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The Prophet Amos and Palestinian Women

The Prophet Amos Stands Against Rape

[1] Amos, in his oracle against Israel (Amos 2:7c), condemns a man and his father for going to the same girl.[1] In the same oracle, Amos condemns the Israelites for mistreating the underprivileged in their society (Amos 2:6b-8). Amos accused the wealthy Israelites of selling the righteous for money and the needy for a pair of sandals (v.6b); they trample the head of the poor into the dust (v.7a); they push the afflicted out of the way (v.7b); a man and his father go to the young girl (v.7c); they take from the indebted persons their garments in pledge, and sit on them beside every altar (v8a). Finally, they drink wine bought with fines they impose on the poor (v.8b). According to Amos, these crimes caused the downfall of northern Israel (Amos 2:13-16)

sarras.jpg[2] The young girl, in Amos 2:7c is underprivileged, which indicates that a man and his father might rape the young girl. Amos does not use the biblical terms that refer to sexual assault or sexual intercourse such as boo (to come), or shakaf ‘mh (to lie with her), or ‘nah in piel stem (to make love or rape). Instead he uses “go to.” However, the oppression against the underprivileged indicates that the young girl was abused. Amos went beyond the classical terms to describe the sexual abuse. Shalom Paul compares the phrase “go to” with its Akkadian parallel to emphasize its meaning, “to have sexual intercourse.”[2]

[3] Neither the Deuteronomic code nor the Holiness Code prevent a father and his son from having intercourse with the same woman when she is unrelated to them (Deut 23:1, 27:20; Lev 18:8, 15, 17; 20:11, 12, 14). In Lev 19:20, there is no punishment for the master who sleeps with his maid-servant, as long as she is not promised to another man, although this passage in Leviticus does not say anything about a father and his son. Violating a woman who is married or promised to another man is violating that man’s property because women are considered the property of her related man. In Exodus 21:7-11 the legislator explains that the man and his father should not have sexual relations with a maid-servant when either the man or the father designates her for himself. Simply because the law does not say anything about a man and his father sharing the same woman who is not promised to anyone does not mean that this behavior is acceptable. Amos’ prophecy goes beyond the law, and addresses a problem that the law does not mention. It seems that Amos talks about a young girl who is not protected by her family. Thus, she was violated and mistreated. According to the Deuteronomic law, a woman who is raped must marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), and an unmarried woman must remain a virgin until she marries. If she loses her virginity, she is sentenced to death (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). Amos condemns sexual assault and he wants to protect the young woman. He stands for women and defends them. Amos knows very well the threat, shame and, disgrace that this young girl is going to face when she is raped.

Society and Rape

[4] Amos, in the eighth century B.C.E. critiques a shameful behavior that occurs in our present time. For example, in 2003, in a Palestinian village called Abu Ghosh, two brothers raped their 17-year- old sister, Rofayda Qaoud, and impregnated her. Her mother, Amira, instead of helping her daughter Rofayda, asked her to commit suicide. But Rofayda refused. As a result, her mother killed her with a razor to restore her family's "honor."[3] The two brothers were sentenced to ten years in prison and the mother was jailed for four months. Then she was released until she appeared before the judge panel. This is an incest story, but we do not know whether Amos is critiquing incestuous behavior. However the similarity between the story of Qaoud and Amos 2:7c is that two men from the same family raped the same woman. The virginity of Rofayda Qaoud and the honor of the Qaoud family are more valuable and important than Rofayda’s life. The story of Rofayda is similar to many rape stories in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine where women are vulnerable.

[5] Palestinian women, and the rest of the women in the world, are threatened with rape. Rape can happen at home, school, work, on the street, and at church. Palestinian women live in a heteropatriarchal society, where men are dominant and women are subordinate. Rape against women occurs by heterosexual men. According to Catherine A. MacKinnon, rape is defined as penetration; it is the act of heterosexual men who penetrate women.[4] MacKinnon’s definition of rape might be different than the definition of rape in ancient Israel. As I mentioned above, the master can sleep with his female slave. Do the ancient Israelites consider this rape? The answer might be no because the female slave is the property of her master who can do whatever he wants with her body. He could have intercourse with her without her consent and it would still not be considered rape. I argue that rape is the act of a person who sexually assaults another person in which the assaulted person is forced and threatened to engage in sexual activity against his/her will. Hence, we can interpret Amos 2:7c from a modern perspective of rape as a rape case in which a man and his father engaged in sexually assaulting a young girl. We know that the young girl did not willingly accept having intercourse with the man and his father, because the context of the oracle places the young girl among the poor who suffered the oppression of the elites.

