Israel PalestineReport

Palestine. Faced with domestic and family violence: a shock unit!

Wafa Mu'amar, Colonel of Police, Head of Family Protection Unit
Wafa Mu'amar, police colonel, head of the family protection unit

(BRUSSELS2) In Palestine, violence is not only a problem in the streets. On the contrary, it is a daily reality in homes. It is even the “ main source of crime » explains Wafa Mu'ammar head of the special unit for family protection. Meeting with a discreet woman, full of determination…

A shock unit protects victims of domestic violence

You have to cross several offices in a row to reach the heart of the juvenile and family protection unit, headed by Wafa Mu'ammar. With the rank of colonel, she is also the first woman to have reached such a level within the Palestinian police. Structured, precise and visionary, she masterfully manages her unit which has a broad scope.

  • Opened in 2008 in Bethlehem, the unit recorded 55 cases this year. Today there are 100 times more. In 2015, 6.000 cases were recorded. With 100 people (including 27 women), it deals with all forms of family violence, whether suicide, violence between spouses or with children, child abandonment, or a simple leak…

The weight of traditions, difficult beginnings

Palestine is an increasingly open society but is based on a culture "traditional". That's all the ambiguity. When the family protection unit was created, wife beating was not considered a crime. It was not customary to file a complaint against one's husband. The attitude of the police was rather to tell the women: " Come on ! Calm down ! Don't make a fuss", as Wafa Mu'ammar tells it. However, today, 66% of cases handled by the unit concern violence against women. "Police practices were based on traditionalist methods." They had to evolve little by little. “Facing these questions is not an easy responsibility, as the weight of traditions is so important”.

Building trust through civil society

“It is civil society that has made it possible to understand the role of the police” confesses Wafa Mu'ammar. A woman who is beaten once will be beaten again. This is the message that Palestinian civil society has spread. This pressure from part of the population has increased awareness of the help that the police can provide. Vigilance has increased. Cases began to be handled with a different approach by the police. “This is how the level of confidence was able to increase. Society has begun to 'internalize' the role of the police in cases of domestic violence.".

Professionalization of the police 

There has also been an internal change in the police, who have been trained to deal with this type of crime. Training, working groups and training for law enforcement officers have multiplied, often abroad “in particular, in France, Belgium, Italy and Spain”. The skills have improved “, underlines the colonel. Lena Larson, Deputy Head of Mission EUPOL COPPS, confirms and completes: the Palestinian police have become aware of the need to "solve this problem of violence within homes and between families".

In practice: keeping the pressure on the perpetrators of violence

It is " hard to convince » a victim to pursue his attacker, however, recalls Wafa Mu'ammar. “Women often face pressure from their respective families”. The police therefore decided to deal with the cases according to the damage caused. “For example: if the person is not hospitalized, they can drop the charges. The police must engage in prevention and strengthen their vigilance. On the other hand, if it is the third time, we deal with the prosecution and the case becomes a public matter.. This maintains the pressure on the perpetrators of violence, who understand that they will not go unpunished indefinitely.

A special prosecutor for domestic violence… and a penal code

In early April, Palestine decided to create a post of Special Prosecutor for Domestic Violence. “We now hope that several laws and especially the criminal code on the protection of families will soon be ratified so that we can start prosecuting people”, says the colonel. The current difficulty lies precisely in the legal framework. In some cases, the court still applies Jordanian legislative principles (1). “In many cases, justice is not served for the victims”.

Next step: a “one-stop shop” for victims?

Wafa Mu'ammar is now campaigning for bring together all the support services for victims of violence in one place. Access to medical care, filing a complaint, consulting a social counselor, etc. “Such a center could save our efforts, time and costs” pleads the police. The division into districts of the West Bank makes things difficult. “There are areas we cannot reach. We need more time and coordination. » The benefit would also be significant for the victims. "Having such a center, outside the police centers, should encourage victims to come through our doors", underlines the head of the Palestinian police unit. The challenge is not obvious. “We realize this is just the beginning of the process. We will have to work hard and we will also have to overcome political difficulties. » But Wafa wants to be confident. The first center is expected to open its doors at the end of 2016. “We wish two more would follow.” One in the south of the West Bank, the other in the north.”

(Johanna Bouquet, in Ramallah)

(1) The legislative system of the West Bank is based on the Jordanian model, adopted in the 1960s. On the other hand, that of Gaza is based on the Egyptian model.

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