Last week I arrived at the house of mourning in Baka al-Garbiyeh shortly after the funeral of Aya Masarwe, the 21-year-old student who was brutally murdered in Australia. The scene was very dignified and extremely moving. Hundreds of people were there, after thousands had attended the funeral. All the leaders of Arab society were there, as were many Jews and people from abroad as well, primarily journalists.
And despite the family’s request for separation between men and women, there were a good number of women there, including journalists.
The first to speak was Mayor Mursi Abu Mokh, and he spoke of the shared grief and of the brutal way in which Aya was killed. His words were very restrained and respectful. He was followed by the Australian ambassador to Israel, who also spoke quite movingly, expressing deeply felt condolences. Mohammed Barakeh, head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, spoke about the magnitude of the loss and of how, in her tragedy, Aya had united Arab society. He quoted verses from the Koran and the words of the Prophet Mohammed that whoever is killed or dies in the course of a quest for bread to eat or for education is like Aya – a shahid.
Barakeh also had words of rebuke for the Israeli government and its leader, regarding their conduct in relation to the case. The next speaker was a cleric representing the Palestinian Authority. But when it was announced that someone else from the PA wished to read aloud a letter of condolence from Mahmoud Abbas, Saeed, Aya’s father, objected to what he saw as politicization of the event.
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The crowd began to disperse, but after we went out, the PA people, together with MK Ahmad Tibi, strongly insisted again that the PA president’s letter be read aloud. Which it was. I was accompanying a British journalist and I helped him translate the remarks into English. After that he drove with Aya’s father to their home on the western side of the city, and there we completed the report he wished to file.
That was the less important part of the story. I believe there are many lessons to be learned from this tragic event and how it has all unfolded up to now, lessons that many people and institutions need to learn. And this is my very humble opinion.
1. The tragic hero of the event is Aya’s father, who has shown human emotions of love for his daughter and the deepest sorrow over her loss. But throughout it all, he has done so in a way that inspires respect, without whipping up hysteria or pointing an accusing finger at anyone aside from the despicable murderer. And even then, he said that the family is not looking for vengeance.
2. The father was also correct in seeking to keep the speeches of the PA representatives to a minimum. It was appropriate for them to only read the letter from Abbas and not to turn the event into a largely trite “festival of speeches.”
3. Mohammed Barakeh was most correct in his comments that were aimed at the prime minister and his ministers and others in his government. More to the point, as I am writing this from outside the mourning tent, I would say this to the prime minister: Mr. Netanyahu, we know that you are a racist who hates Arabs. That’s nothing new. But Aya was an Israeli citizen, as are her whole family.
Your behavior, and that of your ministers and your government officials, is a disgrace to you and to them. You portray yourself as a man of the big world, the frequent flyer. Do you expect a nation so friendly to Israel as Australia to accept, even less to appreciate, such racist and disgraceful behavior? Why didn’t the Israeli diplomatic mission in Australia help in handling the incident and in returning Aya’s body to Israel? Would you have behaved the same way if she were a Jew? Of course not.
We understand that you and your gang have moved on to the stage of apartheid following the nation-state law, but still, a little humanity, even just for show, wouldn’t have hurt. It seems that your hostility toward the Arab public and toward anyone who doesn’t heed your word has made you lose your senses. You know, we have a saying: That’s not how you lead a herd of camels to drink.
4. The behavior of the Australian ambassador and his government – the assistance they offered and their solidarity with and support for the family – has been exemplary. Kudos for that. But there is a much more important aspect that goes beyond this. Israel Police, are you listening? Perhaps you can learn from the Australians how to catch vile murderers. Perhaps you can learn how a police force that is truly interested in fighting violence is supposed to act. I know that you will scornfully dismiss my words here, for you are the police of the State of Israel, the state of the Chosen People, the smartest people in the universe, so there is no one who can teach you anything. But maybe, just maybe?
5. Mohammed Barakeh also implied in his comments that there were some who criticized Aya’s conduct as inappropriate. I checked into this when I got home, and found that there were indeed some sick folks who described her behavior as immodest. These people are clearly a despicable extremist minority of religious clerics. And I ask: How much lower can you go, you deplorable people? Is your pit of filth really so bottomless? Couldn’t you refrain from dancing on Aya’s blood? You are not my people or my culture and I am ashamed that we speak the same language.
Rest in peace, Aya. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter to me if you are considered a shahid or not. Your blood has united us, all the Arabs in Israel, all the Jewish left and many others. If only this were a sign of things to come, and this shock and horror would finally push the issue of domestic violence to the top of agenda.