Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Could this murder have been prevented?

Active stills for Na'am Arab Women in the Center
Active stills for Na'am Arab Women in the Center

“Her neighbors heard screams. He was killing their children – a 6-month-old baby and a 1-and-a-half-year-old infant – before stabbing her to death. The last thing she saw before dying was her babies being ripped apart. She was 26 years old,” said Samah Salaime, head of Na’am Arab Women in the Center, describing the horrific triple murder in Taibe this week.

It was the neighbors who called the police; Bara’ah Jaber Masarwa’s 30-year-old husband was arrested. “I did nothing wrong,” he said to reporters, crossing his arms defensively as the court extended his arrest. “I came home and found my family murdered.” At 2:30 a.m.

“He was not known to the authorities,” added the reporter, “although there are whispers of hospitalization for mental health issues.”

Can we start from the beginning? I cannot tell you what mental health issues her husband suffered from, but what is clear is that covering them up, whispering about them, hoping that marriage and fatherhood would alleviate them, were not the answer.

Sometimes we have to say: Everything will not be b’seder (okay)

The answers, of course, are not clear or simple, but the first thing we need to do, as a society, is to rip off the impenetrable layers of shame and guilt covering mental illness. The WHO estimates that just under 11% of the world’s population suffers from a mental health disorder, making anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder some of the most common diseases around. They affect someone you know.

If we can stop whispering, say the words aloud, we can begin to treat these disorders as any other illness. And of course, mental illness, on its own, should not prevent one from marrying, any more than Type I diabetes or allergies. But in some cases, it should make a prospective bride or groom stop and think. Sometimes we have to say: Everything will not be b’seder (okay).

I have no idea whether Bara’ah was aware of the reason for her husband’s former hospitalization, whether there were signs that went unreported, what she agreed to when she agreed to marry this man and have his children. In hindsight we can look for causes, in the present it may look as if everything was okay until it wasn’t.

But I do have some idea of the pressures on a young woman to marry, on the ways that they can feel they have few alternatives, on the limits and expectations that are placed on them from a young age.

Changing attitudes towards marriage, toward family structures and our expectations for our children’s futures will take even more time and effort than changing attitudes toward mental illness. But once young women have the absolute freedom to embrace alternatives, marriage might cease to be a death trap for all too many.

Could this murder have been prevented?

We can’t always know who will snap one day and kill his wife and children, but we can learn to look for the signs, to encourage men to talk about their feelings and to be open about mental illness.

Despite what we don’t know

We can’t know where the next murder will occur, but we can work to ensure that our sons are educated to abhor killing, our daughters educated to be strong and to seek help if they are abused or afraid.

We can’t know whether the murders will occur by shooting, stabbing or beating, but we can insist our law-enforcement and welfare services work to prevent them – in all places in the country.

We can’t know if the next murder will be of a young Palestinian man or an elderly Jewish woman, but we can all work to reduce the culture of violence that is on the rise in our county.

Another five murders took place around the country yesterday. If you are out protesting today for equality, please take a minute to protest against the unequal values getting assigned to human life in our midst.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
Related Topics
Related Posts