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By Ahmed Alkabariti
GAZA STRIP, Palestine - Conservative traditions of Gaza’s families still stand as a barrier against marriage from outside the family from the fear of transferring assets and properties to another family.
Laila, 25, was not able stop the tears from falling on her cheeks after her father rejected Jalal’s proposal to his daughter for fear that her inheritance could be transferred to Jalal’s family.
For more than four months, Laila’s mother tried to convince her husband to engage Laila with Jalal, 27, who met each other through their teaching in a school in Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza Strip, but her mother could have predicted the negative result in advance.
“Needy people are sad for their situation. So am I for belonging to a wealthy family with properties and real estate. My family fears of transferring our inheritance to other families in the event of marriage from outside the family, and now I’m disappointed,” Laila told The Atlantic Post.
Laila explained that her family offers any daughter who wants to marry two options: either to accept to marry a family member, then she can keep her rights in inheritance; or marry from outside the family, then sign a waiver relinquishing all her rights to her inheritance in case of the death of her father.
The anxiety from transferring property to other families through a female marriage is pervasive among Palestinians.
This phenomenon is noticed among well-off Palestinian families, where the owner of such properties writes a “commandment” that grants properties and real estate for sons, while married daughters from outside the family are granted a “dividing consensual” that consists – in the best of conditions – of a small sum of cash.
Many women in local Palestinian society suffer from a wide unawareness of their legal rights related to inheritance.
They accept to waive their right of these properties for their brothers to avoid starting troubles with them, but poor economic conditions and a low standard of living prompt some women to claim their rights of inheritance to ensure a good future for their children. In doing so, they usually face rejection and discouragement for the perceived pretext of marrying a stranger.
The conservative society in the Gaza Strip under Hamas rule considers a woman who resorts to using the courts to claim her rights as a pariah and one who disobeys her family.
Laila’s case resembles the lot of many girls in the Gaza Strip who might become involved in a family war if she went to a court. “As well, I will lose a lot, even if I get married with the one I love,” Laila said. “My older sister got married from the outside and thus was forced to deny her inheritance after the death of my father and she was granted only $1,500 USD.”
“About 88 percent of married women from outside their families are denied or accept less of their inheritance because of their unawareness of law and to avoid getting into trouble with their brothers,” Mona Shawa, director of the women’s unit at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza confirmed to The Atlantic Post.
Shawa added that 12 percent head to courts or social reformers to solve their problems of obtaining their rightful inheritance. According to the Social Reforming Committees statement, only 582 returning inheritance cases were resolved in 2012.
“The majority of complainants did not get a real share of their inheritance, and are often forced to sign a paper stating that all their rights were met,” Shawa said.
“A woman can head to the judiciary in order to claim their rights after the death of her father, regardless if whether her husband is from her family or another family,” said Mohammed Aldrauy, Chairman of the Court of Cassation.
Aldrauy said that illiteracy in the legal field among women regarding their rights contributes to the loss of those rights. He said inheritance occupies third place in the judiciary, after financial issues, accidents and compensation.
Laila said that a number of marriages that took place between members of her family produced disabled children and often led to divorce. She added, “There is a high probability to bring a disabled child if I married one of my relatives. This is what happened with many of my family’s daughters, and some cases ended with divorce. Men can easily get married from the outside, while we daughters are banned to do so. This is a real injustice.”
Despite these obstacles to their right of inheritance, few Palestinian women head to courts. Those who do face long delays between court sessions and high financial cost. Women choose the alternative, which is to ignore their rights.
Ahmed AlKabariti is a Gaza Correspondent for The Atlantic Post.