A Palestinian Woman Says an Israeli Police Officer Raped Her in an Interrogation Room. Where Are the Suspects?

Six years ago, a young Palestinian woman told the Police Investigation Unit that an officer raped her. Ten months later, no arrests had been made and the case was closed. A look at the investigation file prompts more questions than answers

FILE PHOTO: A police investigation room

It took the Justice Ministry’s unit that investigations complaints of police misconduct 10 months to close one of the most serious cases ever submitted to it: suspicion of the rape of a Palestinian woman at a police station in Jerusalem

The reason given by the Police Investigation Unit for closing the case, “Perpetrator unknown,” indicates that even though the investigators did not manage to find the guilty party, they did look for him and did believe the complainant’s story – a story that was obtained from a polygraph test she took in which she was found to be telling the truth, and from testimonies that accorded with her complaint.  

However, a look at the file also raises a number of questions about the way the investigation was conducted and about why, six years after the incident, no one has been arrested on suspicion of raping this woman.

It began in the middle of the night. A young Palestinian woman named Leila (Haaretz has her full name and identifying details) was arrested at roadblock on suspicion of being in Israel without a permit and was taken to a police station. After being questioned for a few minutes in one room, she was transferred to a different room where, she says, she was harassed by the interrogator, who left the room a short while later.

Then, she related, a policeman in Border Police uniform came in and raped her. Her complaint is grave: She described how she tried to resist but he used a table that was in the room in order to overcome her. She described a brutal sexual act that went on for several minutes and also described how he forcibly stripped her and covered her mouth with his hand. She noted that he left traces of semen on the garment she wore.

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When it was over, Leila dressed quickly and ran out, leaving through the entry gate of the police station without signing any release document. The next day she told her husband what had happened. Another day passed and, extraordinarily, her husband accompanied her to the Police Investigation Unit offices in Jerusalem. There she told investigators all the details of what had happened and said she felt shame. She added that she was so disgusted that night that she hastened to launder the clothing she had been wearing.

After they finished transcribing her complaint, the investigators accompanied Leila to an emergency room. The examination there did not find any signs of rape, apparently because of the time that had elapsed, but they did find a bruise on her left arm. The next day the investigators accompanied Leila to a polygraph test carried out by the head of the police polygraph laboratory in Jerusalem. The questions were cold and explicit: “Is it correct that a border policeman inserted his sexual organ into your sexual organ at the police station?” she was asked. She replied to this question in the affirmative, as she did a second time when the same question was phrased somewhat differently. The polygraph findings were conclusive: She was telling the truth.

Additional evidence supported her story: Eyewitnesses said she left the police station in an agitated state and added that a few minutes later she vomited. In addition, she told her husband about the rape the very next day. It isn’t every day that a Palestinian woman shows up to complain about a rape, not to mention one at a police station.

Apparently great efforts

During the first several days after the complaint, apparently considerable effort was invested in the case: summonses for questioning, mobile phone tracking, polygraph tests and more. However, examination of the investigative materials shows that along with all that, other investigative measures – some say basic measures – were not taken.

The first questions arise concerning the mapping of the potential suspects. The time frame for carrying out the rape was determined to have been between 4 A.M. and just before 5 A.M. According to the assignment sheet, at that time there was a total of 19 policemen from the station on duty (some of whom were out on patrol). Nine others began their shift at 5 A.M. In the entire security complex where the police station is located, there were 67 policemen on duty at that time. Because of the early morning hour at which the incident was said to have occurred, all the policemen there were potential suspects, suspects whose identities are known.

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The main suspect questioned was the night duty investigator, the same man whom Leila said had harassed her. However, the possibility that he was the rapist was ruled out because on that day he was in civilian clothing and not in Border Police uniform, which is how she described the attacker. In his interrogation the night duty investigator completely denied any involvement in rape – as well as in harassment. The investigators even arranged a confrontation between the two, which was stopped because Leila became agitated; she wept, screamed and began to threaten the Police Investigation Unit personnel, who had to stop the confrontation.

