Police warn owners of Eilat hotel where alleged gang rape took place

The police investigation into the alleged mid-August gang rape of a 16-year-old girl by up to 30 men in the southern resort town of Eilat has shed a spotlight on a culture of underage drinking in the city.

The case sent shockwaves throughout Israel when it first became public over the weekend, after testimony indicated that a large group of men had lined up outside the intoxicated underage girl’s hotel room, patiently waiting their turn to rape her as eyewitnesses failed to intervene.

A police official told Hebrew media on Sunday the evidence indicates the rape went on for a long period of time, and that investigators had managed to corroborate key parts of the young woman’s testimony with evidence from the scene and sensitive materials that could not be made public.

On Sunday, police questioned the owners of the Red Sea Hotel, where the attack allegedly took place, for allowing underage drinking even in the hotel’s public spaces and standing by as a “dangerous mix of minors, alcohol and the burning sun” created “a large variety of criminal incidents that can wound physically and mentally,” a police statement said.

Eilat’s Red Sea Hotel, where an alleged gang rape took place in mid-August, 2020. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Hotel security footage showed that teenagers regularly consumed alcohol in the building’s lobby, a violation of the hotel’s business license.

The hotel’s manager was questioned and placed under arrest on Sunday on suspicion of failing to prevent a crime and obstructing a police investigation. Police asked on Sunday to extend her remand by five more days.

On Sunday evening, Channel 12 broadcast a hidden-camera conversation with the hotel’s security chief, who did not know he was being recorded and was not named in the report.

The man was not present on the night of the alleged attack as he was on vacation at the time. But he defended the hotel, complaining it was “too easy to come complain about us.”

The figure cited in media reports didn’t make sense, he claimed.

Eilat Red Sea Hotel owner Pnina Maman (Channel 12 screenshot)

“Does it sound reasonable that there was a gathering with so many people and no one saw it? Thirty people in the hallway where they say this happened — it’s a closed hallway. You can’t just go past, and there’s no room in the hotel where 30 people can enter,” he said.

The problem wasn’t limited to a single incident, he added.

“Do you know how much I prevent here? Sixteen-year-old girls come here from other hotels for one night. I’ve found five men in a room who don’t have anything to do with the hotel,” he said.

In all, at least 12 people are under arrest in the case. Seven of them were arrested Sunday, all of them minors. Police also requested an extension to the remand of two other minors, both aged 17, who were arrested on Saturday.

The weekend arrests follow two arrests made last week of the primary suspects in the case. Both are men in their late 20s from the northern town of Hadera.

An Israeli woman holds a placard at a demonstration in Tel Aviv on August 23, 2020, to denounce sexual violence against women following the alleged gang-rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Another woman was taken for questioning after expressing a desire to share a video of the alleged rape on social networks.

Officials said the victim was terrified that videos taken by some of the suspects — believed to make up some of the evidence in the case — will leak online.

“There’s a sick desire in the public to see these videos,” said attorney Shani Moran, who represents the victim. “Just this morning I handed the police screenshots of people trying to share identifying details about the victim.”

According to Moran, her client was not the source for the report that 30 men took part in the rape. The girl herself wasn’t able to count the number of men involved or see what was happening in the hallway, she said.

The figure and the testimony about the line of waiting men had come from the testimony of several of the suspects, some of whom acknowledged a gang rape had taken place but said they arrived on the scene to attempt to intervene and stop the assault.

Israelis take part in a demonstration in support of the 16-year-old victim of an alleged gang rape in Eilat, in Haifa on August 20, 2020. (Flash90)

The news of the incident sparked widespread protests around the country and drew condemnation from President Reuven Rivlin and other leaders.

Some 1,500 demonstrators gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Sunday evening, with smaller rallies taking place in the cities of Haifa, Kiryat Ono, Beersheba and other locations.

The Tel Aviv protesters blocked roads around the square, and chanted: “No means no. What part of that don’t you understand?” “It’s not a mistake, it’s policy,” and “Stop, enough, blame the rapist.”

The demonstrators demanded a budget increase for programs combating violence against women, changes to the justice system, including stiffer penalties for those convicted of sexual assault, and better medical support for victims, among other measures.

Dozens of companies and organizations, including Microsoft Israel and the Jewish Agency, announced a brief work strike on Sunday to call attention to sexual violence and demand government action.

The hour-long strike at noon was held “to protest the growing violence against women and girls in Israel, and lack of sufficient punishment,” said women’s group Building an Alternative.

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