Katzrin fights for its good name

Nofei Golan students: Media giving us a badname.

tair rada 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
tair rada 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Five days after the murder of schoolgirl Ta'ir Rada, Katzrin area residents said Sunday they were still reeling from the shock, and angry over claims that perhaps she died at the hands of one of her fellow students. "The media are giving us a bad name, saying that there is a lot of violence and drug use in our school," said Meny Menachem, a 17-year-old student at the Nofei Golan School, where the 13-year-old's battered body was found in a bathroom stall last Wednesday. "It's simply not true. There was an isolated case of some students caught with drugs a few months ago, but they have now been dealt with. This is really not a terrible school. There are problems just like in any school, but nothing out of the ordinary." However, a parent of a pupil at the school interviewed Sunday night on Channel 2 insisted that his daughter had told him of drug use there, and another pupil complained on a school Web site of pupils pulling knives on their friends during a school trip, an act the pupil complained went unpunished. For a Jerusalem Online video of events click here Lilach Geva, manager of the Katzrin community center, confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that about two months ago some teens had been caught with drugs, but she played down the incident saying that only two were residents of the town and only one attended Nofei Golan. A police spokesman added that a drug bust two weeks ago had also implicated two teenagers from the area in using drugs. While Geva estimated that around 400 teenagers join in after-school activities at the community center, she admitted that outside of the organized framework there was very little for teens to do. "There was a pool hall here, but it closed down, probably because it was not viable economically," said Geva, adding that in the town of 7,000 there is only one restaurant and no bar, pub or movie theater. "We did have a problem with vandalism, but there was certainly no indication that something like this [a murder] could happen," said Geva. Over the weekend, police arrested a 40-year-old gardener at the school on suspicion of involvement in the murder but were continuing to investigate the school's student body. A spokesman said that the investigation into the school's pupils was one of the main directions in this case, but cautioned that it was not the only direction. On Sunday, with the end of his remand extension, Katzrin resident Rafael Cohen was released from arrest in connection with Rada's murder. Cohen was arrested shortly after the murder, but police had never claimed that he was the lead suspect in the case. "The children are saying that they could not imagine anyone from inside the school being capable of such a thing," said Astrid Hastay, a mother of two whose daughter was in the same school year as Rada and shared her dance class. "Everyone is looking at each other, saying if it could have been you, then it could have been me, too." Hastay, a former Danish national who has been living in the area for more than 14 years, added: "We all know each other here; if I see a strange person on the street I call the police." Hastay, who manages a small winery in the area and whose husband is a counselor in the school, said that she had taken Thursday and Sunday off work to help her daughter's classmates come to terms with the murder, the first such crime to take place in the 30-year-old town. "There are of course problematic elements like in any town," continued Hastay. "There are always cases of children not being nice to each other. But people are looking for something that really does not exist." Sharon Shapira, who heads the Nofei Golan School's English department, said that in her 24 years teaching at the school she has never seen any behavior that could have foreshadowed last week's violent attack. "This is an absolute earthquake," she told the Post. "The kids are in shock, the teachers are in shock. There have been cases of petty violence, but that does not fall into the same category as murder." Shapira said that residents of the area lived a more innocent lifestyle, with many people not bothering to lock their front doors. "As a mother of kids who attended the school, I never felt they were in any danger," said Shapira, originally from Birmingham, England. She did, however, recognize that life in a small, remote town does have a downside, especially for teenagers. "There are teens that complain of being bored," she admitted. "It is hard for them to move around and get from one place to another." Rebecca Anna Stoil contributed to this report.