West Bank Rape Case: Lie Detector Test of Palestinian Suspect Was Not Done in Arabic

Polygraph experts say that in cases like these, suspect should write statement of innocence in native tongue and be questioned about it ■ police say 'significant' new details emerged in probe on Monday

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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The victim's school, where Qatusa worked as a janitor in Mateh Binyamin in the West Bank, June 18, 2019.
The victim's school, where Qatusa worked as a janitor in Mateh Binyamin in the West Bank, June 18, 2019. Credit: Gil Cohen Magen
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The polygraph test police gave to Mahmoud Qatusa, the suspect in the rape of a seven-year-old girl from a West Bank settlement, was in Hebrew and not in Arabic, his native language.

During the first test, conducted at the settlement’s police station five days after his arrest, he was asked whether he raped the girl and answered in the negative. The examiners decided it was impossible to achieve unequivocal results and later conducted a second test with the same questions, in which they said he was found to be lying.

His attorney Nashef Darwish said that although Qatusa speaks Hebrew, the fact he was not tested in Arabic is further proof of negligence by the investigative team. “It’s clear to all that such a test must be conducted in the suspect’s mother tongue,” he said.

On Monday the police gathered what was described as “significant” findings at the girl’s home, but it is not clear whether these findings link Qatusa to the crime. Investigators also took some of the child's clothes, saying the exact date of incident remains unclear.

Police have records of other Palestinians employed at the girl’s school and an investigative team is trying to reach them to see whether they have any connection to the case.

In light of this, the victim was questioned again on Monday by a special interrogator for juveniles, and on Tuesday a military judge will decide whether Qatusa should remain in custody.

A polygraph exam is not considered legal evidence for a criminal proceeding, but interrogators can use it either to clear potential suspects or to reinforce their assessments as to whether to continue pursuing an investigation.

The result of Qatusa’s second test encouraged investigators to believe he should remain in custody, and these results were presented in court.

A number of polygraph specialists said that in cases involving the kinds of suspicions against Qatusa, it is preferable to have the suspect write a statement of innocence in his native language, and then have investigators ask about its veracity.

Military prosecutors and attorneys have been discussing how to proceed with the case with local police and the heads of investigations division. During these discussions officials have looked at the possibility of releasing Qatusa to house arrest.

Additional details have come to light regarding the girl’s identification of Qatusa as the suspect: Her mother spoke to her about him before the girl identified him. Haaretz learned that the mother said in her testimony – given a few hours before Qatusa’s arrest – that the same day a teacher at her daughter’s school told her that Qatusa was exhibiting suspicious behavior.

“She told me the custodian constantly looks at his iPhone and fiddles with his pants,” the mother said. “I think there is a close connection between him and the person who assaulted my daughter near the school.”

She said her daughter said that Qatusa had arrived with a helper, another Palestinian, to fix a closet in her classroom. A short time later the girl pointed at Qatusa when asked who had assaulted her, and he was arrested soon afterward. A search of Qatusa’s cellphone did not reveal any pornographic photos and found nothing linking him to the crime.