Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Dilemmas in Practicing Social Work with Indigenous People: The Arab Case

Academic journal article International Journal of Child Health and Human Development

Dilemmas in Practicing Social Work with Indigenous People: The Arab Case

Article excerpt


In his/her personal behavior the social worker is obligated to obey the law and moral norms and he must be aware of situations in which his/her behavior affects the fulfillment of his/her professional duties.

(Israel International Federation of Social Workers, 2013)

Two practices that occur frequently in the State of Israel, honour killing and polygamy, pose a challenge to the social worker's ability to avoid dual-role relationships, conflicts of interest, and unusual positions of power. Both practices demonstrate a special clash between laws devised to protect all human rights and laws considered part of cultural identities and primacies. This is caused by the State's frequent inability to recognize, define and control such practice, partly because of a reluctance to enforce such laws. By supporting the client, the social worker may seem to ignore the law to protect and support the client. By reporting the activity, the social worker may put clients in danger of terrible socio- economic hardship, personal shame, and possibly death.

Not every Muslim is polygamous or espouses honour killing, just as neither practice is unique to Muslim people (1-3). However, debates in Israel tend to illustrate the perceived split between two cultural communities in particular: that of the average Jewish-Israeli person and the average Arab person (4-8). Though it may be difficult to define either conclusively, there has been an overwhelming perception that Arab people in Israel have been profoundly marginalized in the Israeli community overall (6, 9, 10). Many community leaders and other authorities and professional insist on the recognition of cultural privileges which cause an unwillingness or an inability to consistently enforce many of these laws. This has placed social workers in precarious decision-making situations. We shall briefly discuss why the traditions of polygamy and honour killing have remained so important to many Arab communities before considering breakdowns in the legal and social system.

Honor and heritage

For most Arab people, the family is still the main unit of strength. Members of the family rely upon the extended family to provide guidance, security and prosperity (11). Marriage, then, is usually about heritage and morality, not love. It is controlled by the heads of the family. Al-Krenawi (12) discussed how the concept of love is better expressed by showing interest and concern in the well-being and activities of the whole family rather than through displays of affection. Shalhoub-Kevorkian (13) and Abu-Baker and Dwairy (14) both report that respondents in surveys say that they rarely see their parents hugging or kissing; intimacy is rarely expressed in the home, and sexual education is rarely provided in schools. Because community collective ideals can be very slow to change there is often little room for education or variations in family matters (15).

The prestige of a family is continued through heritage: children contribute to the betterment of the family and the community such that the number of wives and healthy children a man has functions as the measure of his success. It is extremely important who each young adult marries, as alliances are made and kept within extended family or between two different families through marriage. Parents decide who will be married to whom, and no relationship outside of marriage is permitted. Though the situation is changing a little, marriage arrangements are coolly calculated rather than emotionally motivated (11, 16-18). Liaisons between the man and woman before marriage are strictly monitored-and often forbidden if they cannot be monitored, for fear that the individuals will succumb to immoral sexual relations and romance that sully the woman and complicate the parents' marriage plans (18, 19).


In many Islamic families, polygamy is recognized as an acceptable way to enlarge the family-though importantly, in Islamic doctrine, it is clearly dictated that a man must be able to care equally for each of up to four wives, and all children, both financially and emotionally (18, 20, 21). …

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