Thousands of mourners gathered Wednesday in the northern town of Baqa al-Gharbiya for the funeral of an Israeli woman murdered in Australia.
Aya Maasarwe’s body was found by passersby near a tram stop in Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, last Wednesday, hours after she was attacked on her way home.
“We wanted Aya to come back to the family safe and sound, and to continue to live and smile, but unfortunately she returned to us lifeless,” said her father, Saeed, according to the Ynet news site. “An excellent student, a flower cut down. I’m not looking for revenge, just for my family to stay safe and to continue our lives.”
“I thank you all, and in particular the Australian government, and the Australian people who supported us at every moment, regardless of where we are from, or our color, or our background,” said Saeed, who had traveled to Australia to oversee the return of his daughter’s body.
Although the Australian Ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan attended the funeral, there was no representative from the Israeli government there.
Referring to the Israeli government, Saeed said, “It is better to keep quiet, and the silence is the answer,” Hadashot news reported.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later called the Maasarwe family to offer his condolences, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Wednesday evening.
Netanyahu said “he shared in (the family’s) sorrow on behalf of all Israelis,” the statement said, and Aya’s father “thanked him for his condolences and his support.”
The Baqa al-Gharbiya high school closed to allow students to attend the funeral, and many businesses were shuttered.
Youths marching in a 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.
“I appreciate the support of all these people, in the whole world and also in my town,” said Maasarwe, with Australia’s ambassador to Israel by his side.
Saeed Maasarwe accompanied his daughter’s body back to Israel on Wednesday morning, telling reporters that bringing her home to her family was the most important journey of his life.
The casket was met at Ben Gurion Airport by family members, as well as MK Ahmed Tibi and the mayor of her hometown.
Maasarwe’s uncle Abed Kittani told Channel 13 news that the return of the body had been delayed by authorities, who wanted to finish the investigation, but that the release of the body was expedited after the intervention of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Maasarwe had been studying at La Trobe University in Melbourne for five months as an exchange student from Shanghai University in China, and was attacked while speaking to her younger sister in Israel on FaceTime.
Maasarwe’s grandmother described the murdered woman as “a flower who was cut down,” according to Channel 12 news.
The 21-year-old’s murder shocked Australians and sparked a huge outpouring of grief that saw thousands attend gatherings in her memory, and raised questions about the safety of women on public streets.
A 20-year-old man, Codey Herrmann, was charged with her rape and murder and remanded in custody pending another hearing on June 7.
While in Melbourne to retrieve his daughter’s body, Saeed Maasarwe said he was “very surprised” and comforted by the outpouring of support, and called for more forgiveness.
“This is the message we want to send. We want to make the world more peace and more safety, and more beautiful, and more smile; and more forgive each other,” a tearful Maasarwe told reporters late Monday.
“It’s not from me, this is Aya. I talk in my voice, but this is Aya’s mind,” he said, adding that he wished people would “see the light in the dark… and not be in the dark.”
Her family invited the public to a Muslim ceremony for her at a Melbourne mosque late Monday to thank them for their support and love.
On Saturday, friends and family of Maasarwe rallied in her home town of Baqa al-Gharbiya in northern Israel for her body to be returned for burial, as Australian authorities investigated the case.
Details of the attack have been withheld from the public by the court at the request of prosecutors as Maasarwe’s family have yet to be told, amid reports of the graphic nature of the information.
The court was told it was Herrmann’s first time in custody and he could be vulnerable due to his Aboriginal heritage and age, The Age newspaper said.