IDF officer who raped Palestinian was not dismissed for earlier sexual offenses

Soldier had reportedly faced disciplinary committee over sexual harassment of female officers, but convinced military to allow him to remain in service

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: An IDF soldier sits in a military court. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)
Illustrative: An IDF soldier sits in a military court. (Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

An Israeli Defense Forces officer who has been imprisoned since 2017 for multiple sexual offenses, including the rape of a Palestinian woman, had faced dismissal from the military months before the attacks over his sexual harassment of female officers, it was reported Thursday.

The Ynet news site, which first broke the story of the serviceman’s sexual offenses, said the officer, whose name remains barred from publication, came close to dismissal from the military after two incidents in which he sexually harassed female soldiers.

Although he was found guilty in a disciplinary case on the matter, he managed to convince the military that he should remain in the army, presenting letters of recommendation from his officer and certificates of excellence he had received during his service.

A disciplinary committee also found that the soldier slapped a female soldier in 2005, propositioned another soldier and watched pornography with a group of soldiers.

Additionally, Ynet said the committee was told that he was involved in three other incidents “of a sexual nature, verbal sexual harassment and even physical,” but was not prosecuted for those.

Ynet said that just a few months after he convinced the IDF that he should remain in the military, the soldier began to commit the series of serious sexual offenses against Palestinians from 2013 to 2015.

In his defense, the officer claimed that the details of the sexual harassment were taken out of proportion. He said that he did not slap the female soldier, but it was a slight touch and he apologized for it. The officer was held in a military prison for a week for striking the soldier. He denied all other charges and has said he was not warned he was in danger of dismissal, Ynet reported.

A military court permitted news outlets to report on Wednesday that the soldier was imprisoned for the rape, as well as committing sexual assault against other Palestinian women and a man and extorting them for sexual favors, among other crimes, ending a years-long gag order on the case.

The Israel Defense Forces’ Court of Appeals decided to rescind the gag order on the affair, which was considered to have potentially serious security ramifications due to its dramatic nature, following an appeal by the Ynet news site and years of legal battles. In a statement, the military said the gag order had been deemed necessary, in part, “to preserve national security.”

The officer served in the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration, which is tasked with overseeing the day-to-day management of the West Bank. The officer, a major, was responsible for issuing permits for Palestinians to enter and work in Israel, a position of power that he repeatedly exploited in order to receive sexual favors from Palestinians.

He was first indicted in early 2016, but the case was subjected to a strict gag order, allowing news outlets at the time to report only that he had been charged with “serious sexual crimes and other crimes of moral turpitude.”

He was convicted nearly a year later, in December 2016, and sentenced two months later to 11 years in prison. The major was also stripped of his rank and summarily dismissed from the military.

In addition, he was forced to pay NIS 18,000 ($5,600) in damages to the women he raped and NIS 9,000 ($2,800) to the woman he sexually exploited.

At the time of his sentencing, the Israel Defense Forces said he had been convicted of “sexual offenses, sexual harassment, bribe-taking, fraud, breach of trust and exceeding his authority to extent of posing a national security risk.” Few other details about the cases were permitted to be published at the time.

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers check a Palestinian woman as she waits to cross the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, April 23, 2021. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

This week, some four and a half years later, the IDF Court of Appeals — effectively the military’s internal supreme court — ruled that additional details could be published about the case, including the specific offenses of which the officer was convicted.

In their ruling on removing the gag order on the case, the panel of three judges from the IDF Court of Appeals wrote: “There is no dispute that there is a public interest in publicizing the details of this case, which has severe implications for the wider public.”

The officer was found to have raped one Palestinian woman, who had come to him to receive a permit to work in Israel, on at least two occasions. He also repeatedly sexually harassed her, trying to get her to have sex with other people as well.

The military court, based in part on audio recordings that the woman made, determined that in the first instance of rape, the officer had forced her to have sex with him and then made her clean up the floor afterwards, before giving her the work permit.

A few days later, he called her and told her that he had rescinded the permit and again forced her to have sex with him in order to get it back.

In both cases, the Palestinian woman refused his demands for sex, and in both cases, he threatened to take away her work permit if she told anyone about the rape.

He was also convicted of receiving a bribe by forcing another Palestinian woman to have sex with him multiple times in exchange for a work permit. Despite the clear power imbalance, this was not deemed to have been rape as the victim did not explicitly refuse his demands for sex.

In addition, the officer was found guilty of multiple counts of sexual harassment for repeatedly asking a Palestinian man and an acquaintance of his to have sex.

In a somewhat separate case, the officer was also convicted of sharing intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet security service with two Palestinian women who had asked him for work permits.

In March, the officer appealed his sentence to the IDF Court of Appeals. The court upheld his 11-year sentence but overturned the lower court’s decision to discharge him from the military, instead demoting him from major to private.

It was largely a procedural decision, as the officer had anyway been fired from the military. The punishment of dismissal from the military is generally reserved for crimes that more directly harm national security.

The officer was sent to a civilian prison to carry out his 11-year sentence.

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