Everyone Knew This Arab Israeli Woman Would Be Murdered. It Wasn't Enough to Prevent It

Being an Arab woman who wanted to choose her own destiny, Diana was shot in the head at close range a day before her wedding

Police at the scene of the shooting of a young woman in Lod, March 13, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

In the last video taken at her engagement party at the end of February, Diana Abu Qatifan is seen wearing a long red dress and dancing in a circle with her family, happy. Two and a half weeks later, the day before her wedding, she was shot in the head at close range. The police, who have arrested several of her family members, have determined a clear motive: She was an Arab woman who wanted to choose her own destiny.

Being an Arab woman was reason enough in itself. When Diana was five, her mother was murdered. The perpetrators were never caught.

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Since then, Diana was raised by her grandfather in Lod. She left junior high school and started cooking and cleaning for her extended family. She has two brothers and a 13-year-old sister, who is also expected to quit school.

Diana spent time in a shelter with her mother and baby sister before her mother was murdered. Her father and grandfather were held by police for a long time, but were released without indictment.

Diana grew up in a broken home. Relatives told how she would come to them in tears because of the violence she experienced at home. She looked for a way out, and like many others, thought that marriage was a quick ticket to independence and happiness. In February, she was engaged to Bakr Abu Ghanem, a young man her age from Ramle. Two and a half weeks ago, she was murdered. Four of her relatives were arrested, two of whom remain in custody, and a sweeping gag order was imposed on the investigation.

Both families objected to the marriage, especially because the young couple arranged it on their own. The families are well-armed and have criminal records. Their history is etched in blood, including that of many women.

The police don’t know why the couple ran off to Ramallah after the engagement. “She ran off with a man and spent the night with him. In some parts of Arab society this is unacceptable” said a social worker. Diana’s family reported her missing and wanted the police to find out if she’d been abducted.

Police located the couple in Ramallah and arranged to meet them at a border crossing to the West Bank, to make sure that they had gone voluntarily. They persuaded Diana to get into the police car and go to a police station in Ramle. When asked why she ran, she said she was afraid of her family, pointing out two people, one of whom is now in custody.

The police offered to take her to a shelter and to provide her with protection. They know of 50-60 women in Lod and Ramle who are at risk of danger from their families, but Diana refused the offer, possibly because of her earlier experience with her mother. In cases where women refuse shelter, police often place them in the homes of locals with high social standing for protection. Some women spend the night at police stations. One senior officer said that he had personally hosted such women in his family’s home.

Diana was sent to the home of Hajj Kreim Jaroushi, who helps police settle conflicts in Arab society. He recently helped return an abducted boy from Kalansua. Over the years, the police said, hundreds of women in need of protection have passed through his gate.

Police reject criticism they received over returning the couple from Ramallah, claiming that a violent feud between the families would have broken out if they had remained there. Indeed, in the week she was gone, gunshots were fired at the Abu Ghanem home in Lod. The police tried to mediate, and after several meetings, family members agreed on wedding arrangements and a house for the couple.

The scene where Diana Abu Qatifan was murdered, Lod, Israel, March 13, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

The police got five family members to sign a document stating that no harm would befall Diana, a document with no legal standing but which often serves in peacemaking deals. At the same time, Hajj Kreim Jaroushi told the police that he can no longer look after Diana. She went to the police and once again refused shelter, saying she was going with her uncle, who would protect her.

The uncle, who also lives on the family’s property, received a phone with a direct line to the police, on which he reported daily. Diana started feeling safe, going out with her grandfather to buy jewelry and gold in Qalqilya. Two days before the wedding, she returned to her grandfather’s house, where she was murdered 24 hours later.

On Wednesday, Diana was supposed to make additional preparations for the wedding with her grandfather. They sat in the car, in the parking space next to the house. Someone entered the car from the back and shot her. The grandfather’s finger was hurt in the shooting – according to him, when he tried to fight the attacker and move the gun’s barrel. The home’s security cameras did not record the event.

Last week, a demonstration took place in front of Lod's police station, protesting against what demonstrators called "The murder deal," following which Diana returned to her family.

One of Diana's relatives, who participated in the protest, said that "Only few agreed to come, while the rest were afraid for their lives. Many people believe a change is needed, but they fear to be hurt by their communities. I feel the police are unable to protect us," she said.

Protection alternatives for Arab women

Shelters are problematic, says a social worker. “It means hiding and paying a price a victim shouldn’t have to pay. If she’s from a conservative family she will be ostracized for life after returning home. There is no suitable framework for this specific population.”

According to the Social Services Ministry, 682 women stayed in shelters in 2018, 306 of them Arab (or 44 percent, double their proportion in the population). When women refuse shelters, social workers and police try other creative solutions, providing them with protection within their communities. Haj Jaroushi and others underwent training on how to deal with these situations, but this cannot match the training social workers get.

The police say the first 48 hours from the moment a woman files a complaint are critical, and therefore they work alongside community notables—who have good intentions and abilities, but their impact has dwindled in the last two decades, say social workers—to come up with alternatives to protect women who stay in their communities.

“How long can you keep a woman under threat at home?” says Adnan Jaroushi, the head of the Waqf in Ramla. “You have to address the mentality and go to families and use more sophisticated ways of resolving this.”

And so, law enforcement and social service representatives employ extreme solutions like changing the women’s identities or smuggling them abroad where they seek asylum.

Since 2010, the police have been smuggling women who met the required criteria to western countries that have a comprehensive welfare policy. Upon their arrival to those countries, the women request asylum, with Israel’s consuls backing their requests.

The police then send reports to the Interpol indicating that should the women remain in Israel, their lives would be in danger. The police say some 30 Arab women from central Israel have been transferred abroad in this manner. Moreover, Israel pays some countries hefty sums for accepting them.

A new plan for preventing violence against women in the Arab society was launched by the Social Equality Ministry, focusing on community help, but Arab women activists believe that better law enforcement is the answer.

In addition, the Welfare Ministry's international department helps non-Arab women whose lives are in danger to move to other western countries. According to a source in the ministry, nine women were transferred abroad and an additional six have been going through the requited proceedings to leave Israel since 2015.

Welfare representatives stay in touch with these women, providing them with assistance when needed.