A 20-year-old Palestinian woman who was thrown into a well and left to die in the name of "family honor" has not become just another statistic in one of the Middle East's most shameful practices.
The killing of Aya Baradiya - by an uncle who didn't like a potential suitor - sparked such outrage that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas scrapped laws this week that guaranteed sentences of six months or less for such killings.
And in another sign of changing attitudes, the young college student is being mourned as a "martyr" and her grieving parents are being embraced, not shunned, by neighbors.
So-called "honor killings" are committed regularly in traditional Arab societies that enforce strict separation between the sexes and view an unmarried woman's unsupervised contact with a man, even by telephone, as a stain on the family's reputation. There were nine such killings in the West Bank last year, and Jordan reports about 20 every year.
Women's activists hailed Abbas' decision as a milestone in what they say is still a long road toward protecting women from such abuse.
"Such a tragic event managed to send a message that change is needed," said rights campaigner Hanan Ashrawi. "We have traction and we are going to move."
'Yasser, we have to do something'
Suha Arafat, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's widow, emerged from self-imposed seclusion to praise Abbas. Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, she said she tried to persuade her husband many times to take such a step, but was told the Palestinian people faced other pressing problems that needed to be dealt with first.
Baradiya disappeared on April 20, 2010, and was killed that same day, though her body was not discovered until 13 months later, on May 6, after her 37-year-old uncle, Iqab Baradiya, confessed to the crime.
On the day of the killing, the uncle and two accomplices snatched the woman and tied her hands and feet, Hebron police chief Ramadan Awad said. The suspects told interrogators she screamed and demanded to know why they wanted to kill her, but the uncle only told her that she deserved to die, he said.
She told them she had done nothing wrong, and then her attackers dumped her into the well.
Palestinian media say the uncle disapproved of the woman's suitor, who had approached the family through traditional channels, asking for her hand in marriage. One accomplice said the men talked about the alleged relationship as they planned the killing.
Promise of tougher punishment
As the horrific details emerged, Surif residents and students at Hebron University staged rallies, demanding the death penalty for the killers. They held up signs calling Aya Baradiya a "martyr," the ultimate badge of honor in Palestinian society.
Palestine TV dedicated a program to her last weekend, and a senior Abbas aide, Tayeb Abdel Rahim, called in, saying the Palestinian president was watching and was saddened by the case. He said Abbas planned to scrap the laws guaranteeing leniency for such slayings.
Ashrawi, a former legislator, said Abbas had promised women's groups several years ago to scrap the laws, but put the issue on ice until the most recent killing.
Abbas delivered on the promise Sunday, signing a decree that scraps provisions that make killing for family honor a mitigating circumstance, Abdel Rahim told AP. Suspects could now even face the death penalty, he said.
In 2010, there were nine family honor killings in the West Bank, Awad said. In most cases, "family honor" was just a pretext, he added: Men would kill to clear the path for remarriage, get their wives' gold or because of problems in the family. The tougher new laws will likely reduce the number of such killings, he said.
Arafat's widow, Suha, said that when she lived in the Gaza Strip with her husband in the 1990s, she used to hide women feeling threatened by male relatives and would help smuggle them to safer areas.
She said she and the wives of other leaders in the region, including Jordan's then-Queen Noor, tried in vain to persuade their husbands to do more to protect women. "I said, 'Yasser, we have to do something'," Arafat recalled in a telephone interview from the Mediterranean island of Malta.
In Surif, Aya Baradiya's family wants the death penalty for her killers.
Her 29-year-old brother, Rami, welcomed the promise of tougher punishment, saying he hoped it would serve as a deterrent. "This is a victory for all of us," he said.
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