Police: We Were Right Not to Issue Photo of Rape Suspect

The Northern District Police responded angrily yesterday to criticism of their failure to publicize a rape suspect's photograph or even inform the public that a gang of serial rapists had been active in the district for the last two years.

The photo was obtained in December 2005, when the gang's second victim managed to tear a medallion printed with a picture off her assailant. Police suspected that the photo was of the rapist himself.

Critics charged that had the police publicized this photo, alongside a warning that a gang of rapists was active in the area, two subsequent rapes could have been prevented - including one that occurred just two days later.

But Commander Menachem Haber, who heads the Northern District's Central Unit, insisted that his investigators did everything possible to find the rapists, including the medallion's owner. They even went to the Italian company that made the medallion in an effort to identify the picture, he said.

Moreover, he said, the victim herself did not positively identify the photo as belonging to the rapist. "We acted solely out of concern for the good of the investigation," he declared. "It could be that publicizing the picture and the medallion would have sent a warning to the suspect, and we would never have found him."

The same considerations motivated the decision not to warn the public about the rapists, he added: "The only thing that guided us was the good of the investigation. I don't think such an announcement would have caused a change in the public's behavior."

Over the last two days, three additional suspected gang members have been arrested, all from the Bedouin village of Bir al-Makhsour. Two were arrested on Tuesday, and they were remanded for 10 days yesterday. The third was arrested yesterday and will be brought for a remand hearing today.

Eight people held

In total, eight suspects have been arrested in the case. Six are suspected of rape, including the three most recent arrests, while the other two are suspected of abetting the rapists. According to the police, four suspects have confessed and reenacted their crimes. Haber said that he expects additional arrests to follow.

The Forum of Bedouin Mayors convened an emergency session yesterday to discuss the arrests and issued an unequivocal condemnation of the rapes. "If the suspects are convicted, we demand that the law enforcement system exercise the full force of the law against them," said forum chairman Yasser Tabash. "We do not accept this and will not be reconciled to it."

The forum, which also sent its condolences to the victims, rejected reports that the rapists had acted out of nationalist motives, noting that many villagers serve in the army and some have been killed in action. "I ask the people of Israel not to generalize about an entire community, which is loyal and contributes [to the state], because of the wild weeds that exist in every society," Tabash said.

The forum decided to convene another meeting in the coming days with community leaders, religious leaders and educators to discuss what the community should do to prevent similar incidents in the future. All of the mayors cited poor schools, lack of job opportunities and the low socioeconomic status of Bedouin villages as serious problems, but stressed that this "in no way justifies these abominable acts," as Tuba Zangaria Mayor Hussein al-Haib put it.

The only mayor who directly connected the rapes to such problems was Diab Adir of Bir al-Makhsour. "What are they talking about?" he demanded, referring to his fellow mayors. "They talk about our contribution to the state, about our sacrifice, but where are we today? How has all this contribution to the state that they talk about helped us? What happens to our young people, who have no frameworks, no extracurricular activities, no employment?"