Graffiti in West Bank Targets Palestinian Who Was Suspected of Raping 7-year-old Israeli Girl

'I'm not afraid they will reach me, I'm an innocent man,' Mahmoud Qatusa says of perpetrators who vandalized walls and slashed tires in his village

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Mahmoud Qatusa being released from prison after his 56-day detention, June 25, 2019.
Mahmoud Qatusa being released from prison after his 56-day detention, June 25, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

Perpetrators spray-painted hate graffiti targeting the Palestinian man who was released after being arrested on suspicion of raping an Israeli seven-year-old girl in the West Bank, residents of Mahmoud Qatusa's Deir Qadis village reported to police on Monday. 

Radi Omer, the head of the Deir Qadis council, says that settlers entered the village at 2 A.M. and sprayed the inscription "Death penalty for Mahmoud Qatusa." Several vehicles in the village were damaged as well.

Perpetrators slash car tires in Mahmoud Qatusa's villageCredit: Haaretz

“We don’t know who did it, maybe settlers, I don’t know,” Qatusa told Haaretz. Qatusa also noted that the graffiti was not spray-painted near his house.

>> Read more: Case of seven-year-old who was raped reverberates with Atlanta-style racism | Opinion ■ Israel using any means possible to frame Palestinian accused of rape, locals say ■ The right is politicizing the rape of a seven-year-old girl | Opinion

“I’m not afraid they will reach me, I’m an innocent man, I don’t know who’s against me and don’t know who did it, but we must work hard on this and know who did it, if settlers came or others,” he added.

Graffiti found in the West Bank village of Deir Qadis reading “Death penalty for Mahmoud Qatusa,” July 10, 2019. Credit: Deir Qadis Council

Those who sprayed the graffiti “are not looking for justice or the truth, they’re just looking to make a mess,” Qatusa said.

Since Qatusa had been released, the police have yet to question or arrest anyone else as a suspect.

Police said they are continuing to investigate the rape case, but a police source in the Judea and Samaria District said they “don’t have any leads” in the investigation. “The police haven’t even talked to me since the release,” Qatusa told Haaretz on Wednesday.

He was detained for 56 days and released after military prosecutors decided to withdraw the indictment against him. The decision by the military prosecution came after numerous reports of legal complications and contradictions in the investigation.

“I’m still recovering. My first thought was to stay with my family, it’s not something easy, the children, my wife. It’s hard to get through, but I pray that they catch the person who did it and pray that what happened to me will not happen to anyone else,” Qatusa said.

According to the indictment filed against Qatusa, which was then withdrawn, the rape of the seven-year-old girl from a settlement occurred “between February and April.” The date of the rape was not cited because the girl said she was raped on April 5 – but Qatusa had an alibi for that day which was confirmed by his employers and other residents of the settlement.

Another issue that arose in the case was the identification of the suspect. Even before the girl identified Qatusa as her assailant, her parents had named him as a suspect, creating another problem in the indictment. Police said the girl identified him “spontaneously” alongside her mother in the school hallway, but sources involved in the investigation said her parents’ behavior could have influenced her testimony. According to the evidence in the case, during her testimony the girl said that her mother was the one who told her that the janitor in the school was her attacker.

Moreover, after she heard about the rape from her daughter, the mother went to the school and watched the security cameras, where she said she identified Qatusa. Sources involved in the investigation said that the girl’s father also conducted a sort of private investigation of his own to discover the identity of the janitor after his daughter told him she was attacked by a maintenance man in the school. Later, Qatusa was arrested and the girl identified him after being shown pictures of eight potential suspects.

After several of the problems in the case were published by the media, the military prosecution along with police announced that they would take further steps to complete the investigation. The police then started searching for other individuals who worked with Qatusa in order to locate other suspects.