A Palestinian man accused of raping a 13-year-old Israeli girl was denied the chance to give his testimony to Israel Police on several occasions prior to his arrest.
The Palestinian – who has not been named but is thought to be a man in his thirties from the occupied West Bank – was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of raping a 13-year-old Israeli girl in the city of Ashdod, on Israel's Mediterranean coast.
It is not clear when the alleged incident took place, though an initial complaint was filed to Israel Police at the end of May. According to the police, the Palestinian man established a relationship with the teenager while carrying out renovations work at her boarding school in Ashdod.
Some reports state that, on an unspecified day, the Palestinian in question took the girl to a nearby apartment – which he was also renovating – and raped her. However, other reports state that the man took the girl "to his room", where he then committed the assault. The latter report does not make clear where the Palestinian's room was located.
The police claim the Palestinian then fled to the West Bank, prompting a manhunt which led to his arrest on Tuesday. The Magistrate's Court in nearby Ashkelon yesterday extended the Palestinian's remand until 15 July, also allowing certain details of the case to be made public.
However, Israel Police yesterday announced that it was opening an additional investigation into claims made by the Palestinian in question, who says that he reported to several police stations to give his testimony and refute the allegations against him, but was repeatedly turned away.
According to a report by Ynet, the Palestinian "denied all accusations and said that he reported to a nearby police station the minute he learned of suspicions against him, in order to clear his name".
"He further said that in the Hebron and Gush Etzion police stations [in the occupied West Bank] that he reported to, he was told that he isn't wanted for any kind of questioning," Ynet added.
Israeli daily Haaretz confirmed Ynet's report, adding: "The suspect went to the police station on July 3, and asked if he was wanted for investigation, as his entry permit to Israel had been revoked and he had heard rumors that the police wanted to question him […] officers told him he does not need to be questioned, and he then left the site."
The Palestinian man's lawyer, Shani Farjun, added that he had "visited five other Israeli police stations in the West Bank and was told at all of them that he was not being sought for questioning". He even "received documentation from the Israeli police confirming this," she added.
Farjun argued that the Palestinian's "conduct and desire to be questioned are the best testimony to his innocence, for he did not try to escape questioning and did all he could to clear his name."
"I've never seen a suspect who tries to turn himself in so many times and no one takes any notice," his lawyer noted, adding that "for weeks we've been trying to understand why he is needed for questioning and we keep being turned down, until yesterday they decide to arrest him."
The case bears striking resemblance to a separate investigation which emerged last month in the occupied West Bank, in which 46-year-old Palestinian Mahmoud Katusa was wrongly accused of raping a seven-year-old Israeli girl.
Katusa – who hails from the village of Deir Qadis – was charged with kidnapping and raping the girl, who is believed to be from Modi'in Ilit, an ultra-Orthodox illegal settlement not far from Katusa's village, near Israel's illegal Separation Wall.
Katusa had reportedly worked at the girl's school as a maintenance worker, with the indictment against him charging that he won her trust by engaging her in conversation and giving her sweets over a prolonged period of time. The indictment claimed that Katusa then dragged the girl to a nearby apartment where he was working and, with the help of Palestinian friends who held her down, raped the child.
However, holes quickly began to appear in the police investigation, with sources close to the probe telling Haaretz that the police had failed to send potentially-crucial evidence to the forensics department for examination and changed their account of the attack after Katusa's alibi was confirmed, raising questions about the validity of the indictment.
In light of these discrepancies, Israel Police eventually dropped the charges against Katusa, saying in a statement that officials involved in the investigation were "all of the opinion that there isn't enough evidence to file charges against Qatusa".
Speaking following his release, Katusa's lawyer, Nashef Darwish, said that the incident "says a lot about the way the [Israeli] judiciary handles anything that has to do with Palestinians on the other side of the Green Line". The emergence of another almost-identical case will likely raise more questions about the Israeli police and judiciary's handling of claims against Palestinians.