Israel police ignore Arab villages

The preventable murder of Zahira Jijini and her daughters

09/10/2013 21:30
The death of 15-year-old Amana Najar was relegated to a “news in brief” section of one of Israel’s major newspapers on Sunday. She died at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center after being shot last week by her father, Bashir Najar, in Daburriya. Amana was the latest victim of a preventable tragedy that took place in northern Israel on September 1.The tragedy began in the morning, when Bashir Najar went to the local council building in his town, where he shot two of his daughters, Amana and Madeline, age 17. Then he drove to the nursing home where his ex-wife, Zahira Jijini, worked, murdered her, his four-year-old daughter Lama and the manager of the home, Abdelsalam Azaiza. Najar then drove to an open lot and killed himself. According to the confused reports, the killings all took place during at least an hour, during which police did not arrive.

But that’s not all: the police, court system and social services all neglected a series of cries for help from Zahira. Bashir Najar had been imprisoned for domestic violence involving his first wife. After Zahira divorced him he began to stalk and harass her. In May she called the police to report her husband’s threats and also requested a restraining order from a local court. According to Haaretz the police closed the case for lack of evidence. They noted that the threats were minor, consisting of “invasion of privacy, stalking or other forms of harassment.”

Zahira was granted a court hearing regarding her request for a restraining order. She told the court “he stalks and follows me. He threatens me with murder over the telephone and in person. He has made threats to hurt my daughters.” Judge Assaf Zagury, according to the report, refused to grant the restraining order. It was viewed by authorities as “alleged” stalking and harassment. Zahira appealed to the court again, noting that Bashir Najar had violated conditions of visitation with their daughter and kept her for a week without permission. But the same judge declined the request for her daughter to be returned to her.

Zahira went to social services in a custody battle with Bashir, asking the Nazareth Family Court to help her obtain custody. She noted that the father was abusive, had abused her during the marriage and threatened her and the children. But, as with the police and courts, this court also didn’t take her seriously.

ZAHIRA FOLLOWED the law. She did everything she could to obtain protection for herself and her daughters.

The abusive ex-husband even began threatening her boss, Azaiza, where she worked at the nursery, and it was supposed to be her last week there. Her ex-husband made her life hell and yet she could receive no reprieve due to systematic neglect.

When she was dead and buried, in a mass funeral, there were no politicians to speak for her. There were no women’s rights groups to organize protests. There wasn’t even much media interest. Besides the one follow- up article in Haaretz and the “news in brief,” she and her three daughters, and Azaiza, were dead and gone, abandoned by the press and public in death as they had been abandoned by the system that was supposed to protect them in life.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the callous treatment she received by the courts, social workers and police was capricious. Was it related to the fact that she was an Arab woman from Dabiriyya, not a Jewish woman from nearby Kfar Tabor? If her name had been Zahava, not Zahira, would she have received a more attentive response? If an ex-husband with a criminal record had threatened murder and stalked a woman at a nursery in a kibbutz, and had threatened her daughters and employers numerous times, is it reasonable to conclude that the police and court response would have been the same? Is it reasonable to conclude that if a man gunned down a mother and three daughters the week of Rosh Hashanah in an affluent community in Israel, it would have warranted such relative inattention?

THE TREATMENT of Zahira is part of a pattern of neglect of women in Israel from poorer communities and ethnic minorities. The system views these women as expendable, treats their complains as hysterical exaggeration and time and again refuses to come to their aid. For example, on May 1 Abir Dandis called the Ma’ale Adumim police station, near her home in Azariya east of Jerusalem. She had received a phone call informing her that her ex-husband had killed her daughter.

The Ma’ale Adumim police directed her to call the Arad police station in the Negev, which was near the Beduin village where her ex-husband lived. But Arad police dismissed her fears, saying that since she was a resident of the Palestinian territories she should call the Palestinian police, even though they knew the Palestinian police could not enter Israel to look into the threats against the daughters. The next day the bodies of two girls, Asinad, age two, and Ramais (3), were found in the Beduin community of al-Fura, just as Dandis had feared.

