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The Case of a Woman Behind Bars
submitted by This Week In Palestine

By Sammy Kirreh

Hugo’s Les Miserables tells us that crime is generated by the social circumstances in which the individual is living. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment teaches us that crime is a voluntary and rational behaviour that results in mental anguish and moral dilemmas.

At birth the individual has an equal mixture of both good and evil, but education and upbringing have the potential to repress the force of evil and reveal the force of good. During one’s lifetime, one passes through various experiences, some of which enhance the spirit of good whereas others resuscitate the repressed spirit of evil and drive one to commit irrational acts for which one pays dearly. But from the individual’s own viewpoint he or she may have achieved justice and rebelled against injustice.

Such is the case of Fadwa who is incarcerated in one of the Palestinian prisons, euphemistically called rehabilitation and correction centres. My desire to talk to Fadwa came after making several visits to West Bank prisons with a team of European penitentiary experts working on renovating, rehabilitating, and refurbishing Palestinian prisons. During one of my talks with the female inmates, I found out that many of them had killed their husbands or had attempted to kill them. I was taken aback by this fact and started to wonder about the motives that might urge young wives to kill their husbands. This issue has even aroused my fears, and I wondered, “Did these women really kill their husbands? Why? Could such matters take place in our reserved and conservative Palestinian society?”

When one of the guards led Fadwa into the prison warden’s room where I interviewed her, I thought I was looking at a statue that had suddenly come to life. She dragged herself slowly, turning her head left and right as if trying to discover an entirely new environment. Fadwa was not embarrassed. She spoke confidently and truthfully. Her soft voice engendered much empathy in me. I sensed in her voice a diabolical sweetness that attracted me to her, and I longed to listen to her story.

Fadwa is a plump, twenty-four-year-old woman. She is tall, dark, and delicate, and the features of her face gleam with innocence. Her hazel eyes glimmer, reflecting self-satisfaction and contentment. Fadwa spent her childhood in a remote village in the Nablus district, and she married twice. When she was eighteen, a young man who was twenty years old asked for her hand in marriage and she accepted at once to spite her family. Her parents had already planned to give their daughter to her cousin, but Fadwa was opposed to endogamy. She spent one year with her husband and during that time she felt he was a stranger to her with no bond between them except his lust. A few months after her divorce, she married twenty-three-year-old Amjad, a handsome mechanic rich enough to open a house of his own. Fadwa was eager to start a new life and forget about her troubles with her first husband. She did not hesitate to marry Amjad, but she was soon to discover that her decision would ruin her life and put an end to her hopes and dreams.

The police arrested Fadwa in February 2005, charging her with the murder of her husband. She spent three years and three months in Nablus prison, and during that time she was never in court for trial. She was still on remand, waiting impatiently for her trial. She was not certain how long she would be detained in prison with her case pending public prosecution. As a result, she was compelled to resort to a human rights organisation that managed to help her go to court and begin her trial proceedings.

Later on, Fadwa was transferred to Ramallah prison where she has spent two years. To date, and despite the frequent hearings of her trial in court, she has not been convicted. She is living in a state of uncertainty and ambiguity. She can no longer put up with the expectations of an obscure future.

“Until now,” she explained, “I am remanded and no final decision has been taken by the court about my case. Many cases are pending at the court, and the court refuses to bail me out. There is always a delay in the ruling, and this affects us negatively, especially the female inmates who have children. I have children who are living in an orphanage. I have four children, three girls and one boy; they need me and I need them.”

Fadwa did not murder her husband, but she was accused as an accomplice to the crime. The real murderer, it seems, is her cousin who a few years back sought to marry her. He still had special feelings for her and one day she told him about her relationship with her husband. In a moment of craze and heedless of the consequences, he killed the husband and is now detained in Ramallah prison. Although Fadwa had not anticipated the rash reaction of her cousin, deep inside she felt that she had been saved from a humiliating life and from the oppression of a husband who mistreated her and caused her severe physical and mental agony that will take her years to overcome. Weeping, she said that she was innocent and hoped that one day the truth of her innocence would become evident. But the court has to accelerate the handling of her case. She exclaimed, “I am the victim of a despicable husband.” Her voice rose as if she were addressing the court in self-defence, “I am a victim of society.” She burst into tears.

