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As order slides, Palestinian women face honor killings

Rights activists say such murders have increased as a result of the worsened security situation, and press for a new law.

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All the women in the family say Wafa Wahdan was wonderful.

But her sisters-in-law add that they noticed a few little things. She had changed the way she dressed in the past year to a less conservative style and she sometimes went out for a drive without saying where she was going.

A few weeks ago, the body of the young mother of four was found in a garbage dump east of town. Police arrested two of the woman's male cousins for having trapped Ms. Wahdan and shot her to death, committing the third "honor killing" in Qalqilya last month.

Wahdan's brutal murder devastated her husband and immediate family, who say that the rumor mill's tales of Wahdan having an affair were untrue. But regardless of their veracity, suspicion alone can be enough to get a woman killed by distant relatives looking to "cleanse" the family honor when there is talk of an illicit relationship.

According to local organizations, such murders have risen in the Palestinian territories to nearly 50 this year – a fact that many here blame on the absence of any true law and order, which allows individuals to enforce their own version of justice. Palestinians here say the image of an ever-weaker Palestinian Authority has increased after Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in June, making this local vigilantism harder to combat.

Particularly galling to many here is the fact that a man who admits to murdering a female relative for reasons of honor can be sentenced to as little as six months in jail. Palestinians say that policy is based on an old Jordanian law, which still holds in the West Bank: Article 341 considers murder a legitimate act of defense when the killer acts "in defense of his life or his honor."

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