Their father had beaten and strangled them and then fled (he was arrested on July 7 in a cave in the Jordan valley). The grieving mother told reporters, “I did what I had to do, I was concerned for my daughters and he took them from me. Now at least they can be buried close to me [in Azariya]. He prevented me from seeing them.” As in the case with Zahira, social services had provided the father visitation rights, in fact custody. As in the case in Daburiyya, police ignored her complaints.

On January 20, 2011, Alla Dahar, a promising medical student from Haifa, was gunned down in Ramla.

Police arrested her ex-boyfriend soon afterward. It turned out that in May of 2010 she had told police in Haifa that he had assaulted her and threatened to kill her. The Haifa police referred the complaint to Ramla where they quickly closed the file. “Lack of evidence” was the excuse, as it is often the excuse when women’s lives are threatened, when men beat women, especially poor women or Arab women.

What if courts granted restraining orders when they should, and gave custody to women, rather than to men who have been in prison for abuse; and what if police listened to women claiming their daughters are in immediate danger? What if they didn’t close cases for “lack of evidence” and instead assisted women in obtaining restraining orders? Police ignore complaints because they have not been trained to take them seriously. There is little punishment for an officer that ignores a woman’s complaint. There is no accountability for a judge that refuses to grant a restraining order. There is no punishment for social service workers who give children to men who murder them. There is no accountability and there is no shame. This is because politicians do not take these people to task and neither do the media.

In a recent case a supervisor of a school trip was held accountable for a child drowning during the trip. But if you are a state’s representative who doesn’t do anything to protect a woman or children, you are never held liable and the state never even pays out in wrongful death lawsuits, because the view is that there is always “lack of evidence.” There is no learning curve because there is no incentive to learn from mistakes. How many women and children would today be alive in Israel if police had done more and the system had taken them seriously?

POLICE HAVE a tough job, and hindsight allows for an easy critique. But despite the benefit of hindsight the police, judiciary and social services don’t appear to view these tragedies as a learning experience because there is no public pressure or outrage. Unlike a recent case where the use of tasers was reviewed, there are no calls to review how judges respond to requests for restraining orders.

In other countries restraining orders can be obtained relatively easily. According to New York attorney Justine Borer, whose practice focuses on family law and regularly litigates cases in Family Court, “obtaining a temporary order of protection in family court is generally not difficult and may be issued without the respondent appearing in court. They are issued based on the testimony of the petitioner and the evidentiary bar is not high.” Israel must learn from others and alter the law to make it easier to obtain restraining orders to send the message that threats of violence are taken seriously.

The system must learn from its mistakes. Where is the assessment of how various state officials could have done a better job, where is the internal critique, or even the sense of compassion about these deaths? When four women are murdered, a whole family, there should be state representatives to show contrition, instead of a wall of silence. The Knesset women’s caucus is silent as well. Not one of its 26 women spoke out. Too busy preparing for Rosh Hashanah? But would not a better message for the new year have been that we will be more vigilant about stopping men from killing their daughters and wives next year? Where are the NGOs and innovative thinkers to provide better tools for women in distress? Women who fear their ex-husbands or boyfriends should have recourse to immediate state-funded counseling and should recieve training not only in self-defense but also in the use of panic devices, pepper spray and other methods. When a woman is kept up night after night with harassing phone calls and text messages and threats, why is there no tool she can be provided with to collect evidence, such as a recording device, that the courts and police can then use to see that she is telling the truth rather than disregarding her claims? Can’t the “start up nation” that developed Waze, figure out an app to help women who face domestic violence and stalkers? THE NEWS is full of stories about activists in places like Beit Shemesh struggling against the disappearance of women’s faces on public advertising. 250 women even held a flashmob to protest the “exclusion.”

The media is outraged that women are not shown on advertising, but the actual murder of a woman, who disappears permanently, is not important? How about putting priorities in order: Amana, Lama, Madeline Najar, Zahira Jijini; Asinad and Ramais Dandis and Alla Dahar were excluded from society by murderers who took their young lives.

Every day we remain silent, we exclude them again from our memory.

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