Once there’s no Palestinian suspect, the media loses interest

The media played a key role in turning a Palestinian man into the top suspect in a recent child rape case. But ever since charges against him were dropped, the press seems to have lost interest in the case.

By Uzi Benziman

Mahmoud Katusa, seen after his relese from Israeli prison, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Mahmoud Katusa, seen after his relese from Israeli prison, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, June 25, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If you Google the recent rape case of a seven-year-old ultra-Orthodox girl in an ultra-Orthodox settlement in the West Bank, you will find tens of thousands of results. At least until June 25.

After all, that was the day Mahmoud Katusa, a Palestinian from a nearby village who was falsely indicted on child rape charges, was released from prison once it became clear he was not the perpetrator.

Since then, the case has received very little media attention. One must wonder, then, how it is possible that a story that only weeks ago was described by the media as a “horrific and cruel act” — perpetrated by an “animal” against an innocent girl — has disappeared from both the news and the public’s consciousness?

The media silence that has followed the court’s decision is difficult to grasp; after all, the newspapers reported that the investigation will continue. They quoted the Military Advocate General, who said that an additional investigation is necessary in order to “exhaust all the necessary leads, both in relation to Katusa as well as others.”

This official commitment was made by all relevant law enforcement agencies, including the Military Advocate General and the head of Israel Police’s Department of Investigations and Intelligence. Yet two weeks have passed and the media has not bothered to update the public on the progress of the investigation.

Neither has the media provided relevant information that goes beyond the confines of the investigation. We do not know how Katusa has been doing since his release or whether he has returned to his old job in the settlement. We do not know about the relations between the settlement and the nearby village of Qadis, or how the ultra-Orthodox residents view the Palestinian laborers who come in and out of the town.

The press is supposed to provide an answer to the public’s interest in the girl’s family, the atmosphere in the school after the charges against Katusa were dropped, or what the neighbors have been saying. This information can and must be put out there, subject to legal restrictions, regardless of whether the state slapped a gag order on the case.

I suspect that the media’s utter silence on the investigation is merely another example of its awful habit of abandoning follow-up coverage in favor of new and exciting stories, while forgoing deeper investigations for the sake of quick and easy headlines.

Most of all, however, I fear that ignoring the ongoing investigation confirms, yet again, the racist nature of Israeli society and the media that shapes it. As long as people are convinced that a downtrodden Palestinian has committed this horrendous crime, the Israeli public — led by its leaders and journalists — will be sure to loudly condemn it. But once Mahmoud Katusa was no longer a suspect, Israeli Jews went back to life as usual. As if a young girl wasn’t raped. As if her case no longer needs to be solved.

Uzi Benziman is the founder and former editor-in-chief- of The Seventh Eye, where this article was first published in Hebrew. Read it here.