To catch a rapist

A Druse detective, DNA sample and intelligence from hundreds of cops and migrants deliver sexual predator to police.

CH.-SUPT. MIRI PELED 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
December 21 – The Tel Aviv police dispatch receives a frantic midday phone call: a man says his sister has been raped in the backyard of her home near the central bus station district, and the rapist had seconds earlier scaled a fence and fled into the back streets of the neighborhood.
A police cruiser arrives at the scene minutes later to find the victim, an 83-year-old Israeli woman, bleeding and in shock, lying on the mattress where for the past two-and-a-half hours she had been repeatedly raped and beaten on a rain-soaked mattress and her cries for help went unanswered.
Ch.-Supt. Miri Peled, head of the Intelligence and Investigations branch of the Yiftach subdistrict, said the officers at the scene managed to get the man’s description from the victim, shortly before an ambulance arrived to take her to Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
The description – a young black man in jeans and a T-shirt – was a start, but didn’t help much in south Tel Aviv, home to tens of thousands of young single men from Eritrea and elsewhere in East Africa.
“The cops on the scene took the relatives around in the cruiser to see if they could point the guy out, but very quickly we realized we weren’t going to find him that way,” Peled said Wednesday, from her office at the Yiftach station on Salame Street in south Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, all of the sub-district’s on-duty officers were deployed to comb the area and question people, while a special investigative team began building a profile of the rapist and gathering evidence from the scene.
The first real breakthrough came two days later, when a police pathologist who examined the victim at Wolfson contacted Peled to tell her they had isolated a DNA sample from inside the woman’s body.
The sample was immediately sent to the laboratory at the national police headquarters in Jerusalem, where it was pushed to the top of the list of samples to be examined.
On Tuesday afternoon, at 4 p.m., the lab results came back with a positive match with Rubal Fadul, a 19-year-old Eritrean migrant living in Tel Aviv. Fadul had been picked up by police with two other Eritrean men after they were caught trying to steal bags at the beach in Tel Aviv last August, and while he was processed at the Lev Tel Aviv station, police took a DNA sample and photographed him.
At that moment, Peled said, police sent out Fadul’s photo on the WhatsApp application to hundreds of cops across the Tel Aviv district, and the Yiftach station began to empty out as every available officer began to fan out across the city with Fadul’s picture on their cellphone.
“We had hundreds of police from across the district, plus Border Police, detectives, YASSAM, everything, all over south Tel Aviv going door to door,” Peled said.
“The whores and the junkies around the central bus station had no idea what the hell was going on,” she added.
This was the point when human intelligence began to pay off for police.
Nizar Saruf, an Arabic-speaking Druze detective at the Lewinsky police station who manages police investigations in the African migrant community of Tel Aviv, began working his sources, sending teams of police to chase down leads and interview sources at bars, cafes and parks frequented by African migrants.
As police went on the hunt with Fadul’s name and picture, members of the migrant community became an invaluable asset, Peled said. “They have an interest in purging people like this from their community.
Whenever there’s a serious crime in the community, they cooperate with us fully, they don’t want these people either.”
Hours later, at 10:15 p.m., police receive a tip from a community member that Fadul was at a Tel Aviv beach, and officers, including a team from the Horev unit of the YASSAM, arrested Fadul without incident.
Police took a DNA sample from Fadul to ensure it matched the one taken from the victim, and four days later the story of the rape and subsequent arrest made its way to the Israeli media, after it had been kept under wraps for over a week. The decision not to publicize the case was met with criticism by reporters, with some hinting that the case was kept quiet in order to avoid disturbances and violence between veteran Israelis and African migrants in south Tel Aviv.
“If I’m looking for someone, every little report in the press will just make him go further and further underground. We wanted him to let his guard down and roam around outside,” Peled said. “The people in south Tel Aviv hear about these cases even if they aren’t publicized, they don’t need to be told by us or the press, the rumors float around anyway.”
Peled said the added police presence in south Tel Aviv also helped them get their hands on David Gaberzagir, a 21-year-old Eritrean man who was arrested for beating, biting and attempting to rape a 50-year-old woman in her Tel Aviv apartment a year and a half ago.
Gaberzagir had been declared unfit for trial and sent to Abarbanel State Mental Health Center in Bat Yam for treatment. In November the hospital released him from custody without telling police or prosecutors, who two days later filed a new indictment against him, only to be told that he had been released and the hospital had no knowledge of his whereabouts.
On election day last week, a young YASSAM officer named Nati beamed with pride as he whipped out his smartphone and showed off the picture of Fadul he took after arresting him last week.
Sitting in the backseat of a patrol car where he and two other officers were stationed near the central bus station, Nati and two other officers checked passing cars, looking for suspicious characters roaming the neighborhood that is the epicenter of Tel Aviv’s drug and sex trade. A week later, Nati said he had been informed that he would receive a service commendation for his part in the arrest of Fadul.
Less than a block from where the YASSAM officers set up their improvised checkpoint is the building where almost exactly a month earlier the rape took place. Today the fence where Fadul entered the courtyard is padlocked closed and covered with corrugated steel and topped by razor wire.
On election day, an elderly relative of the victim sat in the backyard chatting on his cellphone.
Slowly he made his way to the fence and spoke through a hole in the steel, his hands shaking as he said that ever since that afternoon a month earlier, the victim has been staying at her sister’s house, still too terrified to return home.