Under the Guise of Family Cohesion, Women in Gaza Conceal a Life of Domestic Violence

Stories of Fractures, Wounds and Permanent Disabilities
1. An event in Gaza carried out to combat violence against women

The doctor was cutting the suture thread that hung down from the head of 33-year-old Marwa when the whole place fell into a chilling silence. “How was your head fractured this deep?” He asked her twice before her father broke the silence with his calm reply “The ceiling fan fell on her head at night, doctor.”
The doctor looked over his glasses at him trying to believe what he just heard. The old man continued his story gesturing towards his witnesses and said, “you can even ask her husband and brother, they are here in front of you.” Six eyes looked at the patient threateningly in a terrifying scene; she nodded her head approvingly as the doctor tried to verify the authenticity of the story from her side. The story ended there, but perhaps it had actually just started.
Marwa is a pseudonym for a rural wife. She has five children and lives with a family that believes that women must be subordinate to men in all matters of life. 
Her case is one of many that ends “a kiss on the head or a simple apology”; as long as she stayed alive.
The writer of the report needed the assistance of one of the nurses to meet Marwa inside the “Indonesian” Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip during a follow-up doctor appointment and wound dressing change. She had to beg her husband to allow her to visit the doctor. He insisted that the wound will heal on its own at home. He said: “We don’t want a slip of your tongue leading us to further investigation, and we do not need this now.”
 
HE RETURNED BUT DID NOT FIND HER
So, what is the story of this incident? Marwa recalls that a week ago, when her husband returned from the farmland, where he works with his brothers, he did not find her at home. One of her neighbors had called her earlier and asked her to help her make spinach pies.
At that time, her husband flamed up with rage and started searching for her. When she returned home, she saw him standing next to the kitchen door and greeted him. He did not reply but immediately hit her with a rolling pin on her head, causing a huge crack.
She continues her conversation, “My parents who live near me knew and came quickly, and I was carried to the hospital. All the way, my mother was dictating me what to say if anyone asked me who caused my injury. She repeatedly reminded me that this is my husband and the father of my children. “Will you put him in jail and humiliate him? If this happens, he will kick you out of the house and divorce you,” she stressed.
“I was compelled to do what she wanted, and I was sure that the doctor did not believe the story, but because I am legally the victim, no other words were more effective than mine,” she added. Marwa also pointed out that her husband did not receive any punishment, and it all ended with a lame discharge permission from the hospital and a false cause of the injury, which is the falling fan.
Marwa’s story is just one of dozens whose protagonist was exposed to poorly justified male domestic violence within Palestinian society which conceived the notion of male authority and frightened women from filing a complaint against the aggressors, “to preserve the family’s cohesion and its image in front of people who look down with contempt on the girl that is claiming her right and call her disloyal and ungrateful”.

CHOCKED BY WORDS
In the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, south of Gaza Strip, societal norms ended the case of 22-year-old Samar, whose fate was to stay in bed for more than 10 days. The doctors monitored the medical condition of her fractured and wounded hand and wrote in the records that it was caused by “slipping in the bathroom and bumping her hand on the metal door”. Despite the police turning up this time to investigate, her family insisted on its previous story and forced the girl to confirm it, and the report was closed accordingly.
The nurse “A.M.”, who works at the same hospital, was standing close to the young lady listening to the conversation. She was not pleased in any way. How could she when she is the family’s neighbor who always hears Samar’s screams pleading for mercy from her brothers who kept abusing her whenever she was late coming back from university at the early hours of the evening?
The nurse says, “After everyone had gone, the young lady stayed accompanied by her mother. I approached her later in the evening and tried to ask her about the cause of her injury. She only kept repeating that she fell while she was wiping the bathroom floor and cried. I told her that this was not true and that the police were not convinced in the first place, but she insisted on her story.”

