A former Israeli military prosecutor has harshly criticized the investigation that led to the arrest and subsequent release of a Palestinian man for the rape of a seven-year-old Israeli girl, saying that the police and prosecutors involved in the case were guilty of "terrible negligence."
Former deputy chief military prosecutor Col. (Res.) Ilan Katz told Ynet this week that the negligence is evident from the decision to unconditionally release 46-year-old Mahmoud Katusa from custody on Tuesday after the charges against him were dismissed.
"In this case, there was terrible negligence on the part of the police and the military prosecutors, and you can see that from the fact that Katusa was released without any conditions," said Katz, who served as a military prosecutor in the Palestinian territories.
"They could have proceeded with the indictment and released him on bail," he said. "This fact means that holes in the case were greater than we knew."
Katusa was held in custody for 55 days for the alleged rape of a girl who attended the school at which he was a janitor. He was released when it became clear the police investigation relied almost entirely on the testimony of the victim, while forensic evidence was not collected and the exact time and place of the alleged attack remained unclear.
Investigators only collected the victim's clothes for the first time on Monday, two months after the alleged attack, to test for DNA evidence. The delay in securing the items worn by the victim during the alleged attack added to the questions about the professional manner in which the investigation had been conducted from the very beginning.
According to Katz, the military prosecutors involved in the case should have had a greater role in "overseeing" the police investigation into the alleged attack.
"It is very rare that they (military prosecutors) reverse an indictment," he said. "The problem was that this case was investigated by a local police station, and not the district's central station."
The absence of the Shin Bet security service from the investigation also raises questions about the nature of the case, as the agency is frequently involved in cases dealing with the Palestinian population. According to Katz, "the Shin Bet was not involved because this was a criminal case."
But Katz did dismiss criticism levelled at the prosecutor and judge for purported inexperience, saying that the age of those overseeing the case (25-30 years) was not a factor, given that they held the rank of captain and major, respectively.
"When I was a captain and head of the military prosecution in the Nablus region, I indicted terrorists who killed soldiers," he said. "That's how the system works."
Katz was however critical of the ranking military prosecutor responsible for the entire West Bank, saying he should have been more active in monitoring the investigation.
The supervising prosecutor "would not have to deal with 20 exceptional cases like this a year, and so he should have been more active in overseeing the police," Katz said.
Yoav Zitun adds: Senior officials in the Military Prosecutor's Office were not aware of the indictment initially, and were reluctant to proceed based on only one source of evidence, namely the testimony of the seven-year-old victim.
The senior officials sought forensic or digital evidence, such as DNA, a cell phone ping to show location, surveillance videos, or eye witness accounts, especially to substantiate the claim that the girl was violently abducted in broad daylight from the middle of the settlement in which she lives.
Even with serious concerns about the case file, the Shin Bet has not received a request to help with the investigation. The lack of Shin Bet involvement probably implies that the certainty about the Arab identity of the girl's attacker has eroded. Despite the near unlimited intelligence reach of the Shin Bet in the West Bank, it has not probed whether a potential suspect has gone into hiding or if there are rumors circulating about the attackers on the Palestinian street.
Without stronger evidence, it seems likely that the senior prosecutors came to the conclusion that the decision to press charges was rushed and erroneous, and probably required better consultation with more senior officials.