(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Following Tuesday's announcement that Roman Zadarov, 29, - a Katzrin resident and immigrant from the former Soviet Union - had confessed to murdering schoolgirl Ta'ir Rada, Katzrin Mayor Sami Bar Lev called on his constituents to stay focused on the contributions made by the town's 2,000 Russian immigrants and not let the act of one person taint the whole community.
"It is worth remembering at this time that immigrants from the FSU have lived among us for the past 10 years and have made important and integral contributions to the development of our town," wrote Bar Lev to Katzrin's 7,500 residents. "I am sure that we all know how to keep the fabric of these relations strong. We must not let one act taint the whole community."
Residents and Ministry of Immigrant Absorption officials say that until now the immigrants' integration into the community has been a smooth and quiet process.
"The veteran Israelis welcomed the Russian immigrants in the 1990s, because they strengthened the town, which was under constant fear that the Golan Heights would one day be returned to Syria," said Moshe Harel, director of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption's northern district.
He said that while there was no absorption center in the town, many FSU immigrants chose to live there because housing was cheap and there were employment opportunities.
"Except for some issues with bored youth and vandalism, their absorption into the town has been harmonious," said Harel.
A ministry spokesperson added that Katzrin was very often used as a model of successful aliya and absorption.
However, Harel acknowledged that Zadarov's ethnic background could give rise to the stigma that the Russian aliyah has brought with it increased crime and prostitution.
"It is possible, but I hope that will not happen," he said.
Sharon Shapira, head of the Nofei Golan School's English Department, echoed Harel.
"I hope that people are sensible enough not to let that happen," said Shapira, who has taught at the Nofei Golan High School, where Rada's body was discovered on December 6, for 24 years. "[Russian immigrants] are an integral part of our school and I have never seen a problem in the past."
Knesset member Michael Nudelman (Kadima), chairman of the Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs, commented that he hoped the act of a single person would not affect a whole community.
"Justice should be done in this case," said Nudelman, himself a former immigrant from the FSU. "In every group of olim there are good and bad people. Among those born in Israel there are murderers and criminals too."
"The aliya from Russia has given the State of Israel many things," he added. "Without the Russian aliyah there would be less culture and no hi-tech industry in Israel." Nudelman, however, admitted that there are particular challenges faced by the Russian immigrant community, such as poor language skills and automatic discrimination against them by native Israelis.