DEFENDING HONOUR
The mother was sitting on the edge of the bed, contemplating, and holding back her tears. As soon as the nurse left the room, she followed her and told her that she had something she needed to get off her chest since it was hard to confide in anyone. She then started to tell the story saying, “As usual, Samar arrived home at four o’clock where her elder brother was waiting for her with eyes burning with rage after the hour had passed two in the afternoon, and he began to threaten and menace Samar.”
As soon as the daughter entered the house, she went to her room, changed her clothes, and went out to eat. After a while, the father arrived, and the son went towards him and told him that Samar just came home. He whispered in his ear that his friend confirmed to him today what he had previously stated.
What is the story? The mother learnt later on that one of her son’s friends had told him that he saw his sister wandering around her university with three young women and two young men. In fact, the five were colleagues studying the same major and returning from a training course at a civil society organization.
“Without any further investigation, the father carried a large stick, called his two sons and all attacked Samar without any pity or mercy. They hit her excessively on her limbs.” She indicated that one of the brothers carried a sharp piece of iron and deliberately hit her directly, which caused her the wounds.
“They did not stop there, but they started hitting her on the wound site, and she kept screaming while her younger sisters and I were with her,” the mother elaborated.
After some long minutes, the 40-year-old mother was able to push the three away from her. She called the ambulance, and while they were waiting, the father threatened to kill her if anyone knows what really happened. “She is our honor, and we are free to do whatever we want with her.”
“I had to give in to his request, and I did what he wanted and gave up my daughter’s right,” the mother said, adding that Samar is still suffering from a critical psychological condition till today.
In response to why she didn’t disclose the secret to the medical staff or the police at the time, the nurse said, “I will suffer from them. Her family is a group of trouble-makers, and they may hurt my sons.”

THE REASON? A CALL WITH HER COLLEAGUE
In early March 2019,  21-year-old Asmahan, who lives in the Tuffah neighborhood, east of Gaza city, stayed for more than five days in her bed suffering from severe pain all over her body as a result of her father beating her after he heard her talking with a guy on her mobile and asking him to bring some things she needed the next morning to the institute where they are both training.
She begged everyone in her home asking them to take her to the hospital because she was sure that she was suffering from fractures that needed to be examined by a doctor and treated. Still, nobody was able to fulfil her request because of her father’s order.
One of Asmahan’s friends, a journalism student at the same university she studies at, reported the incident to the report’s author. After desperately suffering for a long time, the helpless mother tried to convince the father to take her daughter to the hospital because if she were to remain without treatment, she would suffer from deformities and disabilities for the rest of her life.
The husband did not concede, so the mother took the opportunity while he was out and called one of her sisters that came to her hastily. She told her what happened, and her sister insisted on informing the police of the incident or at least to have the family elders put an end to this situation. The mother insisted that what matters now is treating Asmahan. “You should not tell anyone what I told you because my husband threatened to beat me and divorce me if this happened.” We then agreed on a story to tell the hospital that convinces them of otherwise.
The aunt took the daughter to the hospital, and there the doctors insisted on knowing the reason behind the delay in bringing her to receive treatment. They asked about her parents, “Why didn’t they accompany her to the hospital?” Everyone wondered. After much insistence and a threat to request the police and open an investigation that will lead to knowing the details of the incident, the two were forced to reveal what happened to one of the doctors who assured them that if they told him the truth, it would remain a secret between them. Asmahan received the treatment and came back home as if nothing had happened, and the secret remains hidden to this day.

INADEQUATE LAWS AND REGULATIONS
Commenting on these cases, a source in the Ministry of Health in Gaza said: “In general, many similar cases arrive at hospitals. They are dealt with by the reception teams according to the story told by the family, and they often verify with the injured.” He stated that doctors, in general, do not scrutinize the urgent cases whose health condition is not serious.

The source, who preferred not to be named, indicated that every hospital has a police officer on duty, whose help is sought if necessary. But at the same time, he confirmed that effectively handling a case depends on the confessions provided. “Personally, I am quite certain that many of these cases are not telling the truth and are forced by the family members,” the source noted, adding that he witnessed several similar cases. Still, unfortunately, the law does not allow relevant authorities to overlook the patient’s statements.
During extensive research into Palestinian health laws and regulations, the reporter couldn't find any information about whether or not a hospital is responsible for finding out the cause of a patient's illness or injury. All that was mentioned was a detailed mechanism of the medical treatment and the method of providing the health service.
It is worth noting that the battered woman in her father’s house suffers from the lack of sufficient evidence or witnesses that enable her to convict the aggressor. In some instances, the mother is aware that the father is abusing his daughter for long periods, but she refuses to go to court to testify against her husband to protect her family at the expense of her daughter so that she does not lose the father or the financial provider, according to what was stated in the annual statistical report issued by the Ministry of Social Development in 2017.
 
In the same context, recent statistics issued by the Palestinian Statistics Center indicate that about 51 percent of previously married women in the Gaza Strip have been subjected to some form of gender-based violence. Nearly 30 percent of them have sought refuge in their parent's or sibling's home, whereas 3.65 percent preferred to remain completely silent about the violence they were subjected to by their husbands.  The percentage of women who were exposed to violence and went to a women's institution or center to seek counseling was no more than seven percent.