Now-Missing Gazan Sisters Fled Abusive Father So Hamas Returned Them to Him
In October, Al-Monitor reported on the tragic case of Wissam and Fatimah al-Taweel, Gazan sisters suffering violent abuse at the hands of their father. What made their plight worse was authorities not providing protection for them, and many Gazans siding with the father and attacking organizations trying to help them.
Wissam al-Taweel, a 21-year-old woman from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, sparked controversy in the coastal enclave after posting a series of videos on Facebook in September explaining how she and her sister Fatima, 20, jumped from the balcony of their house to escape the violence and death threats of their father, as official authorities fall short of providing protection for women suffering from domestic violence.
The videos prompted a support campaign on social media, under the Arabic hashtag that translates into “Save_Wissam_Fatima.”
Women’s rights organizations also intervened to try and protect Wissam and her sister.
But the support campaign was met with an unprecedented attack against women’s rights institutions in Gaza, as many alleged that these institutions are violating customs and traditions by calling for the protection of the rights of unmarried women and keeping them in a shelter.
The girls’ father, Imad al-Assi al-Taweel, responded to his daughters’ allegations in a video posted on social media, and attacked women’s rights organizations considering their intervention to protect his daughters an “attack that goes against Palestinian customs and traditions.”
He also claimed that his daughters had been kidnapped.
Zainab al-Ghunaimi, director of the Center for Women’s Legal Researches and Consulting (CWLRC) in Gaza, was subjected to a campaign of defamation after defending Wissam and her sister.
“There are prominent and religious figures who threaten feminist organizations either through written statements on social media or in their Friday sermons. These threats incite the Palestinian street against women’s institutions, and prompt aggressive behavior on the part of husbands, fathers or brothers against women that are defended by these organizations,” she told Al-Monitor.
Ghunaimi said she faced direct threats on social networking sites over her work defending women’s rights in Gaza, including the Taweel sisters.
She noted, “Although the law [somewhat] protects battered women, it is social traditions and customs that prevail. The law protects us as defenders, but social extortion unfortunately hinders the protection of women’s rights.”
Many women in Gaza are scared to report cases of violence, harassment or rape for fear of social stigma. Oftentimes, Gazan women request psychological and social support from institutions, but they refuse to officially report their cases.
In a November 22 Facebook post (auto-translated), Wissam explained why her father was making life hell for them, and described more of his cruelty:
I have been imprisoned many times over successive periods just for trying to express my simple hopes and dreams, depriving me of my most basic rights to decide my academic destiny, or even writing poetry and literature, and severing my ties with many of my relatives and friends for an irrational reason decided by my father without our opinion.
Once we were imprisoned for more than thirty-five days with continuous physical and psychological abuse, and a continuous call to commit suicide by placing a gas pipe in our hands to ignite it ourselves, and we seriously pushed for that, so he would often say to us: “You want to die and I will not help you find a way to die?”, apart from threatening us with his weapon. The unlicensed firefighter, throwing food to us once a day, and going to the bathroom twice, we literally lived in a military prison with what it represented, and all of this was to satisfy his “bad” goals and to exploit his popularity in our city. However, all of this was hitting the wall of “my father’s arrogance”, and that was nothing but a drop of rain.
After many harsh experiences and in the presence of us in the “dungeon” of the sixth floor, we could not be alive, dying slowly, then we jumped from the balcony of the sixth floor to the fifth. The walls are asking you to die.
Then, on the thirtieth of last August, my father announced in a post on his Facebook page, in which he said: “My daughters were kidnapped from my home with premeditation.” Our life and its details, let us return to Him submissive and broken.
Attempts at reform began, and since then we did not agree, not once, to return to our “home” and rejected all mediations and notables with our utmost appreciation and respect for them. However, we do not accept that we return to a violent and harsh mediation, whatever the guarantees or solutions are. Even in the midst of these offers of a solution, we were threatened. Openly and explicitly, in his live broadcast on his page, to kill us in the event of our return, and no one will be able to expel us in the event of our return, so we only want a life far from this house and its memories of fear, terror and pain.
I know very well that we are not the only story that is told in light of the many stories that women tell about their exposure to violence, and the silence of the most fearful of society, its customs and traditions, but we did not break our customs or traditions and did not transgress the sanctity of the family, but rather we sought to live a day free from violence that rejects it.
Yes, we are still alive, but we were killed morally years ago.
At the time of this post, the sisters were in hiding.
On January 5th, Wissam wrote her last Facebook post:
Either a life that pleases a friend
Or a death that enrages the enemy.
The next day, she and her sister went missing.
As Amnesty International – which seems to have taken a small break from bashing Israel – writes:
Amnesty International is gravely concerned for the safety of two Palestinian women who have not been heard from since 6 January, after the Palestinian security services in the Gaza Strip forced them back into the custody of their abusive father. Wissam al-Tawil, 24, and her sister Fatimah, 20, have faced multiple forms of violence at the hands of their father, including beatings, death threats and “interrogations”. On two occasions, the women’s father locked them in a room on the sixth floor of a residential building owned by family – the first time for 35 days.
Wissam and Fatimah had been in hiding since November 2022, following two previous failed attempts to escape their father. Just before midnight on 5 January 2023, the sisters were arrested by security services, without a warrant or any explanation, and handed over to their paternal uncle, who drove them to their father’s home in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. At 12.45 am on 6 January, one of the sisters sent a message to Amnesty International which read: “We are at our father’s house; he will send us over to the sixth floor in a bit. We are doomed.” They have not been heard from since.
Wissam and Fatimah al-Tawil have made several attempts to flee their father’s violence. In August 2022, the sisters were again locked in the sixth-floor room where they had previously spent more than a month. They managed to escape by jumping from a window and sought refuge at a private women’s shelter. But after just three days, the sisters were pressured into leaving the shelter by their paternal uncle, who promised them safety but instead returned them to their father’s house.
On 9 September, Wissam and Fatimah managed to escape once more, this time seeking refuge at a government-run women’s shelter. They lived there until 12 November, when police officers forced them to leave against their will and sent them to a relative’s house. Fearing they would be returned to their father, the sisters fled and went into hiding.
Wissam and Fatimah have previously told Amnesty International that their father used to hold a gun while he submitted them to hours-long “interrogations” about their activities in his absence. The sisters said they did not trust the police or the other public authorities to protect them; indeed, in September 2022, the director of the government-run women’s shelter prevented them from leaving to go to the office of the prosecutor, where they had been hoping to pursue legal action against their father.
“The authorities in the Gaza Strip have gifted Wissam and Fatimah’s father the opportunity to carry out his threats, and the sisters’ lives are in imminent danger. We are calling on the authorities to take urgent action to ensure the sisters’ immediate safety, and to protect them in the long-term. It is also essential that the perpetrators of the violence they have endured are held accountable,” said Heba Morayef.
A Google search, as well as a searches across social media, confirm my suspicions about their plight. Besides Amnesty – and now yours truly – no-one is speaking out for the sisters (at least not in English).
Nothing from the other so-called human rights organizations. Nothing from the mainstream media. Nothing from those claiming to support the palestinian Arabs.
Of course we already know why this is the case.