Israel’s Far-Right Seizes on Settlement Rape Case to Boost Electoral Prospects

WEST BANK, PALESTINE — Signs of blood libel are all over the case of a Palestinian worker accused of raping a seven-year-old Jewish girl in a religious Jewish settlement in the West Bank. Politicizing a horrifying tragedy such as this is tantamount to sacrilege, and this case, which is all over Israeli headlines, is more about police incompetence and politics than it is about justice.

As Israelis prepare for upcoming elections, the “National Religious” camp (sometimes called the “Religious Zionist” camp) represented by violent racist gangsters like newly appointed cabinet members Bezalel Smutrich and Rafi Peretz, Itamar Ben-Gvir and other followers of the late guru of the Zionist Right, Meir Kahana — desperately needs to increase the number of seats it holds in the Knesset. A blood libel against an Arab they can claim committed a terrible crime against a helpless Jewish victim is exactly what could help them tip the scale and get the votes they need.

 

A crime too horrific to imagine

The crime in question is the kidnapping and rape of a seven-year-old girl. The location has yet to be revealed but according to reports is an Ultra-Orthodox religious West Bank settlement in the Binyamin District. The defendant — whose name, along with the village where he lives, has been revealed — is Mahmoud Katusa of Deir Qadis. Katusa is a Palestinian who was working at the girl’s school as a janitor.

According to Ha’aretz, “[t]he indictment does not mention the precise date or hour when the rape took place, only that it was committed between February and April.” According to the same report, once the defendant’s alibi was confirmed, police changed the location and date of the rape to a time and place for which he had no alibi.

Mahmoud KatusaMahmoud Katusa

Mahmoud Katusa is pictured in an undated Facebook photo

If that wasn’t enough to make the accusation against the defendant bizarre, Ha’aretz further reports that “[i]n the police’s new version of events, the apartment where the rape took place is at least a 10-minute walk from the school, and along the way passes through crowded main streets of the ultra-Orthodox settlement.” Anyone who knows what Israeli settlements are like in the West Bank — or, for that matter, anywhere in occupied Palestine — is aware that an Arab walking around with a young Jewish girl without being stopped and questioned by passers-by is not possible.

 

Politically motivated

Another bizarre development in the case is the politicization of the crime in the media, such as the following headline from Ha’aretz:

Rape of 7-year-old Israeli Girl in West Bank Not Politically Motivated, Security Sources Say.”

One cannot help reading between the lines of the headline to see how it is hinting that security sources do not rule out the possibility that a seven-year-old girl would be raped as part of the Palestinian national struggle.

What is clearly politically motivated is the speed with which a Palestinian — who, according to a resident of the settlement, is, “a very familiar figure in the city, who has been working here for the past eight or nine years” — was charged. The same resident added: “They’ve caught the wrong person here and I’m crying out against it… There are millions of question marks here.”

Members of the Jewish nationalist Leava (Flame) — a racist right-wing gang with a history of violence that is dedicated to preventing the assimilation of Jews with Arabs — and the “Jewish Might” movement, who are hoping to get their members into the Knesset and even into the coalition government, are using this case to ramp up anti-Arab sentiment. As soon as news of the case broke, and before it was even made clear whether or not the man being questioned committed the crime, members of the racist gang were already blocking the road into the Deir Qadis village where the accused is from and threatening retaliation.

Leava Deir Qadis Rape CaseLeava Deir Qadis Rape Case

Leava activists block the road into Deir Qadis. Photo | Leava

Itamar Ben-Gvir, a well known racist and recent regular guest on Israeli news shows, claims that all those involved in the rape case should be given the death penalty “due to the nationalist character of the attack.” Hakol Hayehudi, a right-wing Israeli publication, claims that there are reports that while the defendant was raping the girl, “other Arabs were holding her and laughing.”

In response to the uncorroborated claim, Bezalel Smutrich, leader of the “National Unity” Party, tweeted, “If only we could execute this disgusting human being.” Smutrich, who believes Palestinian have no rights to Palestine and that it is all Jewish land, was just nominated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a cabinet position in the interim government.

Smutrich  — who was slated for the post of justice minister but blew it when he called on Israel to adopt Jewish law as the law of the land, as “in the days of David and Solomon” — is precisely the kind of uncompromising religious Zionist with whom Netanyahu is happy to align himself politically. He makes no secret of or apology for his racist, nationalistic views, expressed here in his comments on the floor of the Knesset.

Israel ElectionsIsrael Elections

A man looks at an elections billboards. The panel of the right shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flanked by extreme right politicians, from the left, Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich and Michael Ben Ari in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 16, 2019. Hebrew on the right billboard reads “Kahana Lives” in a reference to a banned ultranationalist party in the 1994, March 16, 2019. Oded Balilty | AP

Another politician fighting to get the votes of extreme right-wing Israelis, Avigdor Leiberman, wrote:

The rape of a 7-year-old girl by a Palestinian shocked me deeply. This isn’t pedophilia but pure terrorism, a well-planned attack on a young, innocent, helpless girl. This is exactly the kind of case in which I wouldn’t hesitate; I demand that the court sentence this abominable terrorist to death.”

No trial, no court has yet determined that a crime was committed by anyone, let alone a Palestinian.

 

The latest

Josh Breiner, the journalist who brought the case to light, tweeted the following developments, as of the time of writing these words. According to Breiner, the police detective tasked with investigating the case said that the “investigation is lacking and that the girl was not seen by a specialist.” Breiner also reports that “the investigation goes back to Judea and Samaria, or SHAI police investigation unit,” meaning that the investigation so was deemed incomplete and local police need to investigate the case more thoroughly. “Why,” Brener asks, “did it take this long? Where were they for 50 days?” He adds:

Mahmoud Katusa is still in custody, that is a travesty. The hearing in his case is scheduled for tomorrow, but he is an Arab so what is one day more or less in prison? The man has been in custody for 50 days.”

Breiner says, “the reason we only heard about this case a few days ago is that after 46 days the police removed the gag order that was placed on this case.”

 

Conclusion?

It is not likely that there will be a clear legal conclusion to this case any time soon. The daily Ma’ariv reports that there is no conclusive evidence that the girl was raped. The girl herself, the report continues, cannot identify who, if anyone assaulted her. So far, what is clear is that the man accused of the crime, who has been in prison for 50 days, wasn’t at the scene at the time of the crime; the girl was not seen by an appropriate medical specialist; the investigation is lacking; and the gag order that was imposed on the case was lifted for reasons that have not been made clear.

However, for the Zionist, nationalist right-wing politicians, this is a great opportunity: blood libel against a Palestinian; demagoguery; and calls for everything from the total expulsion of Palestinians, to all-out war against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, to the removal and replacement of the Al-Aqsa Mosque with a Jewish temple. All are great slogans to get the votes of their constituents. Votes, so it seems, that went to the Likud Party and to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last elections.

Feature photo | A Jewish settler girls play beside a road in Amona, an illegal settlement in the West Bank, May 26, 2016 . Oded Balilty | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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