been in the hospital and she spent the past three days in my room there.”
Seeing Na’lweh lurking outside her home, neighborhood men attacked him. He ran into the house, and Thamar’s father called the police. The attackers, who believed they were defending her honor, were arrested.
Thamar began to fear that her male relatives might harm her. She asked the police to help her, and left with them to spend the night in protective custody. The next morning, her father and uncle assured the police that she would be safe, and she could come home. The men who attacked Na’lweh were also released.
The following day, Suad and Zaher Mohammed, Thamer’s sister and brother-in-law, came to the village to bring Thamer to Ramallah for a few days until the storm died down. Hours later, some of Thamer’s conservative relatives began circulating a written petition demanding that Thamer’s father Munther “reinstate the cultural and religious morals in his family.”
They posted the petition in 5 local mosques during Friday prayer. More than 50 family members, including Abed Al-Rahman Zeidan, a Palestinian lawmaker signed the petition.
“My husband was under tremendous pressure,” Laila said. “The family wanted to banish us from the West Bank and people started rumors that my husband wasn’t mentally stable. I wanted my husband to discipline her. We took away her phone and limited her movement.”
On Saturday, Munther drove to Ramallah to bring his daughter home.
“He told us she will be safe and he won’t surrender to the family’s pressure,” Suad told The Media Line.
According to Suad, Thamar went to her room. After checking on her, Laila went out to harvest the family’s olive trees. “He said he was going to talk to her,” Laila said, her voice catching. “”That’s all he said.”
According to the police, based on his confession, Munther attacked Thamer in her room.
“My sister’s voice is usually loud, but this time no one heard her,” Suad said sadly. “He had put one hand on her mouth and he choked her with the other hand.”
Laila came back around noon to find the home surrounded by police. After the killing, Munther had gone straight to the local police station and turned himself in. For some of the relatives, the death was a cause for celebration. Thamer’s aunt held a feast celebrating that the family’s honor was now clean.
But for the immediate family, it was and remains a tragedy.
“My father doesn’t understand that he will go straight to hell now,” Suad told The Media Line bitterly. Later on the family found a letter written by Munther in which he outlines his plan to kill his daughter. The family believes the letter was written the day before the murder in which Munther clearly states he holds all who circulated the petition against the family to be responsible.
The letter, acquired by The Media Line, began by apologizing to his wife, children and grandchildren.
“Don’t hold any kind of funeral for my daughter, and don’t let those who signed the petition into my house,” the letter states.
Thamar’s immediate family is still angry at those who demanded that the “family honor” be restored.
“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,” her brother-in-law Zaher Mohammed told The Media Line. “My wife and her family are suffering in silence publicly, but at home the loss is more devastating than just the death of one person. The whole family is traumatized.”
According to the Jordanian personal status law which is still in force in the West Bank, crimes of passion such as honor killings are punished with reduced sentences.
As Munther awaits trial, Suad and her husband agree that a long jail sentence might help put an end to honor killings.
Palestinian official statistics show that 24 women were killed in 2013 as opposed 13 last year.
“It’s not clear that honor killing is on the rise but we can say that documenting such cases has improved and police and media are more aware of them,“ Surayda Hassan, the General Director of the Women Affairs Technical Committee, told The Media Line.
She said that Islam demands four eye witnesses to adultery before an adulteress can be killed. Suspicion of adultery is not enough.
Laila visits her husband weekly in jail.
“We avoid talking about it as he is suffering physically,” Suad said. “He only recently stopped crying.”
Laila said her husband was reacting to the family’s demands to restore their honor.
“My husband is a peaceful man and this is completely out of character, but the pressure was too intense,” she told The Media Line.
Laila says her family will never recover.
“They took a piece of my heart. My only wish now is not to see anyone and live with my children alone,” Laila explained, “Every time I see Thamar’s children…,” she chocked up holding back her tears, “her children and my children will always be rejected,” Laila added.