Five Palestinians near the scene of the crime were arrested yesterday after 8-year-old Lipaz Himi of Beit Shemesh was found dead late Wednesday night in the city's Shukanyon shopping center. She apparently had been strangled to death.
A gag order requested by the police prohibits the publication of details related to the investigation. However, the local Magistrate's Court permitted publication of the arrests of the Palestinians, who did not have permits to be in Israel.
The police were informed at 12:45 A.M. yesterday that a body had been found. A Palestinian laborer living illegally in the area called an acquaintance and told him about what he had found, and the second man called the police.
The girl's mother, Limor Himi, called the police to report Lipaz's disappearance at about the same time. The family is said to be known to the welfare authorities.
Lipaz apparently had left home in the afternoon, after the family's Independence Day dinner. Limor Himi thought her daughter was visiting friends.
The Shukanyon is just a few dozen meters from the Himi home. It is known as a gathering spot for homeless people, drug traffickers and Palestinians without residency permits, and it is a popular "playground" for neighborhood children.
"I started looking for her at six in the evening, and I didn't find her," Limor said. "I kept looking for her and saw that one hour had gone by and then another and we still hadn't found her. I tried looking for her on my own until midnight. I didn't want to involve anyone else. As soon as I saw the Arabs in the market, I felt a sharp fear I've never felt before."
The five Palestinians detained had apparently been living in the market for some time and included the one who alerted police through a friend. He was too intoxicated to answer their questions at the time of his arrest.
The girl's fully clothed body was located at the top of a staircase and showed signs of violence. It is not yet known whether she had been sexually abused.
After finding the body, the police asked the family for a photograph of Lipaz which they used to identify her. In the photograph she is wearing a pink dress, holding a pink balloon and smiling. A social worker accompanied by police was dispatched to tell the family of her death.
Dozens of mourners arrived at the family's home yesterday to offer condolences to the parents and to the girl's four siblings. A group from Lipaz's school came as well, partly in an effort to comfort Lipaz's twin brother.
Lipaz was buried in the Beit Shemesh cemetery yesterday afternoon.
The narrow alley where her body was found was once again a crowded market yesterday. A man identified only as Yitzhak has set up a stand twice a week for the past decade under the staircase where Lipaz was found.
"There are always Palestinian workers around here," Yitzhak said. "They mostly work for the vegetable stands. But there are never any arguments here. Never. I don't remember a single argument the whole time I've been here. It really surprised me to hear about the little girl's murder."
Yitzhak said the area of his stand turns into a "home" every night. He said one of the Palestinians slept on a thick mattress near the staircase. The mattress was said to be the one on which Lipaz's body was found.
The police in Beit Shemesh have been kept busy this week. On the same street where the Himis live, a young resident of the town allegedly stole NIS 16,000 from a Bank Hapoalim branch yesterday. Next to a death announcement for Lipaz at a bus stop on the street was another death announcement, for David Ben-Hamu. He had been murdered in his apartment two days earlier.
The Jerusalem police were unable yesterday to provide crime statistics for Beit Shemesh in the past several months.