President Reuven Rivlin published a letter on Thursday in response to the alleged gang rape of a teen girl in Eilat, saying that incidences of sexual violence were “destroying us as a society.”
The alleged assault sent shockwaves through Israel, after testimony indicated that a large group of some 30 men lined up outside the intoxicated 16-year-old’s hotel room, waiting their turn to rape her, as eyewitnesses failed to intervene.
The incident follows several other high-profile reports in Israel of sexual misconduct and rape in the past year.
In a lengthy missive posted to his Facebook page and addressed to young Israelis, Rivlin said, “I write to you even though I no longer have words in the face of the horror that was reported in the gang rape in Eilat.”
“I’m writing to you about boundaries. These days are days of madness and a loss of routine. I know, when there are no boundaries, the first thought [is] of how liberating it is… But believe me, some of our biggest difficulties as human beings begin when we lose a boundary,” Rivlin wrote.
He said that he regularly encounters people, in his role as president, who are requesting pardons for their past misdeeds, and hears from them and people who helped them about their difficulties.
“I erase criminal record after criminal record, and thousands of Israeli men and women who made mistakes embark on a new path,” he wrote, adding that he usually grants pardon requests.
“But for many others, I do not [grant pardons]. Sexual assault, rape, sexual exploitation, sexual violence, are stains that cannot be erased. These are instances of unforgivable loss of boundaries and are destroying us as a society. As humanity.”
מכתב פתוח לנער ולנערה. הדור הנוכח של ישראל שלנו.אני כותב לכם גם כשכבר אין בי מילים מול הזוועה המדווחת על האונס…
He said that society’s boundaries are established by its members, by law enforcement and by the justice system, and that these boundaries are critical to “the existence of a free society.”
“Faced with exploitation, faced with violence, faced with abuse, faced with cruelty — you will set a boundary. A boundary for you, a boundary for those around you. Do not stand aside. Do not take part in the silence,” Rivlin wrote.
Both suspects who have been arrested in the rape case so far are reportedly in their late 20s. Rivlin addressed the letter to Israel’s “youth,” both male and female, and mentioned the impending start to the school year, apparently aiming to influence the younger generation to take a strong stance against sexual crime.
Police are carrying out an investigation into the alleged gang rape and have arrested the two suspects, who are reportedly from the city of Hadera. Investigators collected security camera footage from the coastal city’s Red Sea Hotel in order to identify additional suspects, and questioned one of the teenager’s companions.
The case follows other high-profile reports of suspected sexual misconduct and an increase in rape cases in Israel.
In August 2019, eight teenagers allegedly raped an 11-year-old girl in northern Israel, and in September 2019, a 13-year-old girl said she was raped by classmate on school grounds in the southern town of Netivot.
In June, two top Israeli soccer players were accused of committing statutory rape with two underage girls. Some commentators drew parallels between the online dialogue surrounding the soccer players’ case and the alleged Eilat attack.
Last year a group of Israeli men and teens were arrested in Cyprus after a British woman said they gang raped her at the Ayia Napa holiday resort on the east Mediterranean island.
The British tourist was found guilty of lying about the alleged attack but has stood by her account of the 2019 incident, saying Cypriot police gave her no choice other than to retract her claim.
All 12 of the Israelis were initially arrested but released after police said the woman retracted the rape allegations. They all returned to Israel and were greeted with scenes of celebration that many commentators deemed highly inappropriate under the circumstances.
Nine out of 10 rape cases in Israel are closed by prosecutors without charge, according to an annual survey released at the end of last year, which also found a significant increase in reports of sexual assault and harassment to the authorities.
The report by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel found that in 2018 police opened 6,220 investigations into alleged sex crimes and harassment, including 1,166 of suspected rape, marking a 12% increase as compared to the previous year and a 40% rise from 2013.
The report found that most victims (63%) of reported gang rapes in 2018 were girls between the ages of 12 and 18.