A Palestinian who was wrongly accused of raping an Israeli child will sue Israel Police for its negligent handling of the investigation, which led to him spending 55 days in detention.
In June, Mahmoud Katusa – a 46-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank village of Deir Qadis – was charged with the kidnap and rape of a seven-year-old Israeli girl from an illegal West Bank settlement. Though the girl's name and the exact location of the settlement were kept under an Israeli court gag order, the attack was thought to have taken place in Modi'in Ilit, a Haredi settlement not far from Deir Qadis near Israel's Separation Wall.
The indictment claimed that Katusa had worked at the girl's school as a maintenance worker, charging that he won her trust by engaging her in conversation and giving her sweets over a prolonged period of time. The case also claimed that on the day of the alleged incident, Katusa 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, after multiple discrepancies appeared in the case and Israel Police were found to have withheld crucial evidence which could have exonerated Katusa, the investigation was reopened. Israel Police eventually dropped charges against Katusa, despite detaining him for 55 days.
Now Katusa is suing Israel Police for the time it kept him in detention and for the authorities' negligent handling of the case. The lawsuit, which is thought to be worth millions of shekels, will also be brought against the teacher who wrongly named Katusa as a suspect.
Katusa's lawyer, Nashaf Darwish, said in a statement: "This case is a combination of police negligence in investigations and a large amount of racism. The source of the racism started with what the teacher told the mother [of the girl in question]." Though the investigation found evidence that the child was indeed sexually assaulted, it conceded that there was insufficient evidence to charge Katusa.
The Katusa case caused a political storm in Israel, with right-wing politicians such as former Defence Minister and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, Avigdor Lieberman, hard-line Likud Knesset Member (MK) Gilad Erdan, and Minister of Transport Bezalel Smotrich calling for the attack to be treated as terrorism and for Katusa to be executed.
Shortly after Katusa was released, illegal Israeli settlers attacked his West Bank village, spraying graffiti on the walls calling for him to be killed. Written in Hebrew, the graffiti read "the death penalty is necessary for Mahmoud Qadusa," while several cars parked in the village were also vandalised.
The attack was not the first such incident, with a similar attack taking place in the nearby village of Sinjil just days previously; cars were found with their tyres slashed and graffiti spray-painted on the walls read: "We give them jobs and they rape."
Israeli politicians' rhetoric was thought to have lent legitimisation to these attacks. Smotrich in particular has strong links with Israel's illegal settlers, with Israeli NGO Yesh Din in December accusing him of inciting violence against Palestinians after he called on settlers to attack Palestinian vehicles during a week of heightened West Bank tensions.