On the day after her high school graduation party, Henriette Karra, 17, confided in a relative her plans to become a Muslim for her boyfriend.
Henriette, an Arab Israeli, knew that her Christian family in Ramle, a city in central Israel, would be furious. Her parents had made it clear during Henriette’s year of dating her Muslim boyfriend, also an Arab Israeli, that they considered the relationship a shame to the family.
They allegedly beat and threatened her in an attempt to break up the relationship, prompting her to report the violence to police, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
Her boyfriend was in prison at the time but was scheduled to get out at the end of the week. On June 13, she told her relative of her plans to be with him. The relative then called her father, telling him Henriette’s intentions.
That day, police found Henriette dead in her parents’ kitchen, with multiple stab wounds to her neck.
On Sunday, about a month after Henriette’s death, Israeli police charged her father, Sami Karra, with murder, Israeli media outlets reported. Authorities allege Karra killed his daughter over his “vehement opposition” to her relationship with the young Muslim man and her intentions to convert to Islam for him, the Jerusalem Post reported, citing a criminal indictment. Karra’s attorneys asserted their client’s innocence and criticized what they claimed was a lack of forensic evidence in the case.
Henriette’s death last month spurred protests in her home town and outrage from community leaders and lawmakers who claimed the authorities, knowing about the teenager’s dangerous family environment, did not do enough to protect her.
“The school knew about the problem, the neighbors knew about the problem,” Samah Salaime, founding director of Arab Women in the Center, said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The painful thing is she complained. She was in the police station a week before she died.”
Salaime, whose organization focuses on combating gender-based violence against women, has met with the teenager’s relatives and community members to learn more about her case. She said the killing underscored the problem of widespread violence against women, including a string of killings of Israeli-Arab women.
Arabs make up half the women murdered in Israel every year, Salaime told The Post, even though Arabs make up only 20 percent of the population.
In response to the news of Henriette’s death, Aida Touma-Sliman, a member of Israel’s parliament who leads a committee on the status of women and gender equality, called for a “deliberate plan to fight this epidemic” of women being killed and authorities failing to prosecute those responsible.
Touma-Sliman told the Associated Press in November that more than 15 women were killed in the neighborhoods Ramle and Lod, near Tel Aviv, over a period of one year, but only three men were charged.
Since much of this violence takes place within families, some compare the deaths to “honor killings” in other Muslim countries, in which relatives will murder women for bringing dishonor to the family. Salaime pushes back against the term “honor killings,” saying these crimes are tied to domestic violence and drug abuse.
A large proportion of these killings happen in Ramle and Lod, “known as the backyard of Tel Aviv,” Salaime said, where poverty, drugs and illegal weapon use is rampant. As the Associated Press reported last year, a number of large clans in the region have participated in organized crime and permitted abuse against women to go frequently unpunished.
When news initially broke of Henriette’s death last month, some community members assumed her boyfriend might be responsible, not her father, Salaime said.
“Nobody believed that this might happen in the Christian community, around the church,” Salaime said. “They tend to solve problems inside their community without seeking for help.”
Dating among young couples of different religious backgrounds is not uncommon in the area. But in some highly conservative families, such relationships are not accepted, Salaime said.
About a week before Henriette’s death, Henriette filed a complaint saying her mother had thrown a pot at her during an argument over her Muslim boyfriend, the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz reported.
In the two weeks leading up to her death, authorities said Henriette fled her home, hiding from her family in other relatives’ homes and with her boyfriend’s mother.
Salaime said she spoke to the boyfriend’s mother, who showed text messages from Henriette pleading for help, seeking refuge in her home.
“This girl was looking for love and safety like any abused woman,” Salaime said, “a girl who was trying to find someone to love her and to keep her safe.”
Days before her death, Henriette’s parents and uncles tried to persuade her to go back home. Police were called, but Henriette declined assistance from an officer, Haaretz reported. Then, on June 11, Henriette and her parents met with a social worker at the bequest of the police. She refused to return home and turned down a social worker’s recommendation that she go live in a women’s shelter.
Two days later, Henriette was found dead.
Her mother told police her husband was ashamed by his daughter’s actions and felt her behavior was an insult to the “family’s honor.” The father had previously been convicted of various crimes including intimidation, property violations, and drug dealing and possession, Haaretz reported.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the father’s lawyers, speaking to Hebrew news outlet Ynet, said “it’s no secret” the family had a rough relationship “in light of the criticism her family had of her behavior.”
“In my opinion, this did not lead to murder and could not lead to murder,” the lawyers said, claiming the complaints brought to police were intended to “reunite the family.”
But text messages from Henriette to a friend that were used as evidence in the criminal indictment shed light into a terse living situation that left Henriette fearful for her life.
“You won’t believe what they did to me… They are sending people to kill me,” one message read, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“They are searching for me in every possible place,” another message read. “You don’t understand what fear this is. I don’t believe I have the strength to stand on my feet and run away.”