Thousands mourn at funeral of Palestinian student murdered in Australia

Thousands mourn at funeral of Palestinian student murdered in Australia
Aya Maasarwe's body was flown back to her hometown of Baqa al-Gharbiya, where thousands gathered for the funeral procession
3 min read
23 January, 2019
Thousands attended the procession near Haifa [Getty]
Thousands of mourners gathered on Wednesday for the funeral of Aya Maasarwe, a Palestinian student killed in Australia, in her hometown of Baqa al-Gharbiya near Haifa in northern Israel.

The 21-year-old was raped and murdered in Melbourne, where she was on a year-long study abroad programme, shortly after midnight on 16 January on her way home from a comedy show.

Her body was found the next morning by passers-by in bushes near a tram stop. However details of the incident, while police have described as "horrific", have been withheld from the public amid reports of their graphic nature.

Police in Australia have arrested and charged a suspect, 20-year-old Codey Herrmann, with her rape and murder. He remains in custody awaiting the next hearing.

The murder of Maasarwe, who had been studying in Melbourne's LaTrobe University, shocked the country and sparked a huge outpouring of grief that saw thousands attend vigils in her memory.

"I appreciate the support of all these people, in the whole world and also in my town," said her father, Saeed Maasarwe, with Australia's ambassador to Israel, Chris Cannan, by his side.

Thousands of people gathered in silence at Baqa al-Gharbiya, a town with a Muslim-majority, as mourners carried the coffin containing Maasarwe's body to her family home to the sound of prayers sung from the mosque. The funeral procession then continued to the Al-Sarat mosque and cemetery where Maasarwe's body was laid to rest.

Young people in the procession held up black banners that read "It's time to say: stop killing women" and "Women have the right to live in peace" in both Arabic and English.

Hours earlier, the town's mayor, Khaled Abu Mukh, and Palestinian Member of Israel's Knesset, Ahmad Tibi, accompanied Maasarwe's father as her coffin arrived at the airport.

In a video posted on social media, Tibi said Maasarwe was now the daughter of all Palestinians living in Israel.

Saeed Maasarwe has spoken out about his family's Palestinian identity being erased in the reporting of the tragic murder. Initial reports avoided all mention that  Maasarwe was Palestinian or Muslim, instead referring to her as an Israeli student.

In response to these reports, her father told a journalist: "First, we are all human beings. Then we are Muslim. Then we are Arab. We are Palestinian. This is our political situation (having Israeli passports), but this is our identity (Palestinian)...We cannot change the political situation."

"Whatever they call me, I know myself (inside). In our hearts we are Palestinian," he added.

Arab Palestinians constitute some 17.5 percent of Israel's population of 9 million.

Despite often reacting quickly to any incidents involving its citizens, Netanyahu's government has been conspicuously silent regarding Maasarwe's death, leading to accusations of differing treatment for Palestinian citizens of Israel in contrast with their Jewish counterparts.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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