HEBRON (Ma'an) -- Police identified the remains of a 20-year-old woman found in a well near Hebron on Friday, over a year after her disappearance.
Her uncle and three other relatives were detained and questioned. Police told Ma'an on Sunday that the death was an honor killing, to which her uncle confessed, and revealed the grim details about the woman's murder.
Local prosecutor Ashraf Mash'al identified the woman as Ayah Ibrahim Barad'iyya from the southern West Bank town of Surif. Her body was found in a deserted well by Israel's separation wall in fields three kilometers from her home. It took two days to retrieve her remains from the well.
Mash'al said the woman was wearing a necklace inscribed with her name, and that a handbag containing personal documents was also retrieved from the well.
The facts of the case were "shocking," director of Hebron police Ramadan Awad told Ma'an. "As we interrogated her uncle, the people in the room could hardly hold back tears."
According to Awad, Ibrahim Baradh’iyya and his wife reported their daughter missing in 2010 saying she had left home on April 20, heading to Hebron University where she was studying, but never returned. They said they feared she had been kidnapped, and wondered if she had run away.
A class photo of Ayah given by her family to police during the search
Classmates described the young woman, an English major, as "chaste and noble-minded," in her second year of university. Investigators found students liked and respected her.
Several witnesses and friends had been summoned during the investigation, Awad said, including one man who had proposed marriage to Ayah and spoken with her family. The young man had been summoned, and was interrogated for 35 days.
According to the man, Ayah had been in love with him, and he with her. He had sent his relatives to visit her parents, trying to win them over in an effort to propose marriage, but the family had refused.
"Police never stopped their investigation" the Awad said, noting that the case ran cold until Friday when police were notified that a body was floating in a well near Surif.
"Police and the prosecutor general, civil defense crews and an ambulance headed out to the area and retrieved the body. It took two days to retrieve all of the parts from the well," Awad said.
Awad said they found the body in the 30 cubic meters of water at the bottom of the unused well. Police also found a handbag with Ayah's identity card, clothing and two photos of brothers studying in the Ukraine.
"Once we had identified the remains, we summoned several suspects," the police director said.
One of the suspects was Ayah’s 37-year-old uncle. He admitted that he murdered Ayah with help of three friends. A confession
"On Tuesday, 20 April 2010, when Ayah was heading to Hebron University, we took her in the trunk. She was shouting loudly, so one of my friends sprayed her with gas and she fainted. I drove to the Khallat Salman area where we tied a rope around her body and dropped her into the well," Ayah's uncle told Awad.
Before she was drowned, the uncle said she had briefly regained consciousness, shouting and pleading with him not to take her life.
The uncle recalled her pleas:
"For God's sake uncle let me go. Please don't throw me into the well. What did I do to be killed? Uncle! Please help, help … don't kill me."
The would-be fiance, who spoke with Ma'an on condition on anonymity because he had recently married, was devastated by the news.
"This is not an uncle, neither is he a human being even. He is brutal. How did he imagine that bluff about an [improper] relationship between me and her? What baseless imaginations led him to that conclusion? How can a sensitive, mature and educated girl meet such an end? May God take revenge for her!" he said.
The would-be fiance told of the efforts he had made to win over Ayah's family. He sent friends and relatives to the parents and to siblings and uncles, finally winning the approval of the young woman's father. "But the next day an uncle opposed the agreement," he recalled, saying that despite his best efforts the uncle would not give his consent. Honor killings and the law
Many laws passed between 1948 and 1967 - during Jordanian jurisdiction -- remain in place today in the West Bank. Some earlier penal codes dating back to the British Mandate and the Ottoman period are also still active.
The laws have not been repealed by the Palestinian court or the Palestinian Legislative Council - which has been defunct since 2007 following the internal division - despite requests that changes be pushed through by presidential decree.
The section of the penal code affecting honor killings is also still operating in Jordan and several women's rights groups have been pressing for its repeal.
Palestinian courts commute sentences for men who kill or attack female relatives accused or suspected of "dishonoring" their families.
On International Women's Day in March 2009, President Mahmoud Abbas signed the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
However, more than two years later, the president has still not amended domestic laws addressing women's rights, and the Jordanian penal code of 1960 remains in place.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says the recurrence of murders of women may be due to the "relative impunity" men are granted when murdering in the name of "honor."