Tel Aviv – Israel on Tuesday appointed the first-ever female judge to serve in the country’s Sharia court system.
The unanimous appointment of Hana Khatib, hailed by some Arab lawmakers as “historic,” was carried out by the Committee to Elect Sharia Judges, known as Qadis, which is headed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
Shaked hailed the appointment as “great news for Arab women and Arab society… I am emotional about this choice and hope that this is only the first on the way to choosing more women for these positions.”
Khatib, 42, is from the town of Tamra, located in the lower Galilee region. She has been a lawyer for 17 years and also acts as a mediator to settle disputes between spouses and plead guilty to Sharia courts.
“History has been made,” said Issawi Frej, an Israeli Arab politician who represents the left-wing Meretz party in the Knesset and has been leading a campaign for the past two-and-half years to get Muslim women appointed as judges in the Sharia courts.
“This is one of the moments when all the work you do in parliament pays off.”
Frej had submitted a bill to the Knesset two-and-a-half years ago that would have mandated the appointment of women to Muslim religious courts.
The bill was ultimately defeated in the Ministerial Legislative Committee because of opposition from two ultra-Orthodox members.
“They were afraid it would set a precedent in the Jewish religious courts,” explained Frej.
For his part, Osama Saadi, a member of the Committee to Appoint Judges, said Khatib’s appointment was “a very important step in the right direction for a proper and worthy Arab representation in the judiciary.”
Khatib will be sworn in by President Reuven Rivlin in a few weeks.
There are not many female Qadis around the world. Two women serve as sharia judges in the neighboring Palestinian Authority.
There are nine regional sharia courts in Israel as well as an appeal court, with Tuesday’s appointments bringing the number of Qadis in the Muslim system to 18.