The appalling political exploitation of a 7-year-old’s rape

With three months to go before the “do-over” Knesset elections, no issue is off-limits in the fray.

A general view of the assembly hall in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on June 12, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
A general view of the assembly hall in the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on June 12, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Credit: Courtesy.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, an author and award-winning columnist, is a former adviser at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Given the nationwide response to the brutal rape of a 7-year-old Israeli girl by the Palestinian janitor at her elementary school—while two other accomplices egged him on—it’s no wonder that her parents waited weeks before complaining to authorities. Indeed, since the story was reported on Monday, it has become the subject of a political debate.

As painful as this must be for the child’s traumatized family, it is not surprising. With three months to go before the “do-over” Knesset elections, no issue is off-limits in the fray. And this one involves several elements to argue over simultaneously.

The story, as revealed so far, is that the victim was groomed by her attacker, Mahmoud Katusa, 46, over a period of time at the school in a haredi city in the Binyamin region. Katusa, a resident of the Palestinian Authority-controlled town of Deir Qaddis, befriended the child and gave her candy, according to the indictment for rape, aggravated assault and kidnapping.

On the day of the incident, Katusa allegedly grabbed the little girl after school and dragged her to a nearby home he was employed to renovate. There, two other Palestinian men—who likely also worked at the school—were present, holding the child down and telling her, “You deserve it.” These men have yet to be apprehended.

The case is being treated with such gravity that in an usual move, the head of the Israel Police investigations department, Gadi Siso, has decided to take it upon himself.

Likening his client’s indictment to the infamous Dreyfus Affair, Katusa’s lawyer called into question the victim’s accusation. An Orthodox Jew for whom the suspect worked in the past also came to his defense, saying that Katusa is a nice and reliable guy who could not have committed such a heinous act.

But the psychologists who interrogated the victim found her to be completely believable. This is probably because she gave descriptions of the assault that a young child would not have the tools to invent. Furthermore, the suspect failed a polygraph test.

Due to the many details of the case that are under a gag order, and since the investigation is ongoing, it is too early to form an opinion, other than the one that everyone shares about the evils of pedophilic rape.

This did not stop politicians and pundits across the spectrum from putting in their two cents about it, in the context of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and in that of crime and punishment. Without waiting for the facts of the case to come to light, for example, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that it should be investigated as an act of terrorism. As though a Palestinian pedophile necessarily has an ulterior motive for ravaging an innocent Jewish child. Perhaps he did, but this has not been established.

Nor is it likely, since raping a 7-year-old requires a special kind of sexual deviance that nationalistic sentiment cannot induce. If it should turn out that the suspect and his vile buddies targeted the girl in question because of her being a Jewish Israeli, then terrorism, by all means, should be included in the indictment. But, again, it’s too soon to make such a snap judgement.

On the other hand, Erdan, at least, did not exploit the girl’s trauma to attack Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as many of his political rivals did.

Take Labor Party MK Shelly Yachimovich, for instance, who declared: “The cynical, nationalistic dancing on the blood of a girl who was the victim of a shocking rape is nauseating and hair-raising, from the person who gives the middle finger to the crisis centers that treat thousands of victims. Zero empathy for the victims of all ages. Zero action [on their behalf]. This is only the second time in his political career that [Netanyahu] has bothered to address rape, and the previous time also was used for nationalistic incitement. For shame and disgust.”

Yet Netanyahu’s response to the horrors that the little girl suffered was void of all “nationalistic incitement.” In fact, it was totally proper.

“The shocking rape of a little girl shakes everyone’s heart,” he said on Monday. “I want to strengthen the family. The courts must implement the full extent of the law against everyone responsible for this terrible act.”

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Lieberman—whose antics prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition and sparked a new round of elections—released the following statement: “The case of the rape of a 7-year-old girl by a Palestinian … is not pedophilia, but rather one of the worst forms of terrorism that I’ve heard of in recent years. … It is exactly one of the cases about which I would not hesitate to demand of the court that it impose the death penalty on the vile terrorist. Too bad that … Netanyahu continues to torpedo the ‘capital punishment for terrorists’ bill, despite his written and public commitment [to advance it]. Anyone merciful to the cruel ultimately is cruel to the merciful.”

It is a national disgrace that a group of adults cannot pause long enough to focus on a child whose life as she knows it has been demolished, before engaging in politics and bashing Netanyahu.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ” 

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