Israa Ghrayeb's family didn't get away with murder. Three have been charged.
It was not labeled "honor killing" by the judges. Thus, no reduced sentences for the murderers.
The lies and stories Israa Ghrayeb's family spun in a bid to cover up her murder fell flat thanks to an unprecedented social media storm that led authorities to investigate her death.
After weeks of investigation, Palestine's Public Prosecution officially charged two of her brothers and her brother-in-law with her killing.
Early on Thursday, Palestinian Attorney General Akram Al-Khatib officially indicted the 21-year-old's three relatives. They now stand accused of "beating her, subjecting her to psychological and physical torture and trying witchcraft methods on her."
Speaking during a press conference held to relay the investigation's findings, Al-Khatib said evidence pointed towards a homicide, adding that the men will now face trial and punishment. He explained that a forensic report confirmed Ghrayeb's death to have been the result of lung failure that was directly caused by several of her physical injuries. He also said the family's claims that the woman had jumped to her death from a balcony were completely false.
The official refused to provide details on the motive behind the crime but stressed it was not "honor killing."
Ghrayeb, who worked as a beautician in her home town of Beit Sahour in Bethlehem died last month after being hospitalized with a spinal injury. This injury is now confirmed to have been caused by severe beatings. At the time she was admitted to a hospital, the young woman also had several bruises and cuts on her body.
She was later released based on her family's request and spent days with them before her death. Weeks after she passed away, her friends leaked voice notes and text messages revealing her family could've been responsible for her murder.
Their leaks painted the story of a young woman being tormented and abused by relatives for simply trying to live her life in a patriarchal society. It all started when Ghrayeb went out with her fiancé and his sister and made the "fatal mistake" of posting a video with him on social media.
One of her female cousins spotted the footage and shared it with Ghrayeb's father and brothers, telling them her behavior was "dishonorable" because the girl had yet to be officially married.
In several leaked voice notes, Ghrayeb can be heard blaming her cousin for landing her in trouble with her father. The woman's response? Shaming Ghrayeb for the way she dresses and wears make-up, in addition to accusing her of using money to "buy her brothers' silence over her loose behavior."
The virality of Ghrayeb's story was unprecedented
The young woman's death sparked outrage on social media where thousands called on authorities to bring those who killed her to justice via the hashtag #WeAreIsraa.
Many shared videos capturing Ghrayeb's voice screaming for help while she was at the hospital. Others retweeted screenshots of her Instagram posts and WhatsApp conversations. Everyone demanded answers over how the young woman died. The majority of people were convinced her family had something to do with it.
Faced with the intense online backlash, the beautician's family came up with one nonsensical story after the other in a bid to cover-up their tracks.
In statements made by the deceased's now-charged brother-in-law, Mohammed Safi, he claimed she died after falling off a balcony. Then he said she died of a heart attack and vehemently denied claims she was beaten or abused.
The brother-in-law also claimed the videos taken at the hospital, in which the victim can be heard screaming, were not because she was being beaten by her family, but because "she was fighting with the nurses who wouldn't give her her phone so she could call her mother."
In the most bizarre of the stories he came up with, Safi – who was the family's spokesperson before his arrest – told a local news outlet that Ghrayeb was possessed by a jinn.
Though officials stressed her murder was not an "honor killing," her death is still the result of domestic violence.
The girl was subjected to torture at the hands of the men in her family; regardless of the reason, their actions are despicable and inexcusable.
News of their indictment relieved thousands who had been following Ghrayeb's story. However, for others, there's still a need for more details to be released in the case.
Ghrayeb's story highlighted the rise in honor killings
Regardless of how authorities label her killing, Ghrayeb's story still brought the issue of honor killings in the Arab world to the forefront. Honor killings, or crimes committed against women who have supposedly "transgressed social codes of honor," are still a major problem in the region.
In Palestine, these murders are common occurrences and activists believe that's because their perpetrators get reduced sentences.
Judges in the country often give reduced sentences to defendants who are found guilty of such crimes. In 2014, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights found that judges in first instance courts reduced sentences on claims of "honor killings" in 29 out of 37 rulings, in a random sample of cases between 1993 and 2013.
This happens despite the fact that Palestine's President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in 2011 abolishing Article 340 of the 1960 Penal Code, which allowed for a sentence reduction in cases claimed to be an "honor killing."
In 2014, the president also issued a decree amending Article 98 of the penal code, which also gave murderers lenient sentences if the crime was committed in a "state of great fury" as a result of "unlawful and dangerous act by the victim."
Yet, judges in the West Bank often use Article 99 of the penal code to reduce sentences by half when the victim's family waives its right to seek prosecution.