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AsiaNews – The violent “pogrom” on 3 September in the village of Taybeh – the only village in the West Bank completely inhabited by Christians – is not the outcome of an inter-faith conflict but of a conflict “among people” and it is linked to cultural and “honor” issues. Such is the view of the Catholic parish priest of Taybeh Fr Raed Abusaliah. For Fr Raed, the Muslim violence, which would normally be associated with religious hatred, found its motive in a context of strongly-held respect for social customs and traditions and it broke out because of illicit relations between the victim with a Christian from the village.

In a letter sent to AsiaNews, the priest narrated the sequence of events and offers an analysis of the situation.

On 31 August, in Deir Jarir, the closest village to Taybeh, the body of a 32-year old, pregnant woman, named Hiyam was found buried. She was most probably poisoned by her own family because of her pregnancy, as she was not married.

The family of Hiyam then accused a man of Taybeh, Mahadi Khourieh, of being the father of the child. The woman had worked for Mahadi for the last 10 years in his sewing workshop and they knew each other well. The next day, Mahadi was arrested as part of the investigation.

On 2 and 3 September a delegation of Taybeh personalities, including the mayor, went to Deir Jarir and asked, in vain, an “Inspection Houdna” (cease-fire for the duration of investigations).

On the morning of 3 September, hundreds of young men from Deir Jarir arrived in Taybeh and set fire to Mahadi’s home as well as the homes of other members of his family. In all seven houses were destroyed. The 14 families living there had already left their homes earlier during the day: in such “honour crime” cases, revenge against the wider family of the suspected perpetrator is always deemed possible.

The Palestinian security forces coming from Ramallah only arrived at around midnight due to difficulties in coordination with Israel . Taybeh is situated in the so-called “B zone”, where the Palestinian National Authority exercises control only in the civil sphere. Hence, the Ramallah police had to ask permission from Israel – which controls security in the area. Once the police were on the spot, the situation soon calmed down. No one was injured in killed in the attack. “This fact is very important,” said Fr Raed, “because had any deaths occurred, this could complicate the issue and make any solution impossible.”

On 4 September, the governor of Ramallah, Abu Firas went to Taybeh to deal with the situation. Alongside the mayor of Taybeh and the orthodox priest of Taybeh he questioned Mahadi who confessed he had a relationship with Hiyam, but denied being the father of the child. A DNA analysis was requested.

After the confession, another delegation from Taybeh went to Deir Jarir and this time asked for a “confession houdna” (cease-fire following confession of a crime) which was accepted.

While waiting for official reconciliation, the two villages, Taybeh and Deir Jarir sealed a six-month cease-fire under the following conditions: all the people of Taybeh are allowed to come and go through Deir Jarir, with the exclusion of Mahadi Khourieh’s two brothers; the life of Mahadi Khourieh is “no longer guaranteed”; the 13 young men arrested in the aftermath of the attack will be released without charge.

“The violent reaction of the people of Deir Jarir is not justifiable; however we accepted their conditions to prevent the situation from being worse,” wrote the parish priest.

The situation in Taybeh is now back to normal. According to Fr Raed, the “exemplary solidarity” of authoritative figures and of the neighbouring village mayors – who condemned the attack – allowed for a speedy resolution of the crisis: “Similar cases of conflicts in the area have sometimes lasted for months.” Among authorities who visited the area were: the Latin Patriarch, Mgr Michel Sabbah, the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilius III and the Greek ambassador in Israel and consul general of the United States in Jerusalem .

In his letter, Fr Raed explained that “honor” conflicts happen across the country and that “due to the importance of customs and traditions in social relations in Palestine , these issues are extremely serious”. “It is important to stress on the fact that the reaction of the people of Deir Jarir would probably have been the same had the man not been a Christian.” The priest said that without any policemen in villages to secure the rule of law, customs and old tribal laws are often used in the resolution of conflicts.

The letter concludes with the hope that investigations to know the truth of the case will continue and that the authorities will compensate victims of the attack.