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
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
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
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