[6] In Palestinian society, men are allowed to express their sexual desire and be sexually active, but women are deprived of this right. Unmarried women are rejected by society, and might be abandoned by their families if they chose to be sexually active. For the victim who loses her virginity “her marriage marketability and future could be greatly affected.”[5] Sexism in Palestinian society encourages rape, particularly when women are described as weak and unable to protect themselves. Palestinian society is conservative. Women and men interact or court each other under the supervision of their families. Even marriage is still arranged by family and clan in the rural areas. The separation between women and men and the control of the family over them cause men to rape women. Usually the rapist is a member of the family because women and men from the same family either live together or visit each other. Another element that encourages rape is pornography, which turns men on, encourages men to rape women, and shows that women accept degradation and enjoy rape. Palestinian cultural teaching on sexuality emphasizes masculinity by encouraging men to be sexually aggressive and sexually active. Men are proud of themselves when they are sexually active and put women under their control. What worsens the rape situation is that women keep silent. The victims are afraid of repercussions. They are afraid to share or to report their rape because they feel ashamed of themselves, and they worry about their fathers and brothers who might react by killing them or the rapist and then face penalties. By keeping silent the rapist is not punished, and the victim feels totally alone and unable to deal with her psychological and emotional wounds.

Legal Code and Rape


[7] According to MacKinnon, rape is not biologically inevitable, but it is a societal problem.[6] This is the case in Palestine. The problem of rape relates to the cultural institutions and legal institutions in Palestinian society. The law in Palestine does not effectively protect the raped woman. Susanne Scholz argues that “rape is not only an individual attack against the body of the victim-survivor, the attitude of society is equally destructive,” and Scholz calls this attitude a second assault on the victim.[7] The police and the judge[8] blame the victim and treat her as the one who encouraged the rapist to rape her, which in turn encourages men to rape women. Unfortunately, family participates in the second assault when the family mistreats the victim and blames her. The law in Palestine, and the rest of the laws in Middle Eastern countries need reformation in order to protect women. The law in Palestine is tougher on the rapist if the victim is a virgin. The rapists are usually sentenced to between ten and twenty years at hard labor.[9] In Saudi Arabia, the rapist is sentenced to death.[10] In another case in Saudi Arabia, a woman was sentenced to 90 lashes for being alone in a car with a man to whom she was not married… men have been sentenced to one to five years in prison and lashing.” [11]

[8] Even though the law in Palestine might punish the rapist, the law excuses the rapist if he marries his victim.[12] The Islamic law, the “Shari’ah,” not the Bible, influenced modern law in the Middle East. In cases of rape and rape-kidnappings that occur in rural areas, mediators try to convince the rapist/kidnaper to marry his victim. Like the Deuteronomic law (Deuteronomy 22:28-29), the Shari’ah teaches that if the rapist marries his victim, he is excused from punishment.[13] Jordanian law is implemented in the West Bank and Egyptian law is implemented in Gaza. In the Jordanian constitution, Article 308, the court suspends the rapist's sentence or excuses him if he marries his victim. The court orders a retrial if the rapist divorces his victim “without a reason” before five years of the marriage.[14] The Egyptian constitution, Article 291, has the same law.[15] In this way, the rapist is rewarded instead of being punished for his crime. The horrors for the woman of being married to a man who raped her is that he will most likely continue to abuse her in the marriage. Unfortunately, there is no law in Palestine preventing a husband from raping his wife. If the wife reports a rape, the police will not listen to her, but order her to obey her husband. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the crime of rape and attempted rape per 1,000 population is 0.07 in 2011.[16] But the court did not convict all the rapists.

