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Why we need to change the way we're referring to Aya Maasarwe.

Amid the outpouring of grief over the death of Aya Maasarwe in Melbourne last week, people may have noticed some changes in the way she’s being described.

Although she was initially referred to as an Israeli or an Arab-Israeli, she’s now being referred to as a Palestinian Arab, or a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship.

Some might wonder whether these details are important in the face of such a terrible tragedy – the brutal death of a 21-year-old student living in Melbourne, a young woman with a beautiful smile, whose family have described her as “an angel, a diamond”.

But these details, we’ve learned, matter deeply to her family. They have requested that she be described as a Palestinian Arab, with her named spelled ‘Aya,’ to reflect her Palestinian identity.

We all want to be respectful of their wishes.

21-year-old student Aya Maasarwe was on exchange from Israel. Image: Facebook.
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Bassam Dally describes himself as a citizen of Israel of Palestinian background. He explains why it’s important to refer to Maasarwe as Palestinian.

“From our perspective, when someone is referred to as just as Israeli or an Israeli Arab, it has a lot of political baggage that comes with it,” he tells Mamamia.

“Calling them Arabs is implying they could go and live anywhere else in the Arab world. Also, it’s erasing their identity as Palestinians who are basically indigenous people to Palestine and have been living there by depriving them of who they are as an ethnic group – in essence, trying to wipe the whole Palestine out of the map.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dispute over territory with a long, complex history. In 1947, the United Nations recommended that the region known as Palestine should be split into three parts, one of them being a Jewish state and another being an Arab state. The Arabs rejected the idea. There was a war in 1948, and another in 1967, which left Israel in control of territories including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where many Palestinians were living. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees. Other stayed in the territories under Israeli control.

Currently, Palestinian Arabs make up around 20 per cent of Israel’s population.

“It’s important for them to identify as Palestinians to highlight they have been here before, that they do have legitimate concerns and points to make about who they are and how they should be treated,” Dally adds.

Maasarwe’s father Saeed only wants to see “more peace” in the world, making a plea at a Melbourne mosque last night for people to “go to the light”.

He is now travelling home to Israel with his daughter’s body.

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