I was at a devastating mourning tent in the Arab town of Shefa-Amer (in Arabic, Shefaram in Hebrew). Johara Khnefess, the 28-year-old daughter of the deputy mayor and social activist Faraj Khnefess, was murdered this past Monday evening. Her car was blown up at the entrance to the town, where I happened to be only an hour before this happened. Shefa-Amer is 10 minutes from Kibbutz Hannaton, where I live. I am there often.
Johara came from a Druze family. She was an outspoken feminist, demonstrating against violence against women and general violence in the Arab sector. Her mother, Badihah, serves as chairperson of the Unit for the Advancement of Women in Shefa-Amer and is also an outspoken feminist and social activist.
I had been to Muslim and Christian mourning tents in the Arab sector before, but never a Druze tent. There were separate tents for the men and the women. In the women’s tent, women were all dressed in black with white head scarfs. One woman ululated responsively with Johara’s mother. She is crushed.
Johara and her mother had both acted recently in a video clip (below) against the violence in the Arab sector. The clip opens with a young girl being killed by a passing motorcyclist. At her mourning tent people offer the traditional condolences, saying, “Inshallah, may we drink coffee at happy occasions.” After the women’s mourning tent, the words, “Enough… We are tired” flash across the screen. Next we see Johara playing the part of a young bride. The women are celebrating, and they say, “Inshallah, may we drink coffee only at happy occasions.” Then the words, “The time has come for us to protect our own houses” flash across the screen.
It’s a video to empower women to take control of their and their children’s safety, to not just sit back and mourn and allow this violence to continue, to send a message to those (men) in power that they must do more to ensure everyone’s safety, that we cannot just let this continue, and to send a message to those (men) causing the violence that enough is enough. The women will not be quiet any longer.
Johara was also interviewed recently in a news program (there is a screen shot below) in which she pointed to various reasons for this violence, due to both internal and external factors. She says Arab society will never progress as long as people live in daily mortal fear. It is heartbreaking to hear her say this not long before she fell victim to the violence of which she speaks.
The youngest of four children, Johara was well-loved among family and friends. She was the “flower of the family” according to her father — courageous, successful, cheerful, always smiling. But she was also serious, working to make the world, or at least her part of it, a better place.
No one has claimed responsibility for the murder, and police are investigating. When a woman’s car is blown up in the Druze community, however, it is usually a sign of an “honor killing,” a murder of an outspoken independent-minded woman as a warning to other women. Another suspicion is the murderer was seeking revenge against or “punishing” her father or mother or both parents because of their political activity.
What is clear is she was murdered, it was premeditated, she was not involved in any crime herself, and she and her mother had been outspoken in public forums recently against violence in the Arab sector, including that against women.
I would say I have no words. But I do have some.
As I sat there in the mourning tent listening to Johara’s mother’s wailing, my tears flowed, and I gazed in disbelief at the below photo of cheerful Johara smiling just as her father had described. I remembered the video clip’s message and what she had said in the news interview about society’s inability to progress as long as people live in daily mortal fear. I wondered if she feared for her own life that fatal evening, because she had the courage to speak out.
These are the words that kept running through my head:
WE CANNOT LET THIS CONTINUE.