Despite Inroads Into Women's Rights Honor Killings Continue

Nadia Abu Amar was an Israeli Arab living in the mixed Israeli city of Ramle. She left home when she was 14 — forced out by years of domestic violence by male relatives and facing the prospect of an unwanted arranged marriage. Like many young Muslim women in Israel she wanted more from life and this brought her into direct conflict with her family's conservative expectations.

She escaped to halfway houses and women's shelters, most recently in Jerusalem. According to friends, despite the sadness of isolation from her family, she blossomed and did well at school.

Then in November, she disappeared. Her body has never been found, but police are convinced she is the latest victim of so-called honor killings. Seven male relatives including her father have been arrested on suspicion they murdered her to defend the family's reputation.

Honor killing is prevalent throughout the Arab world and has become a big problem within Israel's Arab communities. Dozens of young women have been killed in recent years for offending their families' strict Arab and Islamic code of behavior. In one neighborhood of Ramle, seven women from the same extended family have been killed in as many years.

Ramle Police Superintendent Yigal Ezra has been at the sharp end of the police campaign against the phenomenon and describes one of the many ways women become victims.

"If a woman spoke to someone on a cell phone or laughed with a man, that is sometimes a violation of the family honor, from their perspective. They plan how the murder will take place, who will carry it out and even find an alibi for the murderer. From the moment someone is marked, there is no way out."

But according to Lamya Naamneh from the Arab Women's group Al Ssiwar, the Israeli police have not always pursued cases of honor killing with the necessary commitment. According to her, "the police used to say, 'well this is an Arab problem, it's part of their mentality.'" She admits that nowadays, partly as a result of public pressure and greater publicity, "the police are now doing a better job."

Israel's Arab community makes up almost 20 percent of the country's total population and has long complained of discrimination and second-class treatment. Some have accused the police of not wanting to create tension with the Israeli Arab minority by investigating these crimes too forcefully.

Naamneh and other campaigners say the original problem stems from a deep-seated double standard within Arab society. She told ABC News that "premarital sex is forbidden for both men and women, but men do it and get away with it."

Campaigning to raise awareness of the problem is having an effect, some advocates say. More attacks are being reported to the police and this week a conference is being held in the city of Ramle.

Naamneh will be there and says "we need to do a lot more work to solve this problem. We need to do more education, we need to work in the schools changing attitudes. We are still a small voice but we have hope."