U.S. government lawyers and U.S. Marshals are seen in this courtroom sketch, shortly before the accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was found guilty of smuggling tons of drugs to the United States, in Brooklyn federal court in New York, U.S., February 12, 2019.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JANE ROSENBERG)
At the outset I should like to say that I am totally in favor of all persons accused of sex offences, but especially pedophiles, being brought to justice, given a fair trial and receiving the heaviest punishments prescribed by the law if found guilty. This applies equally to Israelis, Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and anyone else who might be subject to the Israeli law, or in this case the Jordanian law, as applied by the military courts in the occupied territories.
Yes, also to haredi offenders, who for some reason, which is beyond my comprehension, seem to enjoy very lenient treatment at best, and total immunity within their communities at worst, while the lives of their victims are destroyed for life, at least as long as they remain within their haredi communities. Let us not forget that Deputy Minister of Health Yaacov Litzman is currently under investigation on suspicion that he acted illegally to try and prevent a Haredi female teacher – Malka Lieifer – from being extradited to Australia, where she is wanted for trial on suspicions of having raped and sexually abused 74 female pupils in the haredi school she ran there, before escaping to Israel in search of refuge. Litzman is also known to intervene with the relevant authorities on behalf of convicted haredi pedophiles, as he intervenes on behalf of other incarcerated haredim at the request of his religious superiors.
Also in the current case that hit the media last week, but which apparently occurred sometime in April, involving a seven-year-old Jewish child from a haredi settlement in the Binyamin Region – in Judea and Samaria – and a Palestinian suspect who worked as a janitor in the school which the child attends. If the charges brought against the suspect are found to justify his being brought to trial, he should be given a fair trial, and punished in accordance with the severity of the offence and its background.
However, what has occurred so far in this case resembles a cruel farce rather than an honest search of the facts and justice. Amongst the unknowns (at least as far as what has been published) are whether we are talking of rape or some other form of sexual molestation (the child was not examined by an authorized expert in forensic medicine); when the offence actually took place and where, and whether there were additional persons present; whether the person held in detention – a Palestinian by the name of Mahmoud Katusa from the village of Deir Qaddis – is in any way connected to the event, or was mistakenly or maliciously named by the child’s mother and then selected in an identification line-up by the child.
There are many reasons for this messy situation. Among them the fact that the family turned to the police only after several weeks; that the initial police investigation was carried out by the local police station in the settlement where the child lives, where the offence allegedly took place, but the station is both unqualified and unequipped to hold such investigations; the low level of the personnel in the military prosecution that was assigned to deal with the case (the military prosecution is dealing with the case because a Palestinian is allegedly involved); the fact that we are dealing with a haredi family in a haredi settlement, in which child molestation is usually kept under wraps, irrespective of the identity of the perpetrator; the involvement of ‘Honenu’ – an association that offers legal services to settlers (including Na’arei Ha’Gva’ot), Israeli soldiers and policemen who are accused of mishandling or crimes against Palestinians – in advising the child’s parents, and their legal representation in the early stages. This involvement might have contributed to the investigation being “contaminated” with misinformation.
HOWEVER, THE main problem is that the evidence against the Palestinian who is being held in custody for the heinous offence is flimsy (to say the least), and at this stage it cannot be excluded that someone else – Palestinian or possibly even Jewish – is guilty of the crime. Nevertheless, almost everyone, including senior right-wing politicians, are calling for an investigation into whether there is a nationalist background to Katusa’s alleged act, and that he be left to rot in jail, or be executed – and all this before we know whether he is guilty or not!
Several days ago, TV channel 20 presenter and political commentator Shimon Riklin appeared on Guy Lehrer’s nightly TV show on channel 13 HaZinor (The Pipeline) and started yelling at Lehrer that “the left-wing media” was not calling the rape an act of nationalist terrorism, while every little prank by settler youths in Palestinian villages and orchards is entitled “a crime of hatred.” First of all, the activities of Na’arei HaGva’ot against Palestinians are certainly based on nationalist motives, just as Palestinian terrorist acts and the throwing of stones at Jewish cars are based on nationalist motives. But not every Palestinian act against a Jewish victim – not even a heinous crime like the rape of a child – has a nationalist motivation. A pedophile is a pedophile, and should be punished accordingly. I do not believe that the Palestinians themselves consider a Palestinian who raped a Jewish child a national hero.
It is interesting to note that the prime minister was very careful in what he, himself, wrote in his Twitter account about the rape: “The shocking rape of a little girl moves all of our hearts. I wish to strengthen the family. The courts should exhaust the full severity of the law with whoever is responsible for this horrible act.” The question is whether Netanyahu would write the same about a suspected Jewish person accused of a pedophilic act against a Jewish child – and there are many thousands of such cases in Israel, reported or unreported, every year. And though it is certainly generous of Netanyahu to express his moral support for the family, it is the hapless little girl whose life is ruined, because in the haredi community a sexually abused girl is considered defiled, no matter what the identity of the perpetrator.
Perhaps it is time that instead of just bending over background to satisfy the demands of the haredi parties whenever the prime minister seeks their support when he tries to form a new government, Netanyahu should place some demands of his own to them in the sphere of the rights of girls and women in the haredi society.
In the meantime all one can do is hope that in the current case justice will be done to all: the full facts will be revealed, whoever is guilty – Katusa or someone else – will be severely punished, the little girl will not be made to feel guilty or to suffer for what happened to her, her family will understand that they are at least partially to blame for the facts not being properly investigated in real time, and the media will be commended, rather than condemned, for doing its best to uncover all the cock-ups in this case.
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