Abir Kopty مدوّنة عبير قبطي

You will never be free until you respect the freedom of others

The Story of Hanan, An Abused Disabled Woman, Tests Our Humanity

Ten days ago, many Palestinians were shocked with a horrifying story of Hanan. Hanan is a young woman (33) from Wadi Alrasha south of Qalqilya, who is mentally disabled and was forced by her step mother to live in a shack separated from the house with chicken and sheep. She sleeps on small pieces of sponge and among garbage bags.

This story was first published online on Watan news network and was later echoed on many Palestinian news outlets. Yet today, ten days later, Hanan is still in the same place, awaiting her salvation.

In a published video, her stepmother runs to cover the naked Hanan, before a delegation of representatives from the Ministry of Social Affairs, civil society organizations and the police, see her. It is clear from the video, that Hanan wears large pants, that do not fit her and she has no proper clothing.

The mean treatment and negligence of Hanan by her “family” (not sure they deserve the title “family) shed light on the failures of public institutions and civil society who knew about her case long before her story came to light. In the video, one of the minister’s employees says that she has visited her before, and filed a report to her superiors! With those actions, she’d done her duty towards Hanan.

The authorities hid behind the excuse of “not finding a proper institution for cases like Hanan’s”. However this is clearly an excuse from those who do not want to take any further actions to help Hanan.

Jamil Abu Zaytoun, the director of the social affairs department at Qalqilya province, told TV host Rand Khdair in an interview on Alfalstiniah TV on October 3rd, “I don’t think she feels what she does, she is totally unconscious” and “The girl is in severe situation, because this is how disabled are”! If these discriminatory statements are made by the one who are directly responsible to follow up on Hanan’s case, what should we expect from others?!

On the one hand, Hanan’s case has shed light on the inhumanity in society, but at the same time showed that there is still goodness in it, as so many great friends and activists are trying to help Hanan as I write these lines.

Yousef Sjarkawi, a Palestinian from Bethlehem, whom we meet in every demonstration and protest, is one of those trying to help. He has visited her twice this week, and told me that Hanan is still suffering, and probably lives in the same shack, even though each time he goes, he sees her in her stepmother’s house. But that, in his eyes, is not evidence that she is staying there. He thinks her step mother brings Hanan into the home when she’s expecting someone to come to check on her.

Sharkawi assures me that he has found a proper institution in Bethlehem that is willing to receive Hanan and he is doing his best to transfer her there soon.

One of the latest solutions suggested by the authorities is to simply build Hanan a separate and proper room for her to live in before winter arrives. And I ask: Is this is the best we can do for Hanan? Do we really think that all she needs is a warm room, food and clothes? Isn’t she in serious need for health and mental care? Are they assuming she doesn’t have feelings or dignity? Or that she doesn’t need respect and affection? How can we leave her to suffer the abuses of those who can’t be trusted to treat her well?

I was also informed that the presidency office of Mahmoud Abbas, is following up on the case, however “Following up” becomes the magic word, with no indication of what action if any will be taken.

Hanan is still there, denied her basic rights and her dignity.

None of these high profile individuals promising to “follow up” have managed to find a solution. How come an individual without institutional support, Sharkawi managed to find her a proper place, while they failed?

I also do not understand why the stepmother was not arrested and taken to court? Isn’t there enough evidence? Hanan was found by a delegation (including police officers) in a shack with the animals without clothing. She threw empty bottles at them to tell them she was thirsty. The stepmother’s story on the period of time Hanan stayed there is full of contradictions. And all of this is documented on camera!

It’s also worth noting, that her stepmother is receiving 1800 NIS every three months, as an allowance for Hanan’s care. Yet even with this, she has not been held accountable for the mean treatment and humiliation of Hanan.

Sharkawi told me that when he visited Hanan the last time, he saw her eating like a chicken. She devoured the bread and tomato sweet pepper her step mother threw to her on the ground, like a chicken! She has spent more time with chickens than with human beings. Sharkawi also added, that her situation has deteriorated since eight years ago when her father died.

I have been thinking of Hanan since seeing the video, and I’m taking this personally.

This should be personal to each and everyone of us. Hanan doesn’t need our mercy, she needs our support. Hanan is not “less” human or “weaker” than us. She is just different, and she faces injustices that I’m not sure we can bear, disabled or not.

Some wondered, why is all this attention given to Hanan, when there are many other cases that we don’t know about?

Well, is that a good excuse? Now we know about her, what is our responsibility as community? Do we keep silent and in doing so take part in her slow killing?

Not only do we need to help Hanan, we should also look for others who’ve been made to suffer like her and help them.

Hanan’s case is a mirror to reflecting on the society we live in.

Author: abirkopty

Palestinian social, feminist and political activist.

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