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Palestine: grave fears for sisters returned to abusive father by security services

Wissam al-Tawil (24) and sister Fatimah (20) not heard from since 6 January

Father has previously beaten them, locked them away for weeks and interrogated them while holding a gun

‘We are at our father’s house … We are doomed’ - one of the sisters

‘We are demanding proof that Wissam and Fatimah al-Tawil are alive and safe’ - Heba Morayef

Amnesty International is gravely concerned for the safety of two Palestinian women who have not been heard from since 6 January, after the Palestinian security services in the Gaza Strip forced them back into the custody of their abusive father. 

Wissam al-Tawil, 24, and her sister Fatimah, 20, have faced multiple forms of violence at the hands of their father, including beatings, death threats and “interrogations”. On two occasions, he locked them in a room on the sixth floor of a residential building owned by the family - the first time for 35 days.  


Previously, Wissam and Fatimah had been in hiding since November, following two failed attempts to escape their father (see below for further details). Just before midnight on 5 January, the sisters were arrested - without a warrant or any explanation - by the security services and handed over to their paternal uncle, who drove them to their father’s home in Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. At 12.45 am on 6 January, one of the sisters sent a message to Amnesty which read: 

“We are at our father’s house; he will send us over to the sixth floor in a bit. We are doomed.” 

They have not been heard from since. Amnesty has previously reviewed evidence - shared by the sisters and by people close to their family - and concluded that returning them to their father would put their lives at imminent risk. Wissam and Fatimah have previously told Amnesty that their father used to hold a gun while he submitted them to hours-long “interrogations” about their activities in his absence. The sisters said they did not trust the police or other public authorities to protect them.

Over the past five months, the sisters have shown extraordinary courage by speaking out against the violence they’ve endured, posting on social media and sharing powerful accounts of their plight in the media. They refused to be silent even when their father posted threats against them on his Facebook page. The sisters said they were speaking out not only for themselves, but for all women facing gender-based violence.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said:  

“The authorities in the Gaza Strip have gifted Wissam and Fatimah’s father the opportunity to carry out his threats, and the sisters lives are in imminent danger. 

“Wissam and Fatimah have endured a raft of horrors at the hands of their father, whose violent clutches they only recently managed to escape. 

“The authorities in the Gaza Strip are obligated under Palestinian and international law to provide protection and support to anyone at risk of gender-based violence. 

“We are demanding proof that Wissam and Fatimah al-Tawil are alive and safe. 

“We are calling on the authorities to take urgent action to ensure the sisters’ immediate safety, and to protect them in the long-term. 

“It is also essential that the perpetrators of the violence they have endured are held accountable.”

Previous attempts to flee abuse

The sisters’ case illustrates how difficult it is for survivors of gender-based violence in the Gaza Strip to escape situations where their lives are in danger. Wissam and Fatimah have made several attempts to flee their father’s violence. Last August, the sisters were again locked in the sixth-floor room where they had previously spent more than a month. They managed to escape by jumping from a window and sought refuge at a private women’s shelter. But after just three days the sisters were pressured into leaving the shelter by their paternal uncle, who promised them safety but instead returned them to their father’s house.  


On 9 September, the sisters managed to escape once more, this time seeking refuge at a government-run women’s shelter. They lived there until 12 November, when police officers forced them to leave against their will and sent them to a relative’s house. Fearing they would be returned to their father, the sisters fled and went into hiding. 


On 15 November, while Wissam and Fatimah were in hiding, Amnesty wrote to Gaza’s Ministry for Social Development and to the Ministry of the Interior demanding unconditional protection for the sisters against all forms of gender-based violence as well as assurances that the authorities would not pressure them to return to their father’s home against their will. Amnesty also demanded that the sisters’ freedom of movement be respected and protected.  


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