This week, two parallel, yet unrelated, stories in Israel had two different endings which mirrored each other:
1) On Tuesday, the Israeli Military Advocate-General Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek, announced the retraction of an indictment against Palestinian Mahmoud Qatusa for the rape of a seven-year-old Jewish child at a settlement where he works as a maintenance supervisor.
2) On Sunday, the Israeli State Prosecutor’s office admitted that Dean Issacharoff from the Israeli military whistleblower organization Breaking the Silence, had possibly beaten a Palestinian as he had claimed back in 2017, and that the state’s attempts to prove his testimony false were possibly built on a testimony of a wrong Palestinian.
Already these descriptions demand certain mental gymnastics. Because this is Kafkaesque. To simplify it, let me try this: Palestinians belong to a group which is generally assumed guilty, Israeli Jews belong to a group which is assumed innocent – and both had to fight those assumptions.
Let’s look in more detail into what the cases involve:
In the first case of alleged rape, Mahmoud Qatusa was working as a supervisor of 80 other Palestinians, who work for a cleaning company in a Jewish ultra-orthodox West Bank settlement, at the Mateh Binyamin regional school. On May 1st, he was arrested for the alleged rape of a 7-year old Jewish girl of the school in which he works. After being held in custody for over one and a half months, the police finally charged him with rape. But the indictment was full of holes. The police found no DNA trace of the girl in his house in the village of Deir Qadis. Qatusa even had an alibi which was being provided by Jewish residents of the settlement, which the police later verified. After that, the police changed the alleged place and time of the incident – from Qatusa’s own home to an apartment in the settlement, and from the specific time to a general time slot of two months, between February and April. The police also failed to run DNA tests on evidence forensic evidence that was said to have been found on scene – the girl’s underwear.
Despite these failings, Israeli leaders last week were making strong statements. Prime Minister Netanyahu was saying that “this shocking rape of a young girl has shaken all our hearts,” and that “the courts must apply the full force of the law to everyone responsible for this terrible deed.” Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan urged the internal security agency Shin Bet to pursue a nationalist motive (although none was suspected at first). Netanyahu’s rival from the right Avigdor Lieberman minced no words, he was certain that this was a terrorist act which deserved the death penalty:
The rape of a 7-year-old girl by a Palestinian shocked me deeply. This isn’t pedophilia but pure terrorism, a well-planned attack on a young, innocent, helpless girl. This is exactly the kind of case in which I wouldn’t hesitate; I demand that the court sentence this abominable terrorist to death.
Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Bezalel Smotrich cried:
If only it were possible to impose the death sentence on this scum. Such a monster doesn’t deserve to draw breath in our world.
And then, what do you know, it turned out they had the wrong person. But what the hell, it’s a Palestinian anyway, and just like Lieberman said that “there are no innocent people in Gaza” (when he was Defense Minister), no Palestinian in the West Bank can be assumed innocent either. It’s a safe bet to call them terrorists. The Jerusalem Post reported that the army statement “left it unclear as to whether the IDF may file a new indictment later against Katusa (Qatusa) for a different set of charges”. You never know, when you’re Palestinian – you’re never completely innocent.
Let’s look at the second case. This is a mirror case, and it’s almost hard to fathom its surrealist nature.
In 2017, leading Breaking the Silence member Dean Issacharoff publicly claimed that he had beaten a Palestinian boy during his military service in Al-Khlail (Hebron), back in 2014.
Then Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, whose flagship mission was an assault on human rights organizations who challenge the supreme and righteous state narrative, urged the Attorney General to investigate the case. Shaked was eager to prove that Issacharoff was lying – that he had not beaten a Palestinian boy – in order to prove that Breaking the Silence was guilty of false portrayals and defamation of the Israeli army and state. Numerous organizations as well as Defense Minister Lieberman urged for an investigation.
An investigation was opened, and in November 2017 it concluded that the incident didn’t happen, and that Issacharoff had lied about it.
Breaking the Silence lies and slanders our soldiers around the world. Today this fact received further proof, if anyone had a doubt. The truth wins out.
Shaked hailed the “truth”:
It is a good thing the truth came out about this organization.
Israel’s top diplomat at the time, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, unleashed her unequivocal conclusion about Breaking the Silence:
You are all traitors.
In other words, Israeli leaders were celebrating that Issacharoff was innocent, because that would prove that his organization is guilty.
But Issacharoff was pointing out that the prosecution was interviewing the wrong Palestinian – Hassan Julani, whereas the Palestinian whom he had beaten was Faisal al-Natsheh. Breaking the Silence issued a video showing al-Natsheh with Issacharoff at the time of the arrest.
But the case had been closed, and the hawks had their party, where Israel was proven to be faultless, and Breaking the Silence to be liars and traitors. Complaints from Issacharoff and his attorney Gaby Lasky brought a renewed examination of the case, and this week the prosecution announced, via Deputy State Prosecutor Nurit Litman:
Following the additional examination there is indeed a doubt regarding the man arrested in Hebron to whom Issacharoff was referring, and it certainly could be that the man arrested by Issacharoff was Natsheh and not Julani.
Paradoxically, Litman maintained that the first conclusions remained in force, even if they had questioned the wrong person:
Nevertheless, the initial conclusions we had reached regarding Issacharoff’s conduct remain in force.
Attorney Lasky responded:
The prosecution in its latest announcement admits that it investigated the wrong incident, and as a result its claim that my client had lied was based on totally irrelevant evidence. It’s unfortunate that Litman didn’t choose to announce in clear language that she had erred, which would have been the right and proper thing to do. It’s now clear to everyone that her previous stance has been invalidated, and that must be stressed.
You see, the Israeli Jew was fighting to convince everyone that he was indeed guilty of assaulting a Palestinian, but the state wouldn’t have it. On the other hand, a Palestinian, against all odds and evidence (and lack of it) was assumed guilty of rape and charged even for being a terrorist, and it took major media exposure to cast doubt upon the charge.
In both cases, the Palestinian was the “wrong guy”. In the Qatusa case, he was not the rapist. In the case involving Issacharoff, it was not Julani but Natsheh who was being beaten. On that side of Israeli Apartheid, the Palestinians are a one big mass, where names easily switch, it’s not a big deal. They are under military jurisdiction, which boasts of a 99.74% conviction rate. On the other side, even in the same territory, Israelis are under civilian jurisdiction. In the former, you are basically assumed guilty until proven otherwise. In the latter, even if you claim guilt, you’ll have a very hard time, especially if your claimed guilt involves Palestinians. Because their guilt depends upon our innocence.