A year has passed since Mahmoud Qatusa, a West Bank Palestinian, was arrested on suspicion of raping a 7-year-old Israeli girl, but even though the charges were dropped, his life has nowhere near returned to normal.
Because the girl identified him as the rapist, the former teacher is still considered a suspect; he thus may not enter Israel. And Qatusa, a resident of the town of Deir Qadis, can’t return to his job in the settlement where the girl lives, even though he has not been questioned since his release last June after spending 56 days in jail.
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“I still can’t sleep because of this story,” said Qatusa at the entrance to Deir Qadis, at an improvised police roadblock. “Every day I think to myself, who’s behind this? I’m beginning to think that maybe someone tried to frame me, but why? I can’t understand why the police decided that I did it. I’m afraid that someone is behind this entire story; maybe they paid the cops?”
The Israel Police, for their part, say they’re still striving to find the truth in the case that for now has stalled.
According to last year’s indictment filed by the military prosecution in the West Bank, Qatusa raped the girl with the help of two other Palestinians. According to the dropped charges, he dragged her from her elementary school where he worked as a maintenance man and cleaner.
Citing a lack of evidence, the military advocate general, Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek, ordered that the charges be dropped and Qatusa released.
In addition to the lack of evidence, the police changed the date of the incident and other details based on what witnesses said.
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Also, the investigators said the girl identified Qatusa spontaneously, but it turned out that her parents had influenced her. And it was claimed that Qatusa dragged the girl through the streets during the day for a kilometer, two-thirds of a mile, without anyone noticing.
Will sue the state
The head of the Israel Police in the West Bank and other senior police officials were not involved in the investigation, and the military prosecutors filed the indictment despite the sparse evidence.
“They looked to pin the case on somebody, so they immediately went for an Arab,” said Qatusa, adding that he plans to sue the state for heavy compensation once the case is closed. “I thought then – and today too – that it was convenient for the police to pin it on me. But since then a year has passed and nothing has changed.”
No officials involved in the case in the police or military prosecution have been demoted or punished for the failures in the investigation. The head of the military prosecution, Lt. Col. Asam Hamed, who was responsible for the indictment and represented the prosecution in court, was promoted to full colonel and today is the legal adviser of the army’s Judea and Samaria Division. The original decision to promote Hamed was made a few months before the affair.
The investigation has been transferred from the Israel Police in the settlement to the Israel Police in the wider West Bank.
The police questioned a number of Palestinians who worked in the settlement where the girl lives, along with an Israeli driver who lives there, on suspicion of involvement in the case, but they were not suspected in the rape itself. Another suspicion was that a relative raped the girl, but this possibility has been ruled out.
The police say they plan to conduct an inquiry into the handling of the case.
“I believed the police in the past, but I’ve concluded that they don’t care about the truth,” Qatusa said. “The important thing is to find someone to pin the case on. They mark the target, and the truth isn’t important to them. I thought the police had honest people; today I realize they have no God.”
Studying Turkish and agriculture
The investigators allegedly threatened to distribute Qatusa’s picture in nearby towns and tell the residents that he was a pedophile. “I told them, ‘I don’t have a problem with that,’ but it’s difficult. People began asking questions, and also published my picture.”
He added: “Today, they don’t always show the faces even of people who are convicted of rape, but for me everything was the opposite. Why? It’s clear: Because I’m an Arab it was easy for them. Has someone paid for this with their job? With their life? Only me.
“Where’s the officer who signed the indictment? Has she no shame? What does she say now, how does she feel after she almost sent an innocent person to prison? Does she have a heart? Do her commanders have a heart? I think all the time about this story and only beg: Clear my name.’”
Qatusa was once in charge of around 80 maintenance workers in the West Bank city of Modi’in Ilit. Today he continues to work for his Israeli employer from home in an administrative job, and he’s also studying Turkish and agriculture.
During the coronavirus crisis he has been home with his family, waiting for his son’s wedding. Because of his status as a suspect, he did not receive approval to visit Jordan for a relative’s funeral.
Qatusa says that before filing any lawsuit, he hopes that the guilty party is found.
“If someone raped this girl – and I still have no idea who she is – he deserves the most severe punishment, but what about me? They had the courage to drop the indictment then, so they should have the courage to close the case against me,” Qatusa said.
“I also have no bad feelings about anyone. Even now, with the corona, I wish all the residents here in the nearby settlement that’s suffering badly only good health. But I have a lot of questions without answers; my life has been ruined.”
The police said: “The investigation into the incident continues and is being conducted with the close supervision of the district commander. In the investigation, a wide range of investigative activities have been carried out ... with the goal of finding the truth. Naturally, we cannot provide details on ongoing investigations.”
The police added that “as appropriate for an organization and system that learns, it has been agreed that the military advocate general and the head of the police’s investigations and intelligence division will, after the investigation, examine the way the case was handled, with the goal of drawing the necessary conclusions and implementing them.”