In Court, Police Waver on Motive Behind Suspected Rape by Two Palestinians

Views changed in courtroom as to possible reason for alleged attack of mentally challenged Jewish woman after police representative receives text message to his phone.

A suspect in the case of the rape on Independence Day of a mentally ill Jewish woman, in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, May 30, 2016.
Moti Milrod

During a Tel Aviv court hearing Monday on extending the detention of two Palestinian men for allegedly raping a mentally challenged Jewish woman on Independence Day, the police twice changed their opinion as to whether the act could have been politically motivated.

Two Palestinians residents of the Nablus area were arrested last Wednesday on suspicion of raping the 20-year-old mentally challenged woman in Tel Aviv. She claimed that during the rape, the two also cursed and hurled racist epithets at her, and urinated on her. 

In their discussion of the motion to extend the alleged rapists’ detention, submitted to the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, police said the act was politically motivated, contradicting a police spokeswoman on Sunday, who said on Sunday that the motive seemed to be different. Speaking to Army Radio on Sunday, Israel Police spokeswoman Merav Lapidot said that from the get-go, the investigators suspected that the case was more complex than it initially seemed to be, and added that politics does not seem to have been a factor

After the hearing began in Tel Aviv on Monday, the police representative in court received a text message to his phone – and then told the judge that the investigative team had just informed him that it believed the crime was not committed because the woman was Jewish. But then, after the media had already reported the order to delete the relevant section from the motion, the representative received yet another text message from senior police sources, telling him to reinstate the original, political motive.

Third suspect?

Asked by Judge Ronit Poznanski-Katz why the political motive was being reinstated, the police representative explained that a third suspect in the case is still at large. Until he is apprehended, such a motive could not be excluded.

It bears noting that the police’s conduct in this case is highly unusual, especially for such a sensitive case that has attracted such intense media attention. Usually the police representatives are better prepared when they come to court.

In their attempt to persuade the court to extend the suspects’ detention, the police presented new information – apparently including pictures – that had not been introduced beforehand. The judge was highly critical of the way the information had been submitted.

Ophir Katavi, a public defender who is representing one of the suspects, said after the hearing that her client, “a man without a criminal record, has been under arrest for two weeks. He denies all the allegations and provided a full version.” She said she hopes the police will thoroughly investigate his claim that the whole thing is a conspiracy by his neighbors "because of his origin."

Last Thursday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complicated matters with a Facebook post relating to the incident: “This was a horrific crime that requires wall-to-wall condemnation, but such condemnation hasn’t been heard One can only imagine what would have happened if the situation were reversed.”

By the next morning, however, the prime minister had had second thoughts, posting: “The incident as reported caused me deep shock and pain – however, it wasn’t right for me to address the topic until the investigation was complete.”

Police sources admitted Sunday that Netanyahu’s Facebook post presented a problem for them. One even said it could “contaminate the investigation,” since the post transformed the case into a matter related to “protecting the dignity of the prime minister,” who had hastened to color it in political hues – without consulting with the police first.

The day after Netanyahu's comments, the police transferred the case from the police offices located in Jaffa (where the alleged crime had been committed), which had been investigating it for three weeks, to a more senior, regional team. Police sources said the order to do so came “from on high” after Netanyahu’s posts and contacts between top brass in the force and the Public Security Ministry.

The decision was an extraordinary one, since the Jaffa-based team had been in charge and had been the one that caught the suspects and had their detention extended three times. However, police sources said that the move to a different team was due to the complexity of the investigation, and denied that it had anything to do with the prime minister’s comments.