Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan acknowledged on Thursday that police could well have botched their investigation into the alleged rape of a seven-year-old Israeli girl.
Erdan, the cabinet member responsible for overseeing the Israel Police, told Kan public radio that law enforcement failed to carry out the measures necessary for uncovering the truth.
“I wrote on Facebook that this indictment cannot stand with all these holes,” Erdan said.
A day earlier, an official with knowledge of the investigation said that police were prepared to drop charges against Mahmoud Qadusa, the Palestinian man who was charged on Sunday with the rape of the Israeli girl at a home in her ultra-Orthodox settlement in the central West Bank.
On Tuesday, law enforcement officials announced they would be reopening the probe into the alleged rape in order to try to verify the suspicions against Qadusa.
Police have come under fire after details of the indictment against Qadusa, 46, leaked to the press revealed that it had relied almost exclusively on the testimony of the 7-year-old, had no forensic evidence to back her testimony, had changed its account regarding where the alleged incident had taken place, and could not determine what day, week or even month it occurred.
Before those holes came to light, Erdan had been among the first ministers to assert that the alleged rape had been an act of Palestinian terrorism.
“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,” Erdan said on Monday. Police, on the other hand, have stood by their claim that there was no evidence to suggest the crime had been nationalistically motivated.
Several other right-wing politicians called for it to be treated as a terror attack, and some, including Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, demanded Qadusa be executed.
By Thursday, the public security minister softened his tone, claiming he had only called for the incident to be investigated as a terror attack if the suspect were to be convicted.
“It’s very good that [the investigation has been reopened]. It may have been conducted negligently,” he admitted to Kan.
While prosecutors sought on Wednesday to extend Qadusa’s remand for an additional 10 days, the Ofer Military Court judge only agreed to five.
Police arrested Qadusa, a school maintenance worker, on May 1 on suspicion that he had kidnapped the child from her school in a central West Bank settlement and raped her. He has been in jail since.
Qadusa’s lawyer, Nashar Darwish, said his client broke down in tears at the Judea Military Court upon hearing the prosecution’s remand request.
“What have you been doing until now?” he was quoted as asking after the prosecution requested additional time to complete the investigation. “Why you are destroying my life?”
The case against Qadusa, from the West Bank village of Dir Kadis, had been kept under gag order until Sunday, when police announced that he had been indicted for the kidnap and rape of the girl.
According to the charge sheet, Qadusa works as a maintenance custodian in the victim’s school. There he got to know the girl, and allegedly periodically gave her candy.
Relying largely on the testimony of the seven-year-old, police have been unable to determine the exact date when the alleged rape took place. The indictment states that the incident took place “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 about a kilometer from the school. When she refused, Qadusa dragged the crying girl there against her will, the indictment said.
Upon their arrival at the home, the indictment alleged, 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.
Investigators and others have raised questions about the case, including how the suspect could have dragged the victim from the school to the home in broad daylight with nobody seeing them or saying anything.
The child investigator who questioned the victim wrote in notes obtained by The Times of Israel that the girl could not identify the suspect beyond saying he worked at her school. The investigator referred to her testimony as “weak and incomplete.”
According to an official with knowledge of the investigation, the alleged victim confided to her parents about having been sexually assaulted at some point in late March or early April. She then managed to “spontaneously” finger Qadusa as her attacker after seeing him in school. Her parents then consulted with a rabbi in the community regarding what to do next. The rabbi recommended that they immediately see a doctor and report the incident to the police.
It is unclear how many days passed until a police complaint was filed on April 16. The girl’s mother brought her to a family doctor who, according to the official, was able to identify some sort of sexual trauma that the victim had endured. However, she recommended that the mother take her daughter to a hospital where a rape kit could be logged and a doctor legally qualified to determine that a rape had taken place could examine the girl. The mother did not do so.
On Wednesday, the alleged victim’s parents hired Yehuda Fried and Tal Gabay to provide legal consult and to oversee the work of the police and prosecution. Fried and Gabay are also the attorneys representing Malka Leifer, a former high school principal facing extradition to Australia, where she has been charged with 74 counts of sexual assault.