First review of new book on Palestinian Aiia Maasarwe

Murdered Palestinian student Aiia Maasarwe

Struggles for Personal and National Identity

BOOK REVIEW – Murder in Melbourne: The untold story of Aiia Maasarwe by Alex Mitchell (2020)

STUART REES WRITES: In courts of law, defendants appear before a judge, police and lawyers, each party pondering an individual’s identity. One question affects deliberations. Is this person worthy or unworthy?

In university classrooms, students carry marks of identity – gender, age, nationality, academic record.  Such a setting is a worthy place where teachers judge students.

In January 2019, Aiia Maasarwe, a Palestinian student of language and business at La Trobe  University spent an evening with friends. On her way home she was bashed, raped and murdered.

An Aboriginal rapper, Codey Herrmann, unemployed but with no previous criminal record, was arrested and confessed to the murder. He was later sentenced to thirty-six years in prison with a non-parole period of thirty years.

A Palestinian of so much promise, adored by her family, came from a nation treated cruelly for decades. The Aboriginal youth of massively deprived childhood, survived in poverty-stricken streets.

In a skilful portrayal of identities, Alex Mitchell shows that other commentators were not always conscientious or accurate. Israeli and Murdoch media labelled Aiia an Israeli. Police, prosecution and some media colluded in depicting Herrmann as vicious and depraved.

The cultures which affected Aiia Maasarwe and Codey Herrmann had much in common.  An Indigenous youth experienced a life of disadvantage. Only in court, after committing a terrible crime, was he taken seriously.  A young woman, committed to justice for her people, carried the burden of decades of brutal Israeli occupation.

In this compelling story, a beneficial portrayal of identity is given by Aiia’s grieving father. ‘First, we are all human beings. Then we are Muslim. Then we are Arab. Then we are Palestinian…Having Israeli passports is the result of our political situation…I know in our hearts we are Palestinian.’

It would be easy to forget the murder of a clever, exuberant young woman and the imprisonment of a tragic youth. But the social and ethical dilemmas in Alex Mitchell’s ‘Murder in Melbourne’ make this highly significant story too confronting and challenging to forget.

 Stuart Rees, Hyams Beach, NSW, February 13, 2020

Professor Stuart Rees is the founder of the Sydney Peace Prize and Emeritus Professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney

Stuart Rees, right, with Alex Mitchell, centre, and Professor Henry Reynolds in 2018


In January 2019 21-year-old Aiia Maasarwe’s brutally murdered body was found near a tram stop in Melbourne. A 20-year-old Aboriginal man, Codey Herrmann, is now serving a 36-year sentence after pleading guilty to the terrible crime.

Many unanswered questions remain. In this compelling book, veteran journalist Alex Mitchell investigates.


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