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As Arab women become statistics, their killers walk free

Sana al-Zana was murdered and buried in the desert late last year. The media didn’t report it, the police did little to nothing, and the killer is still walking free.

Arab women protest gender violence outside the Ramle police station. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Arab women protest gender violence outside the Ramle police station. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

I recently discovered that us Arab women are a skillful bunch: it turns out that in Israel of 2016, an Arab woman can put an end to her life, bury herself in the middle of the desert, get rid of the evidence, return to her family as a lifeless body, and be buried once again — without anyone raising suspicions over the cause of death. Along the way she is also able to ensure that everyone returns to a life of normalcy: the police, the attorney’s office, the forensic institute, the family, the village.

This story began this past summer when I published a Facebook status on the murder of Amana Yasin, who was pregnant at the time she was stabbed to death and the fifth Arab woman to be murdered in 2016. While mourning her death along with other Facebook users, something surprising happened. A woman I do not know sent me the following message: “You are mistaken, Samah. My neighbor was murdered several months ago, and she is not included in your statistics.”

The anonymous neighbor told me that a young Bedouin woman, Zana al-Sana, from the village Lakiya in the Negev Desert, disappeared for a period of time. It was announced in the village that al-Sana died and received a modest burial. Everybody knew, however, she was killed by her family. People came to the mourner’s tent and knew she was murdered, yet nobody talked about it. The story was not repeated in the media, and indeed al-Sana’s death did not become a statistic.

Using her name alone, without a date or any leads, I began searching for documentation of a similar case in the south. There was simply no mention of al-Sana anywhere. I told the story to +972’s Haggai Matar and asked for help in speaking to the police and the state attorney. The story sounded completely insane: how come no one knew to tell me what actually happened?

 Palestinians citizens of Israel participate in a vigil in the town of Ramle marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, on November 25, 2015. The protesters staged coffins to protest against domestic violence and the rise in numbers of women murdered by their husbands. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians citizens of Israel participate in a vigil in the town of Ramle marking the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, on November 25, 2015. The protesters staged coffins to protest against domestic violence and the rise in numbers of women murdered by their husbands. (Activestills.org)

After speaking to the police I found out that al-Sana did indeed disappear last December. The police searched for her and arrested her brother after they heard he had threatened her. Shortly after his arrest, al-Sana’s family members found her body half-buried in the desert, not far from one the Negev’s central junctions. Her body was handed over to the family after the autopsy, which strangely did nothing to further the investigation into the cause of death. The forensics institute was unable to “fully determine the cause of death.”

In other words, the institute could not even determine if al-Sana was murdered. Because it is unlikely that a young woman cannot die of natural causes and then bury herself in the sand, I had a suspicion that the neighbor was right. Al-Sana’s brother was released shortly after the autopsy, and the case was closed five months ago. The police investigation continues, although without any results.

What’s the big deal, after all?

We turned to the police spokesperson, in an attempt to find out how it was possible that a woman is murdered and no one says anything to the media, or how months pass and no one is indicted. We wondered whether there is a difference in the way the police treats murders of Jewish and Arab women. It was difficult for us to believe that the murder of a Jewish woman would be met with the same silence.

The first part of the spokesperson’s response included a short lecture on equality between bodies, and the state’s commit man to deal with every body, regardless of nationality, religion, race, or sex. The rest of the statement is as follows:

In December 2015 we received a report on a missing person, after which the police a case, while undertaking the necessary actions vis-a-vis these kinds of events and conducting searches and gathering intelligence. During the investigation we took testimonies from her daughter, who during her fourth testimony, said that the missing person had been previously attacked by her brother.

A search in the police log revealed that she had previously arrived at the hospital with bruises on her body. Police officers who came to question her were met with absolute refusal to cooperate, [she] refused to talk or tell us who gave her these bruises and under which circumstances, despite the police’s attempts to get her to talk. Thus, without the necessary evidence to identify the attacker, the case was closed.

After she went missing, and following the daughter’s testimony, al-Sana’s brother was detained and interrogated. A few days later her body was found and was sent to undergo autopsy. After the cause of death could not be determined, and following consultation with the state attorney, the brother was released.

Israel Police regrets the tragic results of this case, and is continuing to investigate the matter both openly and covertly.

Now, dear readers, allow me to translate the statement as I see it:

Yes, you pests, a year ago during the height of tensions that came as a result of nationalistically-motivated violence, something happened in some faraway village in the Negev, where another Arab woman went missing. Big deal. We interrogated the family, and the daughter told us after four different questionings that her uncle is abusive. Only then did we bother to check the records and discovered that once, in the distant past, we were summoned to the hospital because the deceased had been bruised up. But we were not able to take her testimony. The computer says we tried very hard, but it is unclear whether the family was around and who we interrogated, or whether the welfare authorities or some other official body intervened to help her. We have no idea about any of this, but what is clear is that we acted appropriately.

Once we understood that the deceased had previously been hospitalized due to severe violence, most likely from her brother, and now she is missing. So we came to the conclusion that he is somehow connected and arrested him. Meanwhile, after the arrest, her body was found. The legal authorities did not understand what happened to her, so we thought there was no point in keeping her brother in detention. After all, she’s dead. May she rest in peace, now will you stop bothering us?

And that’s it, dear readers. Israeli police, the legal system, the health system, the welfare system, and the education system invites you to express your regret over the murder of women. Let’s join together and mourn our helplessness in the face of violent men who lack both education and morals.

I, too, regret al-Sana’s murder. But along with thousands of other Arab and Jewish women and men from across the country, I refuse to shut up any longer. We will continue to demonstrate, shout, and fight for our rights to live. But not only to live — to work on daily basis to fix this horrific situation.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Train981

      If Arab society refuses to cooperate with the police, then on the basis of what evidence can the police link the brother with the murder? And if there is no such evidence then how can the police prosecute the brother or continue to hold him?

      How were the police supposed to stop the abuse when the victim refused to cooperate with the police to point out who the perpetrator was?

      In what court system would it be sufficient to jail someone for murder on the basis of the testimony that someone had been abusive?

      So, what do we have here? The police are blamed for violence in Arab society. They are blamed for not being able to press charges where they have no evidence to do so because people refuse to talk to the police.

      If you want to see the reasons for the continuation of violence against women in Arab society then look in your own community. This pattern of blaming the police for things that are beyond their control is both absurd and unhelpful even if it makes you feel good about doing something for the “struggle” (and no, not the struggle against violence against women).

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Very passive-aggressive.

        Reply to Comment
    2. R5

      This reminds me of the progressive writers who call Orlando a “mass shooting” – frame the issue so the problem’s not on your side of the fence.

      Reply to Comment