Antonia Zerbisias and Pedophilia in Palestinian Society

Published: February 22nd 2010

Hamas wedding ceremony


Canadian journalist Antonia Zerbisias published an article in the Toronto Star (January 27, 2010) bearing the title Gazan Weddings Not About Pedophilia. In the beginning of the column, Zerbisias made it clear that she didn’t write it to defend Hamas, which she criticized for its unacceptably strict attitude towards women. She explained that her main intention was to rebut allegations disseminated like mushrooms after rain on the web and in emails accusing Hamas of organizing a mass marriage in July 2009 in which 10-year old girls were married to Palestinian men. Zerbisias contends that the little girls dressed like brides, as shown in the pictures and video clips documenting the mass marriage, were not the brides themselves, but relatives of the brides who were not exposed to the media for modesty reasons.


In her column, Zerbisias tries to find out the real motivation behind disseminating the false allegations on the pedophile mass marriage of Hamas. “That's because, despite mass Hamas weddings in the past, including one covered by the BBC in 2005, there were no previous accusations of pedophilia. It was only in the wake of Operation Cast Lead, which killed some 1,400 Gazans, including hundreds of children, that this lie began,” she wrote. [1]


An independent probe I’ve made of Palestinian open sources shows that Zerbisias’s first argument is very likely correct. The 10-year old girls were not the real brides. However, an official list of the brides’ names was never published by Hamas and there is no way to know for certain their exact age. Ahmed Jarbour, the Hamas official in Gaza responsible for social activity, told WND’s reporter Ahron Klein that the youngest girl who was married at the ceremony was 16 years old and most brides were above the age of 18. [2] It seems that those who published the allegation against Hamas were deluded by the misleading pictures of the event and did not conduct a thorough investigation.


Examining Zerbisias's second argument regarding the motivation of intentionally spreading out “the lie” after Operation Cast Lead brought about interesting findings. The phenomenon of early marriage was well known in Palestinian society long before the Israeli military operation in Gaza started on December 27, 2008. According the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 682 girls aged 14 and younger were legally married in 2000. Two of them were married to men who were 35 or older, 13 to men 30 to 34, 117 to men 25 to 29, 378 to men 20 to 24 and 172 to men 15 to 19. Child marriages of girls 14 and younger made up 2.9 per cent of the total number of registered marriages. In the same year, 13,163 Palestinian girls between 15 and 19 were legally married, surpassing 55 per cent of all registered marriages. [3]


Local human rights organizations are deeply concerned about child marriage in Palestinian society. Participants of a conference in Gaza dedicated to this issue in January 2008, organized by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), warned of the “significant rise in child marriage rate” and its severe psychological and physical implications on youth.[4] The phenomenon of early marriage was also discussed in April 2008 in another conference held by the Palestinian Red Crescent and Widad Society. [5]


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