'I am not that man': Charges dropped against Palestinian accused of raping Israeli girl
After 55 days in jail and garnering headlines across the Israeli media, a Palestinian man accused of raping a seven-year-old Israeli girl was released on Tuesday after prosecutors failed to find evidence to support charges against him.
Mahmoud Qatusa, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank village of Deir Qadis, was arrested on 1 May on charges of kidnapping and raping a school girl after developing a relationship with her.
While Qatusa, a former English teacher who now reportedly works for an Israeli cleaning company, was in jail, his name and photo were published and shared widely by the Israeli media
After his release on Tuesday, the 46-year-old told reporters: "I am clean 100 percent. I am not that man."
Qatusa accused the school girl of creating “a fictional story” regarding the alleged rape.
According to the Israeli news website Ynet, investigators have so far relied almost entirely on the victim’s testimony, and were due to examine her clothes on Monday for the first time to identify any DNA evidence.
The military prosecution, which handled the case, said in a statement that investigators "are all of the opinion that there isn't enough evidence to file charges against Qatusa".
Qatusa's lawyer, Nashef Darwish, told Army Radio on Tuesday: "Better late than never. I don't think a paedophile was released due to police negligence, but rather that an innocent man was held in detention for a month and a half".
The investigation, initially secretive, has now revealed that the Israeli girl’s testimony did not point to the location where Qatusa was working at the time with a confirmed alibi, and that the police responded to this by subverting the girl’s testimony and choosing a different date for the rape.
Around the time of Qatusa’s arrest, an Israeli settler from the illegal settlement of Efrat was charged with raping a four-year-old girl in Jerusalem.
The story received only minor attention from Israeli media, while the testimony of the seven-year-old girl attracted headlines in most media outlets.
As soon as the case was made public, the identity of Qatusa was revealed in the Israeli press, although suspects of sexual crimes in Israel are legally allowed to maintain their privacy until convicted.
Israeli officials were quick to attack Qatusa, with Minister of Culture Miri Regev calling him an “animal” and Avigdor Lieberman, then minister of foreign affairs and defence, demanding his execution.
Local media reported that investigators relied heavily on a lie detector test which they said Qatusa failed to pass, but the test was administ. But his lawyer complained that the test should have been conducted in the suspect’s native language, Arabic, rather than Hebrew.