Hundreds of people filled a winding street in the Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un on Saturday. Pennants still adorned the streets; the night before featured a henna ceremony, the first stage of a wedding celebration for a cousin of 21-year-old Bian Bushkar.
But now people were standing in silence in this small community near Haifa outside the house where Bian grew up. The crowds were there for her funeral; she had been killed by a stray bullet the night before, the product of a family dispute.
Bian, who was pregnant, had arrived with her husband Hussein and their 14-month-old daughter. Bian was hit as the three fled to a car when the shots rang out, relatives say.
Fewer than 8,000 people live in Basmat Tab’un, or Bosmat Tivon in Hebrew. Many residents serve in the Israeli army or are veterans. Only a few hundred people lived in the town when it was incorporated in 1965. They were part of two tribes, the Sa’adiya and the Zabeidat.
Even today, after other families moved there including a few Jews who rent apartments or married locals, everybody knows everybody. The incident, which also took the life of 43-year-old Ibrahim Kamal Sa’adi and wounded two others, left everyone in shock.
It’s not yet clear how the latest dispute started and how within minutes the guests found themselves under a hail of bullets. Some said it stemmed from an argument over parking that began at around noon. Others said it was the alcohol for the wedding. Everyone agreed that the gunmen were looking for an excuse to continue a feud that has lasted for years.
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“The groom is my daughter’s son,” said Ibrahim Mohammed Zabeidat, Bian’s grandfather.
“He’s an angel. He invited many people, more than a thousand. He spared no expense. Before the henna ceremony was over, they started shooting at each other.”
Fortunately, most of the guests managed to flee to safety. “If they had remained, there would have been 50 or 60 fatalities,” Zabeidat said. “They fired in all directions.”
As a neighbor of the Zabeidat family whose daughter grew up with Bian put it, “These are the same six or seven people; they’re known to the police, and every few years there’s an incident involving them.”
He left the scene shortly before the shooting started and heard it all from his house.
“It came from every direction, and then I heard the ambulance,” he said. “Bian’s father clung to her and saw that she was dead. He told his wife that Bian was okay so she wouldn’t worry, but he knew.”
Some blamed the police for the two dead. “Law enforcement in Arab society isn’t the same as in Jewish society,” said one of Bian’s relatives. “If they employed all the means they use in Jewish society, 90 percent of these cases would be solved.”
Bian Bushkar and Ibrahim Kamal Sa’adi are two of four people who were killed in Arab towns and villages that day. Two other men were shot dead in separate incidents.
In the village of Kafr Yasif to the north, a 38-year-old man was shot while driving at the entrance to the village. Three hours later, the body of a 35-year-old man from the city of Umm al-Fahm was found in the nearby village of Musmus; he too had been shot dead. So far this year there have been 63 killings in Arab towns and villages.
The timing of these killings, right after Israel’s general election, has once again raised demands for a government-funded plan to combat violence. Over the weekend, protest rallies were held in Kafr Yasif and Umm al-Fahm. Similar protests were held in other villages, but Arab politicians say this isn’t enough.
“An interministerial-funded program to combat crime and violence can’t be left to the police and the Public Security Ministry; it’s a much broader and multifaceted social issue,” says MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List). “We have to create a public atmosphere that disavows crime and gives a sense of security to our young people.”
The little daughter spent the night with Bian’s sister Hiba. “She kept calling out for her mother and didn’t stop crying,” said Bian’s Aunt Ismahan.
“Her daughter was her whole life,” Ismahan added, noting that Bian had obtained her driver’s license two weeks ago and Hussein had bought her a car. It had taken her a long time to get the license. “She was so happy; she handed out candy to everyone,” her aunt said.
Ismahan also doesn’t know what the argument was about. “They should go to hell, God willing,” she said over and over. “God should take them for killing a 21-year-old woman with all her life ahead of her. She was charming, she loved life and people.”
Ismahan didn’t have much to say about the gunmen. “God will avenge her. Let them suffer like we’re suffering. It’s like a nightmare. Shooting at a wedding? We never thought that could happen.”
Bian’s family is trying to find ways to explain her death. “Everyone loved her, she was so nice and quiet,” said her grandfather, adding that the family dispute was like a never-ending war.
“It’s for nothing,” he said. “For every little thing they open fire, night and day. You can’t sleep or do anything. We talked to the police; they say they know about it, it’s not the first time. They know where the guns are.”
A relative said the last few years have been quiet in the town; even the tradition of shooting in the air at weddings has greatly receded. He said Saturday was his toughest day in 50 years. “Two funerals in one day – we’ve never had that,” he said. “We still can’t believe it.”
Political changes won’t help much, nor will the police, he added. “The only ones could be the village elders,” he said. “I’m sure there will be a revenge attack.”