By Rami Ayyub
BAQA AL-GHARBIYYE, Israel (Reuters) – The family of an Israeli student who was killed in Australia made final preparations her funeral on Wednesday as her body arrived back in her home town.
Mourners gathered along the sandstone walls of Aiia Maasarwe’s old school in Baqa Al-Gharbiyye near Haifa in northern Israel. Relatives and neighbours filed into her family’s home to offer condolences.
Near the family’s front gate in the close-knit Arab town, relatives and neighbours had hung signs in Arabic saying “Stop picking our flowers”. The family said that was a reference to violence against young women. Municipal offices shut down for the day.
Maasarwe, 21, was killed while walking home after a night out with friends in Melbourne, where she was studying. A student at Shanghai University, she had been on a six-month exchange programme at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.
Her body was found by passersby early on Jan. 16 near the university’s Bundoora campus in the northeast of Australia’s second-largest city.
Her death has fuelled outrage in Australia, where thousands marched over the weekend calling for safety for women.
It was the second time in seven months that a young woman had been killed on her way home at night in Melbourne, which has an active night life and is popular with overseas university students.
A family member said Maasarwe was talking on the phone to her sister back home in Israel when she was attacked, and that she often made such calls to make her feel safer while walking home late at night.
Her uncle, Abed Katane, said she had chosen the university “because she’d never heard any problems about Melbourne” or other Australian cities.
“She had to decide between New York and Melbourne, and called me to ask what I think,” he said.
“We both felt that Australia is more quiet, and its people more well-behaved. Our opinion turned out for the worse.”
Maasarwe’s death has shocked Baqa al-Gharbiyye, a densely populated community which lies next to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Its 30,000 residents are members of Israel’s Arab minority.
A 20-year-old man who has been charged with murder was remanded in custody on Monday. The case was adjourned until June, according to a spokeswoman for the Melbourne Magistrate Court.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens)