Galillee rape victim learns ‘Israel is with you’

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 3-14-10

Finally, in an act of justice and sanity that should have occurred months ago, the Northern District State prosecutors in the infamous “Galilee rape case” dismissed all charges against the American oleh from Karmiel. The tormented 17-year-old’s legal slate is wiped clean. The father sent out a text message to many of us who have been hoping for this day proclaiming: “We won.”

Of course, there are only losers in this case, from the traumatized youth and his family to all who desire a safe, moral Israel. The fact that the boy was allegedly beaten by policemen who falsely accused him of trying to break into a house will never leave him (he was stopped for public urination). The fact that he was unjustly remanded for four days, that he endured repeated rapes in prison, and that his tormenters pierced his ear with a metal wire to demonstrate his servitude to them cannot be forgotten. The fact that it took too many bureaucracies far too long to function remains inexcusable. Still, fortunately, the family feels vindicated – and grateful for the help they finally received.

“I’m beginning to have my faith in the justice system and in this country restored,” said Lior, the victim’s father, who himself has suffered psychologically, ideologically, physically and financially, while heroically shepherding his family through this nightmare. At court someone told him: “You are a great man to have endured so much.” A World War II buff, Lior responded by quoting Admiral “Bull” Halsey: “There are no great men. Just great challenges which ordinary men, out of necessity, are forced by circumstance to meet.”

Lior and his family have pursued justice tirelessly, while helping the young man heal emotionally. Amid Lior’s rollercoaster of emotions, while seeking justice for his son, he