I felt confused. I wanted to console her. I touched her hand hoping that she would find the serenity and peace of mind that she has been deprived of all these years.

Fadwa is convinced that she is a victim of a harsh and callous society. She is also a victim of a family that showed her no love. Her family, she told me, were eager to get rid of her because she was merely a girl whose concern is the responsibility of her husband. Since her arrest, Fadwa has become a stigma to her family who have threatened to kill her. Here I interjected, “So the prison provides you with protection.” She smiled, amused by my naïveté and replied, “This may be true, but I do not want to spend the rest of my life in prison running away from my family.”

Silence fell. Some time passed before Fadwa continued to talk about her relationship with her husband and how he treated her. She spoke in a very low voice, almost in a whisper trying to smother painful memories. Her husband beat and raped her. At times even he brought his friends to sleep with her, and if she attempted to free herself, he would beat her as his friends looked on and found queer pleasure in her moans. Fadwa said that her husband felt the ecstasy of his manhood as he beat her. She added, “I think he had an inferiority complex. He was completely abnormal.” She discovered too late that she had married a distracted man who astonished her by his weird behaviour. She had heard many stories about women who faced the worst with their husbands, but she never imagined that she would be a victim of a licentious and sadistic husband.

Despite her suffering, Fadwa dared not tell her family what was happening between her and her husband because no matter what takes place between husband and wife in traditional societies it is always the woman who is to blame. The woman, Fadwa grumbled, is a source of shame to the family. “Sometimes her relatives kill or slaughter her,” she protested. The family of Fadwa believe that since their daughter has been detained she must be guilty, and she has no option but to give in to the will of fate.

In addition, her relations with her in-laws were not good either and therefore she decided not to communicate with them. Her husband’s family were depleted and burdened with many problems, and perhaps the family had had a very negative impact on the character of her husband Amjad. He used to beat her all the time and he found great delight in seeing her body writhe in pain as she entreated him for mercy. His anger gratified, he would suddenly calm down, pull her to him and sleep with her murmuring in her ears to forgive him his cruelty and promising that he would be good to her. But she only wished that he would take his bovine body off hers, and she looked forward to freedom and independence.

Fadwa put up with her ordeal for the sake of her children. She is a mother to three girls, the oldest of whom is thirteen, and a six-year-old boy. The girls are living now in an orphanage and the boy in a juvenile centre. Fadwa was not aware of the existence of organisations for the defence of the rights of women, and she did not resort to the police because she desired to avoid what she called a “social scandal.” Her main concern was to protect her children from her husband. At the same time she wanted to escape, but where to?

Fadwa seemed happy in prison and she felt that she was living among brothers and sisters. The treatment of inmates was good, but the daily routine was killing. Fadwa believes that there should be training and rehabilitation programmes for inmates so that their time is not wasted. She believes that such programmes would help inmates integrate into society and guard them against recidivism. When she is released, Fadwa does not think of returning to her family; rather she seriously thinks about immigrating with her children to a country where she will be able to start a new life. A strong dislike of the traditions and customs of her society has grown in her heart because it is “against women.” She said bitterly, “Women in our society are always guilty, whether they are married or single or divorced or widowed or even prisoners just like me. I married the first time, and I suffered after my divorce; and my second husband mistreated and humiliated me.”

If Fadwa could go back to her adolescent years, she would take daring and audacious steps alien to her society. She would have deserted her family, lived independently, and found herself a decent job. More importantly, she would have never married because marriage in our society is rarely founded on love; it is more founded on the “protection of women” and, as such, the woman is always the victim.

One hour had passed since Fadwa had begun to tell her story. I was deeply affected by her narrative, and I hoped that one day she would be able to start life anew. I thanked her, and she left with heavy steps saying, “The truth will soon come out.” And she continues to wait for a court decision about her case.

Sammy Kirreh is a teacher of literature and a translator. He taught at Bethlehem University for some years. Now Sammy works for EUPOL COPPS.

TWIP September 2009

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