West Bank Rape Case: Clinic That Examined 7-year-old Girl Didn't Inform Police

Officials are critical of the police’s investigation, including their failure to have the girl examined by a forensic specialist ■ Sources say prime suspect was allowed to leave country after probe had already commenced

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

The health maintenance organization that examined a 7-year-old girl who said she was raped didn’t inform the police of her complaint, and declined to comment whether it reported the incident to local welfare officials.

On Friday, police began re-interrogating witnesses in the case, while attempting to locate additional people who worked with the prime suspect, Mahmoud Qatusa.

As opposed to the initial, heavily criticized investigation that was carried out by officers from the police station at the girl's Orthodox settlement, the probe is conducted by Shai (Samaria and Judea) District investigators.

"It feels like the Shai District investigators are starting the investigation from scratch, as if the previous investigation team did nothing," a source involved in the affair said. 

Initially, police began investigating only six days after the girl was examined at the Maccabi HMO, when her parents filed a complaint. 

The girl was examined on April 10 at the Maccabi clinic in the West Bank settlement where she lives. During that visit, the mother said the girl was raped five days earlier. But the police complaint was filed only on April 16, after the parents consulted their rabbis.

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The Maccabi doctor who examined the girl didn’t find unequivocal evidence of sexual assault, but she wasn’t a forensic medicine specialist. A forensic specialist could have determined with greater certainty whether an assault took place.

Maccabi declined to comment on whether it had reported the rape complaint to the municipal welfare department, which it can legally do. But the municipality denied receiving any report of the incident from Maccabi.

Though the parents said the rape occurred on April 5, the indictment dated it merely to sometime “between February and April.” The uncertainty is because the girl said it happened around the time of a holiday, but named various holidays when asked which one.

The suspect, Mahmoud Qatusa, is a maintenance man at the girl’s school. He was arrested on May 1 and indicted this week.

Judiciary officials have been highly critical of the investigation, with sources revealing that Qatusa was allowed to leave the country for a trip to Jordan while he was already a prime suspect in the case.

Even before the girl identified Qatusa as her assailant, her parents had named him as a suspect. Police said the girl identified him “spontaneously,” but sources involved in the investigation said her parents’ behavior could have influenced her testimony.

It’s not clear why they suspected Qatusa, as he was not the school’s only Palestinian employee.

According to the sources, the mother told police that after she learned of the rape from her daughter, she viewed footage from the school’s security cameras and accused Qatusa to the school’s staff. The father also told police he had conducted his own investigation and concluded that Qatusa was the guilty party.

The mother said her daughter also described a second sexual assault by Qatusa, in which he took her to a synagogue near the school and assaulted her in the bathroom. But police couldn’t verify that story, and investigators questioned whether Qatusa would really have taken her to the synagogue, since the path passes by a public area that’s usually full of people.

The police examination of Qatusa’s cell phone found no pedophilia or any other evidence that might connect him to the rape. Moreover, he provided an alibi for the original date, April 5; that alibi was confirmed by his employers and other residents of the settlement.

One source involved in the investigation said another suspect was also arrested, but released a few hours later. That suspect was a Palestinian who lives in a nearby village, was in contact with Qatusa, and worked at a different school in the settlement, near the apartment where police think the rape occurred.

No other suspects were questioned, even though police knew a third Palestinian was also working at that apartment, where Qatusa was employed to do renovations.

The sources all said they believe the girl was raped, given her behavior and her testimony. But no hard evidence has been found to connect Qatusa to the crime.

One fact that did bolster the suspicions against him was his changing story about his work. At first, he denied working at private homes. But after being confronted with evidence to the contrary, he admitted it.

Additionally, the girl said there was a picture of flowers in the room where she was raped, and a search of the apartment found a vase over the bed. Police say that bolsters her story.

But senior law enforcement officials criticized the fact that the indictment, which was filed in a military court, included the girl’s statement to a youth investigator that several men held her down during the rape, since no evidence has been found to support it. They also criticized the police’s failure to make serious efforts to locate these other men.

Law enforcement officials have also been critical of the police’s investigative derelictions, including their failure to have the girl examined by a forensic specialist or to verify some of the claims made by witnesses.

Police are now focused on new information that ostensibly connects Qatusa to another sexual assault on the same girl, according to one source involved in the probe. He termed this information “mediocre minus,” but said that if verified, it would greatly strengthen the case against Qatusa.