The lawyer representing a Palestinian man charged with raping a 7-year-old Israeli girl insisted Tuesday that his client had been falsely accused of the brutal assault and claimed that anti-Arab sentiment was driving the case against him.
Nashaf Darwish told reporters outside a hearing at the Judea Military Court that the prosecution’s version of events “doesn’t add up” and said he was confident that court rulings in the coming days would exonerate his client.
“After reviewing the details of the case, I can tell you the case is going to be reversed in the coming days,” Darwish said. “This is a real Dreyfus trial,” he added, referring to the 1894 miscarriage of justice in which a French Jewish army captain, Alfred Dreyfus, was framed and falsely convicted of espionage, resulting from and feeding already pervasive anti-Semitic sentiment.
“I can say with complete certainty that people are going to be shocked with [court] decisions that will be made in the next few days,” he said, adding that the real attacker “may not have even been Palestinian.”
השר גלעד ארדן קורא למעורבות שב"כ בפרשת אונס הילדה בת ה-7: "חייב להיחקר כאירוע לאומני"https://t.co/mFDbeqLA0I
בתמונה: הנאשם, מחמוד קטוסה pic.twitter.com/zfWtfivc18
— ידיעות אחרונות (@YediotAhronot) June 17, 2019
On Sunday, military prosecutors indicted Mahmoud Qadusa, 46, from the central West Bank village of Dir Kadis for the kidnap and rape of the girl in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the central West Bank earlier this year. The court has imposed a gag order over identifying details of the victim.
According to the charge sheet, Qadusa works as a maintenance custodian in the victim’s school in the settlement. There he got to know the girl, and allegedly periodically gave her candy. Relying largely on the testimony of the 7-year-old, police have been unable to determine the exact day, week or even month when the alleged rape took place. The indictment states that the incident unfolded “between the months of February and April.”
The suspect is accused in the indictment of asking the girl to come with him to a home near the school. When she refused, Qadusa dragged the crying girl to the home against her will, the indictment said.
Commenting on the indictment, Darwish told reporters “there is no disputing the gravity of the matter as described in court documents.” However, he added, “I just don’t see how he could have taken a girl from her school in the middle of the day, walk her to a distant apartment building, without anyone saying anything or noticing them together.”
The home in question is located roughly a kilometer away from the school from which she was allegedly dragged.
Upon their arrival at the home, the indictment states, the suspect pinned down the victim with the help of two friends — who also knew the girl — took her clothes off and raped her while the others held her down and laughed.
“I’ve seen the indictment, and there is no disputing the gravity of the matter as described in court documents,” Darwish said, pointing out that his client has no criminal record. The attorney also said Qadusa provided police with an alibi accounting for his whereabouts at the time of the attack that was “checked out and accepted by investigators.”
At a hearing earlier this month before the indictment against Qadusa was filed, a police representative told the Judea Military Court that the rape had taken place in the suspect’s home and specified a day and time. According to an official with knowledge of the investigation, the defendant immediately objected to the claim and said he had an alibi placing him at a home in the settlement near the school. A resident of the ultra-Orthodox town confirmed Qadusa’s alibi whereabouts and told police that he had hired Qadusa to do construction work at an apartment he owned.
By the next hearing, when the indictment was filed, police had updated their account to state that the rape had taken place in the apartment where Qadusa had been hired to work, and not in his home in Dir Kadis as initially stated, and further said that the exact timing of the assault was unknown.
Darwish said that police have been unable to locate any eyewitnesses — including the two assailants mentioned in the indictment — to corroborate the girl’s story.
While a police official said Monday that the assault did not appear to have been nationalistically motivated, a growing number of right-wing politicians have been calling for it to be treated as a terror attack. Some lawmakers, including Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, demanded Qadusa be executed.
The suspect’s attorney slammed lawmakers for the rhetoric they’ve employed against his client. “Just because he is Arab, he doesn’t deserve the presumption of innocence?” he said.
Dawish told the Kan public broadcaster that one of the investigators who questioned the victim had relayed that it was not possible to determine the reliability of the seven-year-old’s testimony.
“It’s possible that the victim’s identification [of the defendant] was influenced by conversations the family had with the girl before the police entered the picture,” Darwish quoted the investigator as having wrote.
The head of the police’s investigations unit, Gadi Siso, has personally taken over the probe due to the sensitive nature of the case, the Ynet news website reported Tuesday.
Despite the completion of the investigation and the filing of an indictment, Siso instructed a special team of investigators to reexamine the case, and was slated to hold a special hearing to discuss additional suspects in the case who have not yet been tracked down.
According to Kan, senior officials in the Education Ministry as well as those responsible for handling cases of sexual assault in ultra-Orthodox schools only learned about the incident on Sunday evening, when it was reported in the news for the first time.
Later on Tuesday, a hearing is scheduled at the Judea Military Court where police are expected to request a gag order barring the publication of all details of the case.