‘I’m innocent!’ freed Palestinian rape suspect declares, hugging his family

55 days after police arrested him for alleged sexual assault of 7-year-old Israeli girl, Mahmoud Qadusa walks out of prison due to lack of evidence against him

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Mahmoud Qadusa (R) hugs his daughter after being released from prison on June 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Mahmoud Qadusa (R) hugs his daughter after being released from prison on June 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As he embraced his relatives for the first time in nearly two months, a Palestinian man released from jail on Tuesday due to a lack of evidence tying him to the alleged rape of an Israeli girl declared his innocence.

“I have so much to explain about what I went through,” said Mahmoud Qadusa, who was mobbed by Israeli reporters as he hugged his children and siblings at the Beitunia checkpoint. “I’m innocent! I know myself. I was telling them the entire time that I’m not that person.”

Dozens of supporters escorted Qadusa in a convoy back to his home in the central West Bank village of Dir Kadis.

There, speaking by phone to the Kan public broadcaster, he asserted that he had never met the alleged victim and that “someone was behind the whole ordeal who told her to identify me [as the rapist].”

Mahmoud Qadusa after being released from prison on June 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“For seven years I’ve worked in that city,” Qadusa said of the ultra-Orthodox settlement where the rape allegedly took place. “I have Jewish friends there. They know me. Ask them what they think of me,” he said, breaking into tears.

One of those friends was Zvika Golbanzitz, who sent Qadusa’s family a bouquet of flowers congratulating them on his release. When police concluded that the attack had taken place on April 5 in a home owned by Golbanzitz, where Qadusa worked, the former testified on his behalf, saying he was with him the entire time.

Qadusa told Kan that police should find the “real” culprit and when they do, “don’t put him in jail, kill him.”

Earlier Tuesday, the IDF’s military advocate general announced that he was pulling the indictment against Qadusa, 46, due to lack of evidence.

“The evidentiary infrastructure that underlies the indictment does not at this time amount to a ‘reasonable chance of conviction.’ Therefore, by law, the criminal process cannot continue, the indictment must be withdrawn and Qadusa released from custody,” the MAG’s office said in a statement.

Attorney Nashaf Darwish (L) speaks with the brother and son of Mahmoud Qadusa, a Palestinian man charged with kidnapping and raping a 7-year-old Israeli girl, at the Judea Military Court in the West Bank on June 19, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“This case tells us a lot about how the legal system operates with regard to Palestinians on the other side of the Green Line,” the freed suspect’s attorney Nashef Darwish said in a statement, arguing that Israel’s military rule in the West Bank prevents Palestinians from receiving a fair trial.

An attorney representing the 7-year-old said the family was in “utter shock” and “the girl is heartbroken and unwilling to leave her home.”

“The country is waking up to a situation in which the person who a 7-year-old claims raped her is being set free,” said Yehuda Fried.

Qadusa, a maintenance custodian at the girl’s school, was arrested 55 days ago.

According to the dropped charges, sometime “between the months of February and April” Qadusa dragged the girl from her school to a vacant home in the settlement, where he raped her as at least two of his friends pinned her down.

Illustrative: Orthodox girls arrive at their school. (Flash90)

Shortly after the indictment was leaked, police came under fire for relying almost entirely on the testimony of the 7-year-old, forgoing forensic evidence in addition to being unable to determine the exact date that the alleged crime had taken place.

Last week, law enforcement announced that they were reopening the investigation in order to verify the suspicions against Qadusa.

On Monday, an official with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that new details had called further into question the level of professionalism with which the probe had been conducted.

More than two months since the rape was believed to have taken place, only on Monday did police arrive at the home of the alleged victim to collect her clothes for DNA testing, the official confirmed, adding that detectives were skeptical as to whether any forensic evidence could be found.

The official also confirmed that the 7-year-old girl was only able to ID Qadusa in school after her mother pointed at him first and told her he was the man who had raped her.

Moreover, a failed polygraph test cited by the military court in successive decisions to extend Qadusa’s detention was carried out in Hebrew, rather than the defendant’s native Arabic, the official said.

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