A 17-year-old high school student was charged in Haifa District Court on Monday with the murder of a female classmate, Wijdan Abu Hamid, also 17, around a month ago in their village of Kisra-Sumei in northern Israel. The suspect was arrested in early January but a gag order had been imposed in the case.
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The suspect allegedly stabbed Abu Hamid in a local park only around 100 meters from her home, apparently after they had argued. Acquaintances said the suspect was infatuated with Abu Hamid but that she had rebuffed his advances.
“The girl is gone but her smile continues with us, with her family, friends, the village and the whole State of Israel,” the victim’s father, Bahzad Abu Hamid, said. “I hope that justice will be done and that he gets the maximum punishment, without considering that he’s a minor, because someone who planned and ambushed and murdered didn’t act as a minor.”
The murder has caused tension in the town, a local council formed in 1990 by the merger of two villages – Kisra, where Wijdan lived, and Sumei, where the suspect is from. During Abu Hamid’s funeral the day after the killing, a relative of hers threw a grenade at a home in Sumei. The relative was charged a few weeks ago with aggravated assault and possession of weapons. Three other residents have been sent away from Sumei under an agreement reached by a reconciliation committee made up of Druze religious leaders and public figures. This is a common measure taken to prevent revenge attacks.
The day after the murder the school closed for winter vacation; a week later there was a large rally in the town in Abu Hamid’s memory and to protest violence. Thousands from both villages attended.
But two weeks ago, when the pupils returned to school, they were greeted by police patrol cars in the parking lot. “We didn’t want to take any chances,” one policeman said.
At 7:30 A.M. that morning 150 parents demonstrated against the principal, blaming his lack of leadership for making the murder possible. Most of the demonstrators demanded that the school be split into two, one for Kisra and one for Sumei. Kisra, has 6,000 residents, while Sumei has 3,000. The principal is from Sumei.
“The problem is education,” said demonstrator Halla Abu Hamid, a relative of Wijdan’s. “There has to be a separation. If they had been separated from the beginning, the murder wouldn’t have happened. Kids from Kisra don’t make such problems.” Her friend, Gosson Shakur, added, “There are problems all the time. The years that have passed [since the merger] haven’t helped.”
Local Council Chairman Nabia Assad wasn’t perturbed by the demonstration, telling Haaretz at the time that the demonstrators were a minority. “The great mass of both villages, the notables, the sheikhs, we were there. School opened on Monday and the whole week and everything went smoothly.”
Assad, himself a former school principal, said he believed everyone conducted themselves properly after the killing. “We did everything that was expected of us as the local council. We stood at the family’s side, we held a rally against violence, we did whatever a local council is meant to do.”
In Sumei, meanwhile, residents don’t deny that there has been tension at the school for years, but at this point many are not in favor of separation – on the contrary. Fadi Taroudi, former chairman of the parents’ committee who was forced to resign after the murder, says that for 10 years there have been demands to split the high school, but after this tragedy there is a particular need to work toward unity.
“Whoever is found guilty should get the most severe punishment, and I hear that from everyone familiar with the details,” Taroudi said. “But I don’t favor gloating or blaming everything on the school.” Whoever has been blaming the principal or the school faculty is not being fair, he said. “There are a lot of rumors and disinformation and that’s why we have to be careful about how we cope with the disaster. I’m sure that if there had been signs or information it would have been dealt with properly.
Jamal Falah, who was principal for 20 years after its opening in 1982, said the school educates pupils from all Druze villages in the region, not just Kisra and Sumei. It has many achievements to its credit, and it should not be split, he said, noting that it’s the only institution the villages really share.
“It would be a shame to destroy such an educational project which for me is sort of my life’s work,” he said. “I don’t think it will contribute to the atmosphere or to closeness if they split the school.” The Kisra parents have since backed down from their demand the principal be dismissed, but want an investigation into circumstances surrounding the murder. The Education Ministry had no response.