Last month, a Palestinian man who worked as a janitor in an elementary school in a haredi Orthodox settlement in the West Bank was arrested and indicted for the rape of a 7-year-old girl.
The military court indictment alleged that he formed a relationship with the girl, a student at the school, by giving her sweets and getting to know her. It said that he took her to a building that was walking distance from the school, where he held her against her will and where two other men held her down while he assaulted her.
Less than two weeks later, the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence.
When the indictment was announced after a three-month investigation, it was clear it had more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. The girl did not see a doctor until several days after the alleged attack; the family did not preserve her underwear which could have provided DNA clues; it was not clear on exactly what day the assault took place; no one saw a Palestinian man leading a haredi girl through the streets of the settlement either willingly or against her will; the place where it occurred could not be pinned down, and the girl’s DNA was not found in the room where the attack was alleged to have taken place.
The Palestinian man, who also worked in construction in the community, had an alibi from a Jewish employer for the time and day in question in the indictment, and then that date was changed. The two other men who were alleged to have been present at the attack could not be identified or located. An adult may have suggested to the girl who the alleged rapist was.
It is pretty clear that the girl was raped, officials say. It could have been another Palestinian man. It could have been a resident of the community. Just not by the arrested Palestinian man.
And now his life is ruined.
He says he does not think he can return to work in that settlement and, he says with understatement, the 55 days that he spent in prison prior to the indictment were “very difficult.” And now officials say that while he didn’t commit this crime, he may have committed another crime. But they are not offering any details.
To make things worse, upon the news of his indictment, several right-wing politicians and leaders called the crime nationalistic and even called for the death penalty.
“It’s not pedophilia, it’s pure terrorism, one of the most serious cases I’ve heard of in the past few years,” said Avigdor Liberman, whose voice rose the loudest in calling for the death penalty.
Rape is a horrible, ugly, awful crime. And human beings, no matter what nationality or religion, commit crimes. Bad ones. Even Jews. All kinds of Jews.
But that doesn’t mean that they are committing them for nationalistic or religious reasons. I am very troubled that this crime was conflated to something related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than what it was or would have been if this man had committed it, a horrific crime.
Perhaps it is because in February, a Palestinian man from Hebron admitted to raping an Israeli teen, 19-year-old Ori Ansbacher, for nationalist reasons. He killed her. The rape, it appears, was just opportunistic. And even the Palestinians that he was jailed with found the rape abhorrent. They reportedly threatened to kill him.
But nationalistic rape is considered rare.
The rape accusation resonated where I live as well. Several months ago, a group of local parents complained after two elementary schools hired an Arab-Israeli company to clean the schools, after hours, women only. They said they were worried about the safety of their children. The employees aren’t even Palestinians; they were Israeli citizens just like we are. And what made those parents think that Arabs were programmed to harm their children any more than Jewish school cleaners? Another group of parents opposed this type of racism, and there were protests and many debates on the community’s social media pages. But after this Palestinian man accused of rape was arrested, one of the more liberal protesters apologized, saying the arrest made her realize that there is a danger. I was so disappointed.
The accusations of both the rape and the nationalist crime were just another nail in the coffin of one day having better relations with our Palestinian neighbors and I think that is so sad.