Anger and shame abound in Kiryat Malachi

Following Katsav's senetence, local resident from former president's town asks ‘What will we say now, we’re from that rapist’s town?’

Crowd at Katsav's house 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Crowd at Katsav's house 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Anger, sadness and a universal sense of shame gripped the residents of Kiryat Malachi on Tuesday, following the sentencing of local boy and former President Moshe Katsav to seven years in prison earlier that morning for rape.
“It used to be a great pride to say you were from the president’s hometown. Now what are we going to say? We’re from that rapist’s town?” asked Amnon, a customer at a kiosk near the city hall where Katsav served as mayor from to 1969 to 1977.RELATED:Timeline: Rape case of a former presidentMoshe Katsav convicted of rape, faces long jail term
Behind the counter, Bracha Assulin, a lifelong Kiryat Malachi resident, said that in spite of it all, Katsav was still innocent in her mind.
“The girls started with him, they went after him,” she said.
“If he raped them, why’d they wait so long to complain? Why’d they try to bribe him? Why not just go to the police?” Assulin did add that whether or not Katsav was actually guilty of rape, the seven-year sentence “is god’s punishment for cheating on his wife. This is from God.”
However, Assulin’s defense of Katsav was dismissed out of hand by Amnon, who said, “What, do you think everybody lied? They launched a serious investigation and they found him guilty. There is law and order in this country after all, and a woman’s body belongs to her.”
In a common refrain mentioned by residents in the blighted town in the Lachish District, Amnon hinted that even back in his days as the city’s mayor, Katsav had been known for having “issues” with women.
“Even when he was mayor, people knew he had problems with women. Some of them complained, but the cases were closed because of back-room deals.”
Amnon also expressed a fear that was repeated in hushed tones by a number of residents: “You take a man like this, who goes from such heights to where he is now, there’s a good chance he’ll kill himself in prison. How can he go on?” The Katsav house lies in a culde- sac off Rehov Jabotinsky in a neighborhood only a couple of blocks from the municipality.
On Tuesday, most of the streets and sidewalks in the neighborhood were strewn with litter, and most of the courtyards of the buildings near Katsav’s house were covered in weeds and brush that had grown chest-high after months of neglect.
One four-unit, four-story building stood gutted and condemned next to a fountain at a traffic circle near downtown, but a number of its units were obviously inhabited, seemingly in defiance of the spray paint reading, “Dangerous building! Entry forbidden!”
The neighborhood and the city as a whole seem far more distant than a 45-minute drive from Tel Aviv, and the buildings and vacant lots off Jabotinsky feel out of place for a neighborhood housing a former president – but possibly fitting the son of destitute Persian immigrants who raised 11 children in what was then the transit camp on the site of today’s Kiryat Malachi.
Near Katsav’s house, “Baruch” – a man who, like many residents, refused to let his real name be used – said the defiant support expressed by locals was a charade, meant to save face before the media and protect the good name of a family member of whom they had grown exceedingly ashamed.
“Imagine you had a brother and he was convicted of rape.
You’d defend him, wouldn’t you? But what would you tell him if you were alone with him in a room? You’d say, how could you do this, you brought so much shame onto us,” he said.
“It’s very hard, very painful for people here to say how they actually feel.”
Like others in town on Tuesday, Baruch asserted that “Katsav was never meant to be president, he was never up to it. He never should have been there, he just got there by luck.”
Baruch said that Katsav “never did anything for this city – not as mayor, not as transportation minister, not as president. He just used us for support.”
Drinking a late-afternoon beer at a kiosk near Katsav’s house, Uri Avraham, a middle-aged resident of the town, said he had no problem with the sentence handed down to the former president, saying that “if he had been a normal person, he would have gotten 10, 15 years. He should’ve taken the plea bargain.”
Still, Avraham added, “the media hounded him the whole time, they broke him down before his trial could even start.
Either way, this is an embarrassment for the entire country, not just Kiryat Malachi.”
Avraham, too, said Katsav’s wrongdoing with women had been well known long before he was president.
“All the politicians who helped make him president, they knew just like people in Kiryat Malachi did that Katsav had these problems. They knew and they made him president anyway,” he said. “They should all go to trial for that.”
Raising his beer, Avraham added, “They should’ve just made Shimon Peres president back then, and we wouldn’t have had all these problems.”