Relatives of Israeli Arab Woman Suspected of Her Murder Had Assured Police She Was Safe

18-year-old Diana Abu Qatifan was shot dead in central Israel while shopping for her wedding, opposed by family members, who now deny any involvement

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

Relatives of 18-year-old Diana Abu Qatifan, who was shot to death while shopping for her wedding in the central Israeli city of Lod on Wednesday, are suspected of involvement in her murder, police said on Thursday.

The woman was considered to be at risk after she and her soon-to-be husband got engaged in a way seen as unorthodox by their Bedouin families, police added. Two of the relatives, who were arrested, had provided assurances she would not be harmed and said they would protect her, said the police. Her wedding was scheduled for Friday.

Abu Qatifan got engaged to Bakr Abu Ghanem, who is from neighboring Ramle and about the same age, on February 22, said a police source. Her family, however, was against the marriage and forced her to cancel the engagement because the they had intended for him to marry someone else in the extended family.

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As a result, the two fled on March 3 to Ramallah in the West Bank. Abu Qatifan's grandfather reported to the police that day that she had gone missing. Police investigators, who knew the family disapproved of her engagement, found her and her fiancé in Ramallah.

On Wednesday, Abu Qatifan went with her grandfather to run errands and shop ahead of the wedding. An unknown assailant opened the car door and shot her at close range while she was sitting in the parked car and then fled. Her grandfather, who was also in the car, was slightly injured. Abu Qatifan was taken to Assaf Harofeh Hospital in nearby Tzrifin, where she was pronounced dead.

On Thursday, the Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court ordered to detain one of the two suspects for another week, while a second suspect was ordered held for four more days. A gag order has been imposed on the details of the investigation and the hearings are being held behind closed doors. Judge Amit Michles said a heavy fear of possible obstruction of justice on the part of the family exists in the case.

Zvi Avnon, the attorney who represents one of the suspects, says claims that his client was connected to the murder “are completely baseless". "He was in the car with the deceased and when the murderer came, he tried to push him away, put his hand on the pistol and was wounded in his finger from the shooting,” claims the attorney. Avnon added that his client is extremely pained by Abu Qatifan’s death. Shukri Abu Tabik, the lawyer for the second suspect, said his client is not connected to the crime and was only in the area because he came for the wedding.

A police officer said authorities had tried to offer Abu Qatifan a number of solutions to protect her from her family, but she refused any protection.  According to them, the escape to Ramallah might have been the act that has sealed her fate, as it violated the accepted tradition in Bedouin society. Both families are part of extended Bedouin families that moved to Lod and Ramle in the 1970s. Police believe that her family might not have been opposed to the relationship itself, but rather to the way it was pursued without prior approval by the families. A family member told Haaretz on Thursday that they have no connection to the murder and the police invented this story to cover up their mistakes.

The police said they followed routine procedure in missing persons cases and police officers went to see the couple to ascertain that they were there of their own free will. After they realized the circumstances surrounding Abu Qatifan's absence and the serious fear for her life, the police officers brought her to the Lod police station and laid out the possibilities for the couple.

Abu Qatifan was determined to be woman at risk, said the police. She was offered police protection and accommodations at a women's shelter but declined the offer. The police made sure she understood that they could not protect her outside of the shelter. Police investigators provided her with the direct phone numbers of police officers for her protection, and located a neutral family in Ramle where Abu Qatifan could stay. After three days, however, the hosting family said she could not stay any longer because they felt threatened.

At this stage, one of the police officers handling the case initiated a meeting between the two families during which it was agreed that the couple would sign the marriage contract and the two would be married on March 15. At this meeting, the police officer demanded that five of the relatives, including the two who were arrested, provide assurances the couple would be protected until the wedding. To guarantee these assurances, they even signed an unofficial document promising to do so, but it didn't save Abu Qatifan's life.