Haifa Woman Confronts Torturers

Ita Fogel assumed the witness stand in the Haifa District Court yesterday and, in a strained voice, briefly recounted the cruel assault on her last January by three young men: electric shocks, cigarette burns, bleach poured on her. On completing her testimony, the visibly emotional 68-year-old said: "I would like to thank the court and all those who supported me."

But she appeared fragile and insecure. This was not the strong, feisty woman she had seemed to be in the first days after emerging from a coma. The nightmares and fears that are continually with her have left their mark on her.

Fogel, along with family members and friends, was in court yesterday for Arik Shechter's sentencing hearing. Shechter, 25, is accused along with Stefan Borisvicho, 19, and Liran Hubert, 22, of breaking into Fogel's home in Haifa's western Carmel region, where she lived alone, and abusing her for three hours in the belief that she had money hidden in the house.

Fogel and Shechter avoided making eye contact throughout the hearing. Shechter's lawyer enraged the Fogel family by arguing for leniency on the grounds of his client's early confession and remorse for participating in the assault. Fogel's brother-in-law, Segal Aharon, left the courtroom in tears. "The defense lawyer has no shame. Will the day come when someone murders somebody and asks forgiveness and is forgiven? Doesn't he imagine this might happen to his parents?" Aharon said.

The defense maintains that Shechter was merely a follower, not the ringleader in the case. The prosecutor argued yesterday that there is no room for making distinctions among the accomplices, noting that Shechter kept in touch with his friends after that night, collaborated with them on finding a place to sell the stolen jewels and split the money with them.

Toward the end of the hearing, Shechter stood up and said he was sorry. Fogel was unimpressed. "What good will 'sorry' do me now?" she asked. Her hands showed burn marks from the cigarettes and electric shocks. "It isn't easy for me to go through something like this," she continued. "Throughout my life, I worked and was independent, and had it not been for the three accused, I would have continued being independent all my life.

"Now I'm scared of my own shadow. I put bars on all the windows, and even so, the fear hasn't left me and continues to be with me everywhere. I'm afraid of my own shadow. I don't go out at night. Who knows who might be standing behind you when there are such thugs in Israel?"

After the assault, Fogel moved to an assisted living facility in Haifa's Vardia neighborhood. Her apartment is outfitted with six panic buttons.

"I have no compassion for these thugs. They came in and killed my life," she said. "I would shoot them if I were to see them. I've spent half a year in rehabilitation and am not done yet."

Shechter will be sentenced on September 5.