The Jerusalem District Court last week convicted the first man to be tried among several defendants accused of sexually abusing children in Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood, an affair police initially called the biggest pedophile case in the state's history.
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The court convicted Binyamin Satz, who was the first of 18 men to be arrested in the case that came to light in August, 2011. Two more men are now on trial, and 15 others were released and have not yet been charged in the affair that sent shock waves through the neighborhood that is home to many ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The judges found Satz guilty, but struck down his confession, which they determined police had obtained through “unfair psychological pressure.” Satz was acquitted of one of the counts in the indictment.
The three District Court judges determined that Satz, whom they described as having an irregular personality with childish aspects, invited neighborhood children to his home and played games with them that involved inappropriate touching and indecent acts. He also sodomized three of the children with an object. In addition, he was convicted of threatening the children, by telling them that he would burn down their house if they told anyone about his acts.
From the moment the case hit the headlines, neighborhood residents and defense attorneys claimed that it was the result of a witch hunt and mass hysteria, and that few if any children had been harmed.
According to these sources, the case grew to such dimensions (at one point more than 200 youngsters were said to have been abused) because of the dynamics in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, in which stories were magnified or even invented.
Those who maintain the stories were exaggerated say false accusations were leveled at the weakest people in the neighborhood – men living alone, some of whom are psychologically impaired. In one case, a resident is believed to have committed suicide because of the rumors that he was involved in abusing the children. Others were forced to leave the neighborhood and even the country.
In the lengthy verdict, written and read by Judge Moshe Yoed Hacohen, he and judges Zvi Segal and Ben-Tzion Greenberger dismissed the defense’s claim of a witch hunt, but did not discount the possibility that some of the evidence in the case had been compromised by the actions of parents and other residents of the neighborhood.
The judges accepted the version of Satz and his attorney, Roy Politi, that the investigators had threatened Satz with violence and exerted psychological pressure on him by making use of suspicions against him published in the Haredi media. They also took unfair advantage of Satz’s physical weakness, the judges determined, due to his refusal to eat the detention center’s food. They noted that Satz’s interrogations were not videotaped, and the evidence he gave regarding an attack on one of the children did not conform to medical findings.
“This is a complex case involving many dozens of complainants, suspicions and additional suspects awaiting a verdict,” Politi said yesterday, adding that his client was awaiting the outcome of the trial of the other accused men before considering further steps.