Are women's rights on the Arab agenda?
Israeli Arab filmmaker Ibtisam Mara'ana discusses domestic violence, honor killings and a possible 'sex strike.'
By Jack Khoury
Arab Israeli filmmaker Ibtisam Mara'ana spent Sunday going from one forum to another, giving extensive interviews about the murder of Maya Fares-Najm, whose body was foundFriday in an open lot in Har Halutz in western Galilee. Mara'ana, a personal acquaintance of Maya, been acquainted with the family for several years and is close to Maya's sister, model Angelina Fares. Fares appeared in a film Mara'ana directed about the struggle against traditional society, after the model decided to enter the competition for Israel's beauty queen.
Mara'ana has been the only spokesperson for the family and together with Angelina Fares, fought the bureaucracy to get Fares-Najm's body released for burial. The funeral took place Monday in relative quiet at Kafr Rama. The interview with Mara'ana took place in a public park not far away, on Moshav Shazur, close to the Acre-Safed highway. The filmmaker gave several interviews there to other media outlets. During the conversation, Mara'ana vented her anger against everyone, starting with the law-enforcement authorities and ending with the Israeli Arab leadership. She said that she despises Arab traditions and stated categorically: "The women in Arab society must unite and declare a sex strike. Yes, seriously - a sex strike."
Ibtisam Mara'ana, are you afraid? After all, you looked for a different place to speak with the media ...
It is not a matter of fear. I'm not afraid for my life. But there is no doubt that you are asking for trouble when photographers and reporters come, and you stand in front of them speaking about an issue like this. Angelina [Fares] and I know one another for several years already and Monday, during the funeral, the two of us stood and looked at the people who came. I don't know whether among those people there is also a potential murderer; it is possible that there was someone there who murdered in the past, but hasn't spent even one day behind bars.
Do you know of someone like that who was present?
I don't want to comment on that.
What is preventing you from doing so?
There are things that it is impossible to talk about and it is better to stop at a certain point.
You know the family well. Was the writing on the wall in the case of Maya's murder?
I don't think so. We're talking about a married woman. The focus was always on Angelina and I was always worried about her. I never thought this would happen to Maya. By the way, it must be stressed that there is no connection whatsoever between the murder of Maya and Angelina and the fact that she publicly criticized the traditions and customs of Arab and Druze society.
Which woman are we talking about?
Maya was a strong woman. By the way, she constantly supported Angelina and urged her to continue doing what she liked to do, even if it cost her her life, saying that if she were to die, she would die after fulfilling her dream.
What does the family know about the murder?
Maya's mother was expecting a telephone call from her on Friday because it was her [the mother's] birthday, but she didn't get in touch. Only in the evening, a policeman called and asked if Maya was missing. The mother went to Carmiel and spoke to Maya's husband there; he claimed she had not been home for a number of days - since last Tuesday. In the end, they found the body and it was identified as Maya's.
Are you aware that this case may be considered to be a murder in the context of what is called "family honor?"
I think that term must be wiped out of the lexicon of everyone including the courts and the law-enforcement system. What is happening in Arab society with regard to murdering women is real terrorism. The feeling is that the court system shows leniency toward those suspected of murdering in the context of what is called family honor. The suspect tells the court "I protected my honor and the family's honor" - and there are those who understand that. I have not encountered a situation in which a husband murdered his wife or his sister in such circumstances and received life imprisonment. There is a kind of latent understanding here. And therefore I believe that all those concerned must oppose the use of this term and tell the murderer that he is a murderer.
But we have heard condemnations from all quarters including the Arab leadership and even the traditional leadership ...
I despise this leadership and the traditions. And thus there is room for taking stronger steps. I am in favor of legislation. If someone murders his wife or his sister, the entire family must bear the consequences. Let them destroy his house so that he won't have anywhere to go when he is freed from jail. Today murderers like that are set free and parties are thrown in their honor at home. It is simply shameful.
Do you think legislation will solve problems of culture and tradition?
No, that is why I'm in favor of all the women uniting, simply all of them. In the past few days, I've been raising the idea of a sex strike.
Are you serious? In Israel, in Arab society - a sex strike?
Yes, yes. And I think that if all the women are united, it will be effective.
Are you sure it won't lead to another murder?
You are speaking to me in the voice of a man vis-a-vis the voice of a woman. It does not have to be like that. We need men to show understanding and empathy. This is the struggle of women in general Arab women in particular. How long can Arab women hang on?
Even if one follows your logic, you know that women's rights are not at the top of the agenda. There is the political struggle and the rights of the Arabs. Can an issue like this be at the top of the agenda?
This just proves how bad the situation of the Arab woman is. First she is part of Arab society and has to deal with racism and fascism that have been on the rise in the country recently, and the racist laws of [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman and Bibi [Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu]. And she is also a woman who has to deal with discrimination because she is a woman in general and an Arab woman in particular. So is impossible to feel that this is merely a problem of women - it is a problem of society in general, and someone has to take matters in hand.
Have you lost hope?
I have not despaired but I say we have reached an extremely dangerous situation. Women feel they don't have any backing; there is no one to defend them - neither the police nor the law-enforcement authorities, neither society nor its leadership. There are women who do not leave their homes because their sister or someone else from their family was murdered. They are the ones who feel shame and are afraid to move around. And that is a sick situation. People have to take the reins in hand. It must be remembered that there are women who are being murdered and no one even hears about them. And the world goes on as usual.
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