Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday called for the brutal rape of a 7-year-old Israeli girl, allegedly by a Palestinian man, to be investigated as a terror attack, even though police have said the assault did not appear to be nationalistically motivated.
At a memorial services for fallen police officers, Erdan said he turned to the Shin Bet Security Service, the police and the State Prosecutors Office requesting that “all means of investigation” be made available to probe the assault.
“It’s hard for me, and I’m sure it’s hard for you, not to think about the terrible incident in which a 7-year-old girl was victimized in such a sickening, inhumane and unthinkable act,” he said at the ceremony in Beit Shemesh.
“I have no doubt that the man accused of this atrocity and those who helped him were nourished by the incitement and hatred that they absorb daily in the Palestinian Authority,” said Erdan. “Regardless of what this disgusting rapist says about his motives and circumstances, this kind of incident must be investigated as a nationalistically motivated event.”
Erdan said he called on all those involved in the investigation to try and determine if the culprit “would have done the same thing to a Palestinian girl.”
On Sunday, police indicted a 46-year-old Palestinian man for the kidnap and rape of a 7-year-old girl in a settlement in the central West Bank earlier this year. He was charged with rape in aggravated circumstances, assault, and kidnapping.
Channel 12 identified the suspect as Nazmi Abed el-Hamid Kattousa, 46, a married father from the nearby central West Bank village of Dir Kadis.
The location of the settlement where the child was assaulted is under a gag order to protect the identity of the victim.
According to the indictment, Kattousa began working earlier this year as a maintenance staff member at a school in the settlement. There, he established a connection with the victim by giving her candy. He then brought the girl to a building near the school that was under construction, forcibly held her there, raped her, then released her.
A police official said they were treating the incident as a criminally, and not nationalistically, motivated attack.
The official said authorities were searching for an additional two suspects who — according to the victim’s testimony — pinned her down and laughed while the defendant raped her.
An attorney for the parents of the girl, Haim Bleicher from the Honenu legal aid organization, said that while he could not say whether the motivation for the rape was criminal or nationalistic, he believed that the additional suspects only assisted in the assault because she was Jewish.
According to the attorney, the attackers had told the victim that she had “deserved” what had happened to her.
The indictment followed a three-month investigation carried out by the police. The defendant had denied all charges during the investigation, putting his word against the girl’s testimony.
Channel 12 said Monday that he failed a polygraph test and police also found the scene of the assault where he had also been working part-time doing renovations.
Erdan was not the only official to call for a probe into whether the attack could be classified as an act of terror, and several right-wing lawmakers demanded that he face the death penalty if convicted.
Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman, who has pushed legislation to make it easier for courts to impose the death penalty in certain terror cases, called the incident “a well-planned attack on a small, innocent and helpless girl.”
“This is not pedophilia. This is pure terror — one of the worst kinds I have heard in recent years,” he said in a statement.
“This is exactly the type of case in which I would not hesitate, and demand the court to sentence the despicable terrorist to death,” Liberman added, accusing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of having blocked the legislation.
Liberman has proposed a law which would allow a death penalty conviction in cases of murder, but not rape.
“The vile person who committed this terrible act has no right to exist in this world — he and all those who helped him,” said Union of Right-Wing Parties chairman Rafi Peretz.
Peretz’s No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich tweeted, “If death could only be imposed on this scum. Nothing less. Such a monster does not deserve to breathe air in our world.”
Netanyahu condemned the attack in a tweet but stopped short of explicitly calling for the death penalty. “The courts must exhaust the severity of the law with everyone responsible for this terrible act,” he wrote.
Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich accused the right-wing lawmakers of only speaking out against rape when there are suspicions that the act was nationalistically motivated.
They are “cynically and nationalistically dancing on the blood of a girl who was the victim of a shocking rape,” she said.