Canada searching for links to notorious West Bank 'honour killing'

The government of Canada is trying to find out whether a suspect in a so-called "honour killing" has entered the country.

Ihab Ghrayeb has been named in news stories across the Middle East as one of the perpetrators in the violent death of his sister, Israa Ghrayeb — a killing that has triggered angry protests in the West Bank.

Many of those news reports also describe Ihab Ghrayeb as a Canadian resident and say he returned to Canada after the killing.

But Canadian authorities have yet to find evidence that Ghrayeb was ever in Canada to begin with. And Luay Zreikat, of the Palestinian Authority Police, told CBC News that Ihab Ghrayeb has no Canadian connections. Rather, said Zreikat, his connections are to Greece.

Israa Ghrayeb died August 22 following a series of attacks by family members — who reportedly were enraged by a video she had posted on Instagram showing her meeting with her fiancé prior to their marriage.


Palestinian authorities, initially slow to get involved in the case, finally arrested and interrogated some Ghrayeb family members and said the results of their investigation will be released on September 24.

It's not clear whether Ihab Ghrayeb, described in numerous reports as having returned to his home village of Beit Sahour in the occupied West Bank to attack his sister, has been detained.

Speaking officially for the department, Guillaume Berube told CBC News that Global Affairs Canada is "monitoring this case."

"Gender-based violence is abhorrent and something that our government is working domestically and internationally to end once and for all," he said.

Another federal government official, speaking anonymously, told CBC News that Global Affairs has asked its offices in Ramallah and Tel Aviv to look into the case and the whereabouts of Ihab Ghrayeb.

And Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is conducting a passport check to see if Ghrayeb entered the country recently. The department reports it hasn't turned anything up so far.

Still, both social media and mainstream media in the Middle East continue to report the alleged Canadian connection.

Social media pressure campaign

For more than a week, Arab social media networks have been deluged with calls for Canada to arrest Ihab Ghrayeb, or for Ottawa to provide information on his whereabouts.

Some messages have urged those who might know where Ihab Ghrayeb is in Canada right now to contact IRCC's fraud tipline. Other messages were sent directly to IRCC's Twitter account:

Many called on Canada to do the right thing, or expressed a belief that Canada — unlike Arab countries — will deliver harsh punishment.

Canada has dealt with so-called honour killings on Canadian soil before — the most infamous cases being those involving the deaths of the Shafia sisters and Aqsa Parvez.

Brutal and sustained attack

Israa Ghrayeb, a 21-year-old makeup artist, allegedly was first attacked by her father and brothers at her home in Beit Sahour, just outside of Bethlehem.

Attempting to escape the attack, she reportedly either jumped or fell from a window, injuring her spine in the fall. She was taken to hospital.

According to news reports from the region, her family came to the hospital and ordered nursing staff out of the room. Israa Ghrayeb's screams and pleas for help can be heard in a video shot by a Palestinian nurse from just outside the room.

For reasons that are not clear, the hospital released Ghrayeb into her family's custody. They took her home, where she died a few days later.

Her family told authorities she died of a heart attack and claimed that she had been possessed by a "djinn" or demon. The apparent beating recorded in the hospital, said the family, was an attempt to exorcise the demon. The family also produced an imam who claimed he had completed the exorcism at the family home and removed the demon from her body by reading from the Qur'an.

Protests force a response

The phenomenon of a woman being murdered by male family members for a supposed slight against the family's honour is hardly a new one in the Palestinian occupied territories — but public tolerance of so-called "honour killings" has diminished sharply in recent times.

The murder of Israa Ghrayeb, and the circulation of the video of the assault she suffered in the hospital, touched off a wave of anger and revulsion in the West Bank that has forced the Palestinian authorities to react.

"The case of Isra'a Ghrayeb shocked our conscience, just like those before her. These are women and girls who dream to live in safety in a society free from violence and injustice," the General Union of Palestinian Women and Feminist Institutions said in a statement.

As the clamour for punishment grew in the first week of September, so did the rumours that one of the main perpetrators had come from Canada to carry out the killing, returning to Canada afterwards.

The Canadian connection was repeated by major newspapers and broadcasters across the Middle East. The Israeli news channel i24 reported that the alleged killer attends university in Canada. Jordan's Al Bawaba declared him "a Canadian resident." In the Emirates, the Gulf News described Ihab Ghrayeb as "a Canadian citizen."

From there, the Canadian connection travelled to the pages of publications as diverse as The Independent in London and The Standard in Nairobi.