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How the media helped turn an innocent Palestinian into a child rapist

Mahmoud Katusa, who was falsely accused of raping a 7-year-old Jewish girl, fell victim to a press and a public atmosphere that views Palestinians as guilty until proven innocent.

By Uzi Benziman

Mahmoud Katusa, seen after his release from Israeli prison, at the Beitunia crossing, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mahmoud Katusa, seen after his release from Israeli prison, at the Beitunia crossing, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In order to understand the false allegations against Mahmoud Katusa, a Palestinian man from the West Bank who was wrongfully accused of raping a 7-year-old Jewish girl, one should listen to what Dr. Suzy Ben Baruch, the former head of the Israel Police Juvenile Department, told Army Radio last week.

Speaking on an evening show, Ben Baruch firmly stated that Katusa’s was “the perfect case.” The victim’s “early acquaintance with the rapist,” and that he was speedily identified were “sound evidence for filing an indictment. And that’s what we have in this case.”

Co-host Yaakov Berdugo tried to understand Ben Baruch’s diagnosis, repeatedly asking her about how she came to this particular conclusion. Ben Baruch responded resolutely: “If the prosecution had doubts about its ability to prove the accusation, it would not have filed an indictment.”

Army Radio was not the only outlet to host Ben Baruch and make room for her insights. That same night she was also interviewed by several other outlets, and in the following days, her opinion could be found everywhere in the media. The impression she left was incontrovertible: Katusa is the rapist, and the Military Advocate General and the police have solid evidence to prosecute him.

On Tuesday morning, shortly after the police and the MAG withdrew the indictment against Katusa, Ben Baruch’s conclusions now speak for themselves. The irony is clear as day, and perhaps it is symbolic that someone previously tasked with investigating cases of sexual abuse of minors failed so disgracefully.

The behavior of the police and the MAG in this case not only reflects an inexcusable professional clumsiness; it mainly shows the kind of racist mindset that is poisoning Israeli society — including, woefully, the branch entrusted with enforcing the law. The state authority whose role it is to protect the public from injustice, to implement the very principles of justice rather than divert or distort it, is infected by a disease that all state institutions must be safeguarded against.

The rape attributed to Katusa took place in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank that has limited contact with state authorities, including the police. It is a place where the rabbi has far greater authority than the local police commander. As expected, the news of the rape initially remained within the family, after which it spread to her school, and only later reached Israeli authorities. The police station located inside the settlement is influenced by the public mood, comporting itself to the expectations of its residents. That same goes for the school and its administration. They are part of the community and its lifestyle.

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These circumstances, which exist in other communities across the country, meant there was a higher likelihood of failing to properly take care of the girl’s complaint. The settlement is also influenced by the hostile relations between the settlers and their Palestinian neighbors, as well as incitement, terrorism, and “price tag” attacks.

The prejudices, anxieties, and growing hatred that inform relations between Jews and Palestinians can be seen in the daily contact between the two — all the more so in cases of extreme violence. All of this was evident in the way the rape case unfolded, yet these circumstances were not sufficiently considered at the right time by either the investigative authorities or the media, which influences said authorities.

The first lawyer who made the media rounds following the indictment was attorney Haim Bleicher of Honenu, a legal aid organization with Kahanist leanings. Honenu has previously offered its services to right-wing terrorists such as Ami Popper, the killers of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and Yigal Amir, who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Bleicher represented the 7-year-old girl and her family.

Attorneys belonging to the far-right Honenu organization give a press conference regarding the conditions of the Jewish youth arrested in the Duma terror attack, Jerusalem, December 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorneys belonging to the far-right Honenu organization give a press conference regarding the conditions of the Jewish youth arrested in the Duma terror attack, Jerusalem, December 17, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On her radio show, journalist Ayala Hasson asked Bleicher whether he thinks the rape was a deliberate attack on Jewish Israelis, to which the attorney responded:

When I heard about the incident I thought it was just another case of pedophilia. The moment I understood that the incident included additional adults who looked on and humiliated the girl, I understood that this case has no precedent. We’re not talking about everyone looking on as the act is carried out on an adult woman, but rather pure hatred. If they do not suffer from pedophilia, then the only reason they could be going along with the rapist is because she is Jewish and thus they can do anything they want to her. I do not know of a single human being who could look on in the face of such an incident without stopping it.

Hasson asked Bleicher whether he or the girl’s family expects additional suspects to be arrested. “We expect all those who participated to be arrested, since in our view they are a ticking bomb,” Bleicher responded. “People who can stand there and go along with this kind of thing cannot be trusted… from the nature of the incident it is quite clear that this is not the only case. Their conduct was systematic and professional.”

The interview with Hasson should give us pause. The defendant’s attorney was not invited to the interview (in fact, at the time Bleicher spoke on the radio, the defendant was not yet assigned an attorney, nor was his name known) while the family’s lawyer was. Why does the family need an attorney? It is unclear. Yet Hasson jumped on the opportunity and gave platform to the kind of wholesale racism that seeks to paint all Palestinians as child predators waiting to pounce on young Jewish girls.

Hasson’s interview colored the way most of Israel’s other media outlets covered the story, which portrayed Katusa as a cruel rapist. Only Channel 13 and the Israeli Public Broadcasting Company began raising questions about the validity of the police’s evidence and the professionalism of the investigators and prosecutors.

There is no need to go into great detail about the kind of racism we saw exuding from Israeli politicians — beginning with Prime Minister Netanyahu himself — as well as right-wing social media and the print media. Put simply, it was a terrifying spectacle that saw countless Israelis get swept up in a prejudice that views Palestinians as devils lying in wait for any and every Israeli. Now that the indictment has been rescinded, these racists must consider the hatred that flows in their blood and dictates their thinking and their actions.

The dominant tone among the Jewish public in Israel toward Palestinians, and especially the attitude of its leaders (and, unfortunately, of its civil servants) is not unlike that of the white establishment toward African Americans in the United States. Over there, they cannot rid themselves of this curse, even years after they recognized its existence and pledged to uproot it. Here, they deny it even exists in the first place.

A week ago, “The Seventh Eye” recommended the media consider the possibility that the police version of the incident may not reflect reality. Today it should take a hard look in the mirror and not forget the obvious question: who is the actual rapist?

Uzi Benziman is the founder and former editor-in-chief- of The Seventh Eye, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Ray

      Shades of the Jim Crow South.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Amir

      They “only democracy in the M-E”, they say…

      This would never happen in Europe or other developed countries (Japan, Australia…)

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordine

        As usual, you are wrong. In the case of sexual crimes against children, suspects in most European countries are locked up for the duration of the investigation. In another area, Carlos Gosn, the former director of Mitsubishi and Renault has been locked up weeks in jail in Japan for investigation without this shocking you. Israel is a country of freedom, unlike all its neighbors ..

        Reply to Comment
        • Amir

          Of course, we all know how democratic are “israeli” courts and administrative detention towards Palestinians, sorry for goyims

          Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            No, Judaism obliges us to respect the foreigner. There are thousands of foreigners in Israel who live very well and respected by all. Those who have nothing to reproach themselves for are very happy in Israel.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The Palestinians are not “foreigners,” the ones who live in the occupied territories are not “in Israel,” and if Judaism requires you to respect them and actual foreigners, then you have one helluva lot to repent for, having committed countless grave sins for many years. And about foreigners, your treatment of the African refugees is so deplorable that you should have been ashamed to write what you have just written about respecting the foreigner. Really you are in a class by yourself, Halevy, when it comes to shamelessness and brazen falsifying.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            You’re confusing, Ben. Our religious laws oblige us to respect foreigners. These are, of course, foreigners who scrupulously respect the law. Some Arabs in Israel do not respect the law. Just as some foreigners entered illegally.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You’re not confusing, you’re amusing, Halevy; an interesting case study in witlessly digging oneself deeper into a hypocrisy hole.

            Note that for Halevy, Palestinians are still “foreigners” (aka non-Jews) in their own land, and these “foreigners” had better cross every t and dot every i and not even think about not “scrupulously respecting the law”—which law of course is the judeosupremacist occupation anti-law in the territories and such laws as the nation state law outside the territories, or else. Or else. If they know what’s good for them in the Land of the Overlords. Yet Jews (Bibi, anyone? Liberman? A whole host of corrupt honchos of theirs) need not be so “scrupulous” because, well, they’re Jews, natch, and so they’re special. This is how Israeli “democracy” works for Halevy. And of course those Palestinians in the West Bank, they are not “scrupulous,” so human rights just simply becomes a non-issue for Overlord Halevy. See how that works?

            Note also that genuine refugees—the case for them being genuine refugees made obvious in the article “’We’ll build a new country’: Sudanese refugees celebrate Bashir’s downfall in Tel Aviv,” by Edo Konrad, April 11, 2019, and any of the articles one finds by searching the tag “refugees”—these genuine refugees are also, in Halevy’s Lexicon, not only “foreigners” but “illegal foreigners.” And with that, Overlord Halevy pulls out all the stops and reserves the right to treat them, too, inhumanely, brutally, with incredible cruelty, because in Overlord Halevy’s Judaism, “illegal foreigners,” by Halevy’s Jewish Law, don’t deserve even basic human rights, and can be treated thus:
            https://972mag.com/provide-asylum-seekers-with-heaters-rights-groups-demand-in-court/101217/

            Reply to Comment
          • Amir

            Judaism? How come, all your dirty work against Palestinians is based on Judaism, and God told this and gave you that etc etc!

            And as Ben said, Palestinians live in their land, they don’t come New York, Moscow or Paris

            Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Will Liberman retract his confident characterization of this as a “well-planned terrorist attack on a little girl” and his demand for the death penalty for the “despicable terrorist”? Will Bezalel Smotrich retract his “If only it were possible to impose the death penalty on this scum. Such a monster doesn’t deserve to breathe the air in our world”? Will Gilad Erdan retract his insistence it be investigated as a “nationalist incident”? Will any of them apologize? Of course not.

          The entity comprising Israel and the territories it occupies is not an entity of freedom.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      Ha’aretz editorial: “Israel’s Rape Indictment of Palestinian Reveals the Moral Rot…The case allows a terrifying look into the rot that has spread into the “justice system” that Israel has created for its Palestinian subjects living under military occupation. In the backyard of Israeli democracy exists a parallel legal world where the Palestinians are assumed to be terrorists unless proved otherwise….This general failure includes every member of the system: the police, who held Qatusa in custody for two months without sufficient evidence; the military prosecutors, who filed an indictment even though the file lacked sufficient evidence; the media, which instead of serving as the watchdog of democracy humiliated itself with a sick dialogue implying that reservations about the rape of little girls depends on political tastes and whims; and the politicians, who saw this shocking incident as nothing but an opportunity to sow fear and win votes.”

      https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/editorial/israel-s-rape-indictment-of-palestinian-reveals-the-moral-rot-1.7410293

      Reply to Comment
      • Amir

        “israel is a country of freedom, unlike all its neighbors ..” dixit Itshak Gordine!!

        Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      Yes, this was a major screw up. Yes, the police and Israeli press were awful. And yes, the court system straightened this out very quickly.

      I think the gentleman involved deserves to be paid damages for what was done to him- specifically that his name and photo were all over the press.

      I know this looks like a great chance to convict all of Israeli society, especially if you are already convinced that Israel is is an Evil State populated by Monsters. But such police failures are unfortunately all too common, even in democracies. So let’s go after the police and prosecutors who messed this up, give credit to the court system that put a stop to it, and admit that even decent countries aren’t perfect countries.

      Reply to Comment
      • john

        ‘go after the police and prosecutors’
        agreed

        Reply to Comment