Law and Family Together Against The Victim

[9] Sadly, the family forces a victim to marry her rapist or the family asks a doctor to perform hymen repair surgery so that the raped woman will become a virgin again. Hymen restoration is done secretly with the purpose of protecting the victim and her family from social ostracism and disgrace, and helping the victim find a husband in the future. As Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian states “this [Hymen restoration] is a clear example of how the women’s sexuality and body affect and control her past, present, and future.”[17] Unfortunately, according to the law in Palestine, abortion is not legal in cases of rape and incest. The raped Palestinian woman has to give birth to her child and bear her society’s unfair attitude toward her. If she aborts, she faces a penalty. Generally, the Palestinian family will not tolerate their unmarried daughter or sister being raped and impregnated because this act is considered to have stained a family's reputation. A family blames the victim and makes her responsible for her rape because the woman is responsible for keeping her virginity. Losing one‘s virginity and bearing an illegitimate child will bring disgrace to the family. Therefore, the family pushes their raped daughter or sister to abort even if this operation will cause her death. The psychological status, emotions, and mental health of the raped woman is not as important as the honor and the reputation of the family, especially the honor and the reputation of the male rather than the female. Shalhoub-Kevorkian summarizes how the family treats their raped daughter.

The victim’s status is extremely low, and her feelings, interest, and future are discussed only with the context of the impact the event has on her family. The focus is not on the victim’s needs, her agony or her psychological trauma, but rather on her family’s societal trauma. The battle becomes one between families.

[10] The Palestinian woman is still treated as the property of her family. Her father, brother, and husband, and many times her first male cousin determine the life and the future of the female. Palestinian law is written to support and emphasize this attitude toward women. If Palestinian women are raped, the women along with their families face social ostracism. “The Palestinian victim is virtually always held responsible for victimization. Even if she is not, she is still the one who pays the ultimate price in order to deal with such a crime.”[18] In order to restore the honor of the family, the family, as I mentioned above, marries their daughter to her rapist. But the worst punishment is to kill the victim.

[11] ‘Honor killing’ is the most aggressive response to rape or any sexual activity outside of marriage in Palestine. Actually, many virgins in Palestine were killed on account of honor killing. A 22-year-old young woman, Aya Baradiya, from Hebron was a victim of “honor killing.” In April 20, 2010, her uncle along with three of his friends broke her neck and threw her in a well. They killed her because she was in a relationship (nonsexual) with one of her colleagues.[19] Aya’s family thought that she ran away, and they kept looking for her until somebody discovered her body a year later. After a long investigation, the police were able to identify the murderers. This crime shook the entire Palestinian society. Many women and human rights' activists protested in Palestinian streets asking President Abbas to change law article 340 that relates to “honor killing,” where “perpetrators of such crimes are treated with leniency as they are deemed to have mitigating circumstances. The maximum sentence is six months.” However, the judge can rely on articles 98 and 99, which treat the murderers with leniency. These two articles are still in force.[20] Three years after Aya’s death, her uncle and the other three men are going to be released and not punished because they changed their confession before the judge. [21] The story of Aya emphasizes that honor killing deprives women of the right to life, and their right to defend themselves. Who is going to listen to these women who live in an androcentric society, where men place multiple restrictions on women and prevent them from expressing themselves and being treated equally? Who is going to listen to the women when their murderers are considered innocent, and treated as heroes?

[12] Even though the women’s organizations in Palestine provide assistance to the victims, and work hard to push the government to change the laws, women activists and women's organizations are not given full attention. Palestinian women have to face both the oppression of the occupation and the oppression of their androcentric society. Most Palestinian women are educated. However, uneducated men have power over them. The structure of Palestinian society does not give freedom to any woman whether educated or not. The Islamic law that is applied in Palestine does not treat women equal to men. For example, in the Quran, the Surah An-Nisa' verse 34 “men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has made one of them to excel over the other, and because they spend from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in the husband's absence what Allah orders them to guard. As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their beds, beat them, but if they return to obedience, seek not against them means. Surely, Allah is Ever Most High, Most Great.” According to this Quranic verse, women must fully obey their husbands, and the husbands have a full right to be violent against their wives and even their female close relatives. This kind of teaching does not protect women from men’s violence.



[13] Amos condemns raping the young girl. By condemning this behavior he condemns all the rapists, and stands beside the victim. The biblical law in ancient Israel is not fair to the victim and collaborates with the society against her. The same problem is found in Palestine where the law and society are against the victim. Raped women from ancient Israel down to our modern era in Palestine are paying the price for a crime that they are not responsible for. But the law and the society make them responsible. If the crime of raping the young girl in Amos 2:7c is one of the crimes that caused the downfall of northern Israel, what does this crime speak for the future of the state of Palestine? In order to help Palestinian victims, we need to transform Palestinian society. The Palestinian constitution needs reformation and change to meet the needs of women and to treat them equal to men. Changing the constitution requires changing men's minds and reconstructing an androcentric society. This happens through education, and through the work of the church and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

[14] Palestinian women need to get rid of the sense of guilt and shame. The victim and her family should not feel shame; but the rapists, the legislators, and all the institutions and people that blame the victim should feel shame and be blamed. Women should no longer be stigmatized for rape. Raped women need help to move from victims to survivors and to re-integrate into their community. Women need recognition and assistance instead of blame. Palestinian victims of rape need to learn to love and be proud of their bodies even if they were violated. Palestinian women need to claim power over their bodies. They must emphasize their full authority over their bodies, and men should not determine what women do with their bodies. The purity and honor of our bodies as Palestinian women come from God, and not from humans or virginity. This is not easy to understand in Palestine, and requires lots of work with the school curriculum, law, family, culture, and the church. The United Nations needs to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority to change the law in order to protect women. The future of the independent state of Palestine needs to secure women’s rights in order to be a place where women live in dignity, freedom and equality with men.

Niveen Sarras, Ph.D., is a Master of Divinity degree student at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA.


[1] The LXX replaces a man in the Masoretic text with “a son,” and adds τὴν αὐτὴν, “the same,” to refer to “the same” girl rather than two different girls.

[2] Shalom M. Paul, Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos, ed. Frank Moore Cross (Minneapolis: Fortress Pr, 1991) 82. See also Li Ling Elizabeth Ngan, “Amos,” in The IVP women's Bible Commentary, ed. Catherine Clark Kroegerand and Mary J. Evans (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2002) 449-450.

[3]Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, “Mother Kills Raped Daughter to Restore 'honor',” The Seattle Times Company, November 17, 2003, (accessed July 25, 2013). See also Mona Al-ltahawy, “Relieve Palestinian Women from Its Enemies, and Her Family Too!” Middle East Arab International Newspaper, April 3, 2005, (accessed July 25, 2013).

[4]Catherine A. MacKinnon, “Sex and Violence: A perspective,” in Rape and Society: Readings on the Problem of Sexual Assault, ed. Patricia Searles and Ronald J. Berger (Boulder: Westview Press, 1995) 30.

[5] Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, “Towards a Cultural Definition of Rape Dilemmas in Dealing with Rape Victims in Palestinian Society,” in Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East: Challenges and Discourses, ed. Pinar İlkkaracan (Ashgate: Ashgate, 2008) 194.

[6] Catharine A. MacKinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State, Edition Unstated ed. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1991) 57.

[7] Susanne Scholz, Rape Plots: A Feminist Cultural Study of Genesis 34 (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000) 29.

[8] Nancy Gager and Cathleen Schurr, Sexual Assault: Confronting Rape in America (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976) 70-73.

[9] Nuhá Qāṭirjī, Jarīmat al-ightiṣāb : fī ḍawʼ al-sharīʻah al-Islāmīyah wa-al-qānūn al-waḍʻī [The Crime of Rape in the Light of Islamic Law and Statutory Law] (Bayrūt : al-Muʼassasah al-Jāmiʻīyah lil-Dirāsāt wa-al-Nashr wa-al-Tawzīʻ, 2003), 188-190.

[10] Ibid., 189.

[11] Sherifa zuhur, “Criminal Law, Women and Sexuality in Middle East,” in Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East, ed. Pinar Ilkkaracan (Ashgate: Ashgate, 2012) 26.

[12] Ibid., 27-28.

[13] Ibid., 27.

[14] Human Right Watch, Al-Aradi Al-Felestinian Al-Mohtala: Mas’lat Amen, Al-onf dad Al-nesa’ wa Al-fatayat Al-felestiniat, [The Occupied Palestinian Authority: The Issue of Security, Violence against Palestinian Women and Girls], Book 18, 7 (E) (Murakabt Hokok Al-Ensan: Teshreen Al-thani, 2006) 44.

[15] Ibid., 45. The Egyptians cancelled this law in 1999; however, it is still valid in Gaza.

[16] “Reported Criminal Offenses in the West Bank by Type of Criminal Offense and Governorate 2011,” Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, (accessed July 20, 2013).

[17] Shalhoub-Kevorkian, “Towards a Cultural Definition of rape,” 194.

[18] Ibid., 186.

[19] Harriet Sherwood “Death in the West Bank: The Story of an 'honour' Killing the Brutal Murder of a Young Palestinian Woman Shocked a Nation and Helped Change the Law Over So-Called 'honour' Killings,” The Guardian, June 30, 2011, (accessed July 20, 2013).

[20] Saher Abrahim Al-Walid and Zaher Muhamad Al-Saqa, Al-qatel Bedafe’ Al-Sharaf fe Al-tashree’ and Al-qada’ Al-Felistini” Derasa Tahliliah [Honor Killing in the Palestinian Legislation and Law: StudyAnalysis], Journal of the Islamic Studies 20:1, (January 2012) 244.

[21] Muhanad Al-allam “The Hidden Stitch in the Death of Aya Baradiya...Interesting Evidences,” AL Quds Newspaper, May 2, 2013, ( accessed July 27, 2013).


Al-allam, Muhanad. “The Hidden Stitch in the Death of Aya Baradiya... Interesting Evidences.” AL Quds Newspaper. May 2, 2013. July 27, 2013).

Al-ltahawy, Mona. “Relieve Palestinian Women from Its Enemies, and Her Family Too!” Middle East Arab International Newspaper, April 3, 2005. (Accessed July 25, 2013).

Gager, Nancy, and Cathleen Schurr. Sexual Assault: Confronting Rape in America. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1976.

Human Right Watch. Al-Aradi Al-Felestinian Al-Mohtala: Mas’lat Amen, Al-onf dad Al-nesa’ wa Al-fatayat Al-felestiniat, [The Occupied Palestinian Authority: The Issue of Security, Violence against Palestinian Women and Girls]. Book 18, 7 (E). Murakabt Hokok Al-Ensan: Teshreen Al-thani, 2006.

MacKinnon, Catherine A. “Sex and Violence: A perspective.” In Rape and Society: Readings on the Problem of Sexual Assault. Edited by Patricia Searles and Ronald J. Berger. Boulder: Westview Press, 1995, 28-34.

Muhanad Al-allam “The Hidden Stitch in the Death of Aya Baradiya...Interesting Evidences,” AL Quds Newspaper, May 2, 2013 (accessed July 27, 2013).

Ngan, Li Ling Elizabeth. “Amos.” In The IVP women's Bible Commentary. Edited by Catherine Clark Kroegerand and Mary J. Evans. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2002, 447-456.

Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. “Reported Criminal Offenses in the West Bank by Type of Criminal Offense and Governorate 2011.” Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. July 20, 2013. (Accessed July 20, 2013).

Paul, Shalom M. Amos: A Commentary on the Book of Amos. Edited by Frank Moore Cross. Minneapolis: Fortress Pr, 1991.

Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Nadera. “Towards a Cultural Definition of Rape Dilemmas in Dealing with Rape Victims in Palestinian Society,” in Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East: Challenges and Discourses. Edited by Pinar İlkkaracan. Ashgate: Ashgate, 2008, 178-198.

Saher Abrahim Al-Walid and Zaher Muhamad Al-Saqa. “Al-qatel Bedafe’ Al-Sharaf fe Al-tashree’ and Al-qada’ Al-Felistini” Derasa Tahliliah” [Honor Killing in the Palestinian Legislation and Law: Study Analysis]. Journal of the Islamic Studies 20:1, (January 2012), 227-256.

Sarhaddi Nelson, Soraya. “Mother Kills Raped Daughter to Restore 'honor'.” The Seattle Times Company. November 17, 2003. (Accessed July 25, 2013).

Scholz, Susanne. Rape Plots: a Feminist Cultural Study of Genesis 34. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000.

Sherwood, Harriet. “Death in the West Bank: The Story of an 'honour' Killing the Brutal Murder of a Young Palestinian Woman Shocked a Nation and Helped Change the Law Over So-Called 'honour' Killings.” The Guardian. June 30, 2011. (Accessed July 20, 2013).

zuhur, Sherifa. “Criminal Law, Women and Sexuality in Middle East.” In Deconstructing Sexuality in the Middle East. Translated by Pinar Ilkkaracan. Ashgate:, Ashgate, 2012, 17-40.

© September 2013
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 13, Issue 5