In the polygraph examination to which the investigator was sent, he was found to be telling the truth and the case against him was closed. However, when asked if it was possible that he had left Leila alone in the interrogation room, he confirmed he had left for a few minutes to use the toilet.

Testimony was taken from five additional policemen – the one who had arrested her and taken her to the police station and four others who were on duty at the station – but none of them was questioned as a suspect. This, even though contradictions were found between the testimonies of two of them. One of them – call him H. – related that he had seen Leila coming out of the police station and, together with another guard, A., had opened the gate for her. When A. described the course of events that morning, he told a different story, saying he had opened the exit gate alone.

This wasn’t the only detail in dispute. A. told the Police Investigation Unit that he had replaced H. at the gate for 10 minutes (during which time Leila was still inside the police station) and that during the night he had seen his colleague walking around in the area of the investigation rooms. There was no replacement, A. told his questioners. “H. wasn’t with me at the position either.”

However, a reading of the investigation file reveals that despite these contradiction, neither H. nor A. was interrogated under warning that he might be charged with a crime.

Despite the small number of suspects, at the Police Investigation Unit they did not see fit to arrange any suspect identification lineup for Leila, nor was she shown photographs of the potential suspects, or of all the police who were in the compound. “This is a significant omission,” says a former top police officer. “When there is a small number of potential suspects, an identification lineup is a basic thing.”

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In the case file, no document was found indicating that the investigators tried to collect the footage from security cameras at the station. However, a Police Investigation Unit source notes that right at the start of the investigation a check was made but it turned out that the cameras were focused on the entry gate, and that they do not record anything, only showing pictures in real time.

Another item in the file concerns the question of the DNA. It turns out that the hope of finding a sample on Leila’s clothing was ruled out because the clothing’s having been laundering meant the laboratory could not produce any findings. “The chances of finding DNA evidence on a garment that has been laundered are very small,” say two senior crime lab experts.

Investigation goes nowhere

About a month after the complaint, Leila was brought in, as an extraordinary measure, to a police facial composite artist. At that time she somewhat modified her description of the attacker’s hair and face, but even the new portrait that was drawn in accordance with her description did not lead the investigators any further in their search for the suspect.

In the case file there is also a memorandum written by a female investigator who accompanied Leila and talked with her about the rape. The investigator noted that Leila told her what had happened, adding that the policeman committed two more crimes of rape against her, among them anal rape. This additional information was cause for astonishment at the Police Investigation Unit, but when asked by the female investigator why she had not stated this at the time she filed her complaint, Leila explained that one of the investigators taking down her complaint was a man, and she was embarrassed to talk about it in front of him.

The new details appear only in the memorandum, and Leila was not asked to provide a new, comprehensive complaint. After that visit, no further significant investigative steps were taken, and the file remained at the Police Investigation Unit offices.

After three years went by without the investigators contacting Leila at all, her lawyer, Muayid Miari, applied to find out what was happening with the case. The reply he received shocked him. Two years earlier, it emerged, it was decided to close the case on the grounds of “perpetrator unknown.” So just 10 months after the complaint was filed, it was decided to close the case.

“To our regret, there was an error and your client did not receive notice of this at the time,” stated the reply.

Miari, who demanded that he receive the investigation file, submitted an appeal against the case’s closure, in which he stressed a series of significant blunders on the part of the Police Investigation Unit and the contradictions that were not examined. “No one was put on trial, neither at the criminal level nor at the disciplinary level,” he wrote.

However, time passed and only in 2015 did Deputy Attorney General Yehuda Shaffer order the reopening of the case. Then, at the beginning of 2016, it was decided to close it once more, without any of the people involved having been questioned again. “Even after carrying out the requested examinations, we were not able to identify a person suspected of having committed the crime,” said the Police Investigation Unit.

In retrospect it emerged that most of follow-up investigation had to do with the security cameras and reexamining the testimony of the investigator who had released Leila without any documentation, and who was suspected of having abetted the rapist (intentionally leaving him alone in the room with the young woman).

“From the examination it emerges that the police treatment of Leila followed all the procedures,” stated the Police Investigation Unit document, “and there is no additional documentation of actions that were taken during the course of the incident.”

As for the identification lineup that did not happen, it was stated by the unit that “taking into account the findings of the entire investigation, including the various descriptions given by the complainant regarding the suspect and the absence of a concrete suspect, there was no scope for carrying out an identification lineup.”

At this point attorney Miari decided to show Leila photographs of some of the policemen who were at the station that night.

She immediately identified A. as the person who had raped her.

This improvised lineup, about five years after the incident, led the Police Investigation Unit to summon A. under warning that he could be suspected of

having committed the crime of rape. At that stage, in 2016, A. was no longer serving in the police force. Most of his replies to questions were: “I don’t remember.” Moreover, he had difficulty recalling the contradictions that had emerged five years earlier, but said he was certain he had not committed any rape.

“Horrible and shocking, but I have nothing to do with it,” he told the investigators.

Unlike in the first round in the case, Leila was not called in for a confrontation even though this time it was she who had identified A. as her attacker. The Police Investigation Unit did decide to send A. for a polygraph test, at which he was asked:

“Did you insert your sexual organ into an Arab woman’s sexual organ at the police station?” A. replied in the negative, was found to be telling the truth, and the case was closed.

Is this the end of the story? Officially, not yet. At this time an additional appeal submitted by Leila in the hope that the investigation will be reopened and the criminal apprehended is under consideration.

The Police Investigation Unit has responded that the decisions in the case “were taken on the basis of a professional and thorough investigation, and after examination of the evidence and all the circumstances in the matter, including taking of statements from the complainant a number of times, taking of evidence from members of the complainant’s family, questioning of policemen who were suspected of having been present at the time of the incident under warning that they might be suspected of having committed a crime, polygraph tests and additional examinations in accordance with the findings of the investigation.”

At the unit, they also said: “The policemen whom the complainant indicated as the main suspect in the affair was questioned and examined – but no support was found for the accusations the complainant made against him, and moreover in the polygraph test he took he was found to be telling the truth. Other policemen who came into the circle of possible involvement were also questioned and this questioning did not establish their involvement in the incident.

“After examining the aggregate of the evidence in the case, the Unit for Police Investigation concluded that in the complex circumstances of the matter (which would be inappropriate to specify here for reasons of individuals’ privacy), the totality of the evidence does not form a reasonable basis for indicting any of the policemen who could have been potential suspects. The Police Investigation Unit is committed to exposing offenses committed by police and its determination to fight against sex crimes in the police is very well-known and needs no proof. It should be stressed that in 2016, 68 percent of the cases that were investigated in the department were successfully concluded through a clarification of the truth.

“However, the reality teaches us that sometimes, despite investigative efforts, there is a segment of cases that does not conclude in clarification of the truth and these cases are closed with various justifications, in accordance with the matter. The Police Investigation Unit takes responsibility for the regrettable fact that there were flaws in the reports to the complainant about this case. An appeal that was submitted by the complainant is slated to be examined at the appeals department of the State Prosecutor’s Office.”

Following a request for a response from the Israel Police, police sources claimed that they became aware of Leila’s complaint of having been raped by a policeman at a police station only in the wake of the query from Haaretz, and moreover, even though the incident occurred more than five years ago and it was reopened and policemen were investigated, the Police Investigation Unit did not inform the Israel Police at all about the entire procedure.

“The Police Investigation Unit has made a shambles here,” said a police source angrily. “How can such a grave incident not be reported to us? A complainant claims that she was raped at a police station and no one at the Police Investigation Unit informs the police commissioner, someone at the human resources department or anyone at all. This is shocking and disgraceful behavior.”

Haaretz has received the following response form the Israel Police: “We regret that yet again the Police Investigation Unit chose not to keep the Israel Police informed concerning the findings of this investigation, as in a number of other cases. Immediately upon receipt of this query a clarification was conducted, which found that the investigation was conducted at the Police Investigation Unit and closed. In the absence of an orderly report, transmission of information or any update from the Police Investigation Unit, to our regret we cannot comment on this case as its details are not known to us.”