A village near the Palestinian city of Hebron.
A village near the Palestinian city of Hebron. Photo by Michal Fattal
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A 16-year-old Palestinian shepherd from the southern Hebron Hills spent almost six months in jail on suspicion of rape, while those now believed to be the real perpetrators remain at large.

A. was held for 171 days despite the fact that police had an eyewitness to the attack who categorically denied the perpetrator could be the teen they had in custody, as well as DNA from one of the attackers which did not belong to A. Police also did not attempt to trace the cell phone stolen from the victim in order to track down her alleged attackers, a move that presumably would have led to the new suspects much sooner.

Only when the case reached the military court did the judge order the police to continue their investigative work, which ultimately led to the arrest and indictment of the perpetrators now suspected of committing the alleged crime - and to A.'s release.

On March 13, a resident of one of the Jewish settlements in the southern Hebron Hills was reportedly raped, beaten and stabbed while she was on a walk outside her neighborhood. Another shepherd approached, saw what was happening and apparently scared off the attackers.

Detectives from the Hebron police station combed the area and took A. and a friend of his into custody. The two apparently "met the description" of the attackers and aroused officers' suspicion by trying to flee.

The officer in charge of investigations at the Hebron police station, Chief Inspector Yaakov Hayun, ordered a detective to question the teen. Though the detective was not a youth investigator, he was ordered to carry out the interrogation "because there was no youth investigator present in the district," according to an internal memo.

The police conducted a lineup, and initially the woman did not identify a suspect. She then asked that the men in the lineup put on hats, as one of her attackers had reportedly worn a hat. At this point, she identified A.

Advanced Staff Sgt. Maj. Salomon Dasta, the lead investigator, primarily worked alone for most of the investigation. The district's chief investigations officer, Commander Haim Rahamim, and the district police chief, Commander Itzik Rahamim (no relation ), apparently had almost no input.

Dasta did ask for a court order granting the police access to the records of outgoing calls from the woman's iPhone, which had been stolen by the perpetrators. However, he did not use the technology at his disposal to locate the phone, which presumably could have led to the new suspects.

The phone records showed that three calls were made from the phone in the first two hours following the alleged attack. Two were to numbers in the Palestinian Authority and one was to a number from the Cellcom network.

"I asked intelligence officials to help locate the owners of the phones. With regard to the Palestinian numbers, we received no feedback," Dasta told the court, apparently mistakenly believing the Palestinian numbers could not be traced to their owners.

He did reach a person he thought was the Cellcom customer called on the iPhone, an East Jerusalem resident. But it turned out the man was not involved; Dasta had reversed two digits and called the wrong number. He did not try again. When asked why, he told the court, "I'll consult my superiors, and if this needs to be investigated we will do so."

A.'s story remained consistent even when the victim confronted him. Dasta told the court he also tried to turn the two suspects - A. and his friend - against each other, to no avail.

After a short time, DNA test results came back, indicating that the sample collected did not belong to A. The police said this did not disqualify A. as a suspect, as only one of the alleged culprits left his DNA at the scene. However, the DNA did not belong to A.'s friend either.

Moreover, the shepherd who had scared off the attackers told the court that he could not identify them because they were too far away, but that he knew A. well. He said of A.: "His pastureland is east of there. Only my family is allowed [to herd] in the place where the attack happened. I would know him half a kilometer away. It's not him."

The case was eventually transferred to the military prosecution, where senior prosecutors - including Maj. Oren Lieber, who signed the indictment - took over.

The head of prosecutions in the region, Lt. Col. Robert Neufeld, decided to indict based on the victim's statement, according to discussions reportedly held in closed meetings.

Meanwhile, A. was ordered to remain in custody until the proceedings ended. His friend was released, and no additional investigation was conducted.

The trial took place in the summer before a military tribunal headed by Maj. Amir Dahan. Following the evidentiary phase, and before both sides had finished presenting their cases, Dahan took the unusual step of asking the police to provide more evidence.

The police then proceeded to locate the cell phone and determine which numbers were called following the incident. This led them to two Palestinian brothers, an adult and a minor.

The adult's DNA was identified as that found on the victim. He reportedly admitted to the robbery and implicated his brother, but denied the rape.

A. was released after the DNA results came back, and new indictments have been issued against the two brothers.

The military prosecution asked that the indictment against A. be withdrawn, and on Thursday Dahan agreed to do so.

The military prosecution is defending the initial indictment of A., which it said was based on "evidence including a positive identification of the accused by the victim." The prosecution added that a judge had ruled at A.'s remand hearing that there was enough evidence to hold him until the proceedings ended.

The police's Shai District said it "had energetically pursued the investigation using intelligence and investigative methods, including advanced technological laboratories, to catch the perpetrator and bring him to justice."

Police also noted that the victim had identified A. in a lineup, and that "together with other evidence a strong case was built." The Shai District said the chief officer in charge of investigations had supervised the investigation, had advised the team, and had seen "no question or shortcoming in the conduct of the investigation."