Three years ago, coverage by Yaakov Lappin, followed by some columns I wrote, alerted the Jerusalem Post community to an abomination that occurred in northern Israel. Police arrested an American immigrant teenager in Karmiel for urinating on a lawn in late November, 2009. One police officer beat him in the police car. Two others beat him at the police station. Then, accusing him of possessing hashish, the police had him remanded to the Kishon prison. There, this seventeen-year-old boy was raped repeatedly in his cell by three fellow prisoners, who pierced his ear with a metal wire to mark him as their sex slave. By the time a private attorney Amir Meltzer helped release “S,” just a few days later, a boy’s life was ruined and a family’s Aliyah dream had turned into an ongoing Israeli nightmare.
When I first spoke to the family, they were bereft, feeling lonely, abused and abandoned by the State they had loved so much when they first moved from Miami in 2006. Fortunately, the broader Jerusalem Post community responded, and showed these people Israel’s other side -- what I consider Israel’s true side. Angels from Ra’anana swooped down and brought the family food for Shabbat, week after week. MK Isaac Herzog, at the time a government minister and a regular Post reader, helped. MK Yohanan Plesner jumped in when I met him by chance at a Taglit-Birthright Israel event and pleaded for assistance. A legendary former politician who insists on anonymity virtually adopted the family, aiding generously psychologically, economically, politically. Many others contributed time, money, and expertise, helping the family navigate the medical system and the legal system as their son sought to recover, and sought some justice.
Nothing could undo the damage done. Nevertheless, the community showed that while horrible things may happen in Israel, as in every other country, this special place has a neshama, a soul, that seeks to heal those wounds.
Last October, the three rapists finally were sentenced, after their trial had dragged out, seemingly interminably. Just last week, the cop who beat “S” in the police car was convicted -- because an honorable police officer who witnessed the beating testified. The two bullies who beat this boy in the station house with no witnesses and no video camera were exonerated. Still, knowing how difficult it is for any state to convict rogue police officers, the family members felt some closure, some relief.
Then this week, abruptly, “S” stumbled on some news that reopened his wounds. Speaking to the Haifa prosecutor, wondering why the convicted rapists had not yet paid their fines, the victim discovered that their convictions were now on appeal. No one had informed the family of this unsettling fact. No one explained adequately just what is occurring, what the brutes’ chances of success are, and what the next steps are.
“We feel deceived by the whole system,” Lior, the victim’s stepfather, told me on Monday. “We felt a certain amount of comfort. We really did think this was over and suddenly, we are suffering again.” “S” has not slept for the last three nights. He is now experiencing flashbacks again. Lior continues, “He fears these animals will track him down and take revenge on him. Now we feel totally deceived by everybody. All it would have taken was a simple phone call to inform us, to help us understand.” “S’s” mother, Ruthie, adds: “I’m so disappointed, so disgusted. Those animals.…”
Despite all they have endured, this family still believes in Israel and the Zionist dream. Part of what fuels their fight is the desire to make sure no one else ever suffers as they have. Thanks to their efforts, video surveillance has been put into the Kishon prison, and the prison system is more vigilant, especially regarding juveniles. They are now demanding greater sensitivity to victims, some kind of victims’ rights infrastructure -- and want some thought given to the special problems immigrants face when victimized by what Lior calls “crimes of this magnitude.” They also want video cameras in all police interrogation rooms. More immediately, they want answers, reassurance, support.
The old cliché that justice delayed is justice denied applies to both the accused and to victims. If the Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, can be investigated for over a decade, if trials regarding violent cases can stretch out for years, and be opened again so easily by aggressive defensive attorneys, the system is broken. The justice system must also crack down aggressively on police violence while taking better care of victims. And the medical system also needs fixing, for apparently it is incompetent when dealing with male rape victims.
Remarkably, these wonderful people also still have their souls intact. In the talkback to the Jerusalem Post article about the police conviction, “S” wrote: “Hello I’m ‘S.’ I would like to thank every one for all your support: the Jerusalem Post, people that followed my story, my friends, and most of all, my family. You have all been a great deal of help during [these] difficult times.”
Moreover, his mother, Ruthie, told me that in the days after her son’s brutalization, when she was so angry at God she did not want to light the Shabbat candles, and she kept on asking “why, why, why did this happen to my precious son,” her elderly Holocaust survivor father offered some wisdom. “Take the word lamah,” Hebrew for why, “and add a ‘shin,’” the first letter of her son’s name. “What do you get,” he asked, “’shlemah,’ wholeness.”
The members of this family should not have to heal and become whole on their own. Whoever we are, however we can, we must help.
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his next book is “Moynihan’s Moment: The Fight Against Zionism as Racism.”