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<style>.post-28720 .entry-title{color: }</style>311
<style>.post-28720 .entry-title{color: }</style>311

Tribal Justice and Rule of Law in Palestine

By Ammar Dwaik

“I lost the investment of my life in a matter of moments.” These words were uttered by a merchant from the Iewiwi family, one of the largest families in the city of Hebron, after his furniture store was set ablaze against the backdrop of unfortunate events that took place in Hebron following the killing of a young man from the Jabari family, another large family in the city. Basil Jabari, 40, was killed in July, allegedly by a group from the Iewiwi family who claimed to be avenging the murder of their relative some 15 years ago. They accused Basil Jabari of being an accomplice in that killing.

Immediately after Basil was killed, members of the extended Jabari family began to indiscriminately target property that belongs to members of the extended Iewiwi family, setting fire to dozens of vehicles, shops, and property, regardless of the owners’ affiliation to the crime.

An artist’s view of the city of Hebron.

This violent and instinctive behavior is a well-known tribal custom in Palestine and is referred to as forat al-dam (blood outburst), which is an old tribal tradition that allows the family of the murder victim to vandalize the property of the alleged murderer’s family over a period of three days without having to face any liability or consequences. In this case, however, the Iewiwi family did not take a passive position as is customary for families in their situation. They held firm in their belief that the Jabari family is not entitled to the “blood outburst” tradition since the conflict had taken place 15 years ago. The Iewiwis reciprocated the violence and vandalism, which resulted in millions of shekels of damage to both families. Many of those who lost their property in this communal conflict are distant relatives of the parties and have no link to the crimes in question; some do not even know the individuals involved in the killings. Furthermore, firearms were used during the fighting, creating fear and panic among Hebron residents, particularly women and children.

The Palestinian police intervened and were able to partially contain the situation but only after dozens of shops, stores, and vehicles had already been set aflame. The inability of the Palestinian Authority to enforce law and order during the first two days is due to two main factors: First, many armed individuals who  participated in the communal unrest took refuge in the southern part of the city, or the so-called H2 area, which is under full Israeli control and out of reach of the Palestinian security forces. Second, during the past few years, the Palestinian Authority has, for various reasons, tolerated many of the customary practices of the traditional justice system, which has made it difficult to confront these tribal customs.

What happened in Hebron in July is not an isolated incident. There have been several cases in the West Bank over the last few years in which the Palestinian Authority has tolerated this phenomenon and neglected to do what is necessary to protect the families of the accused before or during the “blood outburst.” Moreover, the Palestinian Authority has not prosecuted those who perpetrated or participated in the burning and vandalism incidents, which encourages their recurrence and sends the wrong message to society that the “outburst of blood” is a legally condoned custom in Palestine. In such cases, the state gives a license to the victim’s family to take the law into their own hands to satisfy their instinct of revenge.

Huge crowds during a traditional dispute-settling incident.

The tribal justice system prioritizes community stability and social order over justice and individual rights. To defuse communal tension and restore order, tribal judges (or men of reconciliation as they are usually called) may impose collective punishment by ordering jalwa, or the expulsion of entire families, including women and children, from the village or city of residence for a certain period of time, which usually becomes permanent displacement. Unfortunately, this practice still occurs and is usually tolerated and accepted by the Palestinian Authority. Historical evidence shows that in the tribal justice system, smaller families and clans usually pay the heaviest price as stability is achieved at their expense.

The Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) has raised concerns about some aspects of the tribal justice system. Although ICHR does not take a position against legal pluralism, we believe that any legal, judicial, or justice system must uphold a set of principles required by human rights agreements and the Palestinian Basic Law. These principles include the prohibition of collective punishment, the provision of fair trial guarantees, and the presumption of innocence. All these principles are violated by the tribal justice system.

What occurred in Hebron in July left many residents feeling unsafe, and some began to seriously consider moving out of the city or even leaving the country. Palestinian society, which faces great political and security challenges and strives to build a modern state, must firmly confront this phenomenon. The greatest responsibility, of course, lies with the Palestinian Authority, which must move from its comfort zone and take a clear and firm stance on such practices that threaten civil peace, rule of law, and respect for human rights.


  1. Abdallah

    Seems to me the article is favoring the Iewiwi family although the murderer is from that family. It attempts to justify the murder although the supposed crime happened FIFTEEN YEARS ago. Really? There is no mention of whether the murderer was held accountable or not. Instead, the article focuses on the unrest caused by the Jabari family members. Such articles that shift attention from the actual murderer to the victim’s family reaction are why Palestinian society will continue disintegrating and creating a lawless environment. What happened to the murderer?

  2. Dr. Tahboub

    My speech at British parliament 4years ago still valid

    My speech at British parliament

    Ladies and gentlemen,
    Assalamu alikum, peace be upon you all. I decided at the last minute that instead of boring you with tables and charts, which state the obvious- which is the suffering that Palestinians have to endure. To speak to you from heart to heart especially in the wake of the press conference held by the UNRWA alongside 50 NGOs last week, highlighting the human catastrophe in Palestine. I’ll take one minute of my time of 8 minutes to ask you to look at your watches and stop breathing. Most of us will not be able to do so for a single minute, because hypoxia (which is the decrease of oxygen in the blood) forces us involuntarily to breathe again. Unfortunately, premature babies on ventilators in Gaza don’t have that luxury. When electricity is cut off, a daily even in Palestine, the switch into emergency generators takes from 30 seconds to one minute to operate, rendering their vulnerable premature brains and putting their lives as a whole at risk.
    In the United States, convicted prisoners are executed by a lethal dose of potassium, renal failure patients in Gaza die a slow agonizing death because of hyperkalemia, which refers to the rise of potassium in their blood. During the 6 years of siege, 400 renal failure patients in Gaza died due to lack of dialysis equipment, solutions, medicines and lack of trained medical staff.
    I went to the tunnels in Gaza, where 10.000 Palestinians are very happy that they found work and can put bread on the table but they are a health time bomb as they all already have dust chest diseases. It is only in Gaza that you exchange your lungs and sometimes your life for baby milk.
    I have been in diaspora for 46 years and my first contact with Palestine was when I went to Gaza during the 2009 war on Gaza, to find that the occupation forces had inflicted 5D on Gaza: death, destruction, disease, degradation and deprivation, which were met with the Capital Majestic D of Defiance.
    People of Palestine do not need food or medicine and the days of cooking oil and sacks of flour and rice (which later were turned into underwear) are gone, what the Palestinians need is freedom… to be treated as human beings and not as a charity project. People in Palestine have one the highest literacy rates in the world and the highest in the Arab World at 93%, and if Gazans were left to export their strawberries, flowers and to drill their natural gas on the shores of Gaza, they would have an economy which rivals Qatar’s. Darkness is an every night situation in Gaza and when our late Professor, Dr Qandeel Shaker, visited his birth place in Khan Younis after 40 years in the diaspora, he found his nieces and nephews with 8 and 10 children. Expressing his amazement, his 90 year old aunty with years of wisdom behind her, said to him: bless you my nephew, we have occupation, bombings, poverty, no electricity and no fun?? When officials in Gaza heard the story, they said that if the occupation had any common sense, they would pour fuel in Gaza’s power station depos free of charge, but common sense is not common!
    Palestinians love life and are fun loving people, all they want is what we all want anywhere in the world: freedom, jobs, houses, good education and good health systems, but they have to endure sixty four years of occupation and six years of siege. Mahmoud Sarsak, a promising young Palestinian footballer with a bull neck that would rival Wayne Rooney’s in his prime is on hunger strike nearly 100 days now as he tried to cross to Ramallah to join his national team. Derar Abu Seesi: the Gaza power plant chief engineer was kidnapped in Ukraine whilst visiting his in laws and taken to Israel by Mossad agents using fake passports, but who are we to question Israeli murder and espionage? Moses, the great Prophet of the three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Christianity and Judaism said to the Pharaoh: let my people go, and I say the same to modern day Pharaohs: let my people go. They say negotiate: we negotiated for 35 years, Begin is dead, Sadat is dead, Arafat is dead, Rabin is dead, Sharon is in between and Mubarak is in jail hopefully not coming back, as the incarnation of another dictator Ahmed Shaafik, but Netenyahu is well alive and kicking: cancelling 3 caravan outposts and rewarding the illegal settlers with 800 housing units in Selwan.
    About capacity building, PalMed, an organisation I chair in the UK and represent is committed to start kidney transplant programmes in the west bank and Gaza in the next few months, and having local teams within two years. Our funding for this programme is zero but a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
    Ladies and gentlemen, if there would be a refugee conference next year there would be no Palestine and unless the international community forces its will on the illegal occupation and declares an independent Palestinian state at the 67 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital there will be nothing to negotiate about come next year. Might is not right, they have a drone, while I have a dream that the sun of freedom will rise in Palestine soon. And Huda Ghalia: the girl whose family was killed on the Gazan beach, will be able to finish her corn hub in peace and Mahmoud Sarsak will join Manchester United.
    We condemn the congress’s last attempt to restrict the refugees to those who were forced out of their homes in 1948. As if they were supposed to have no offspring but to die and vanish.
    Ladies and gentlemen, occupation and siege are the disease, the rest are symptoms and you treat the disease not the symptoms, we must all remember that in 1948 Israel was not established on Mars but on our lands and homes, and unto our land and homes we shall return. I hope we will celebrate the next international refugee day with a free independent Palestinian state and with an implementation of the right of return which guaranteed by international law.
    Viva Freedom. Viva Palestine.
    Thank you all for your support and WE SHALL OVERCOME SOME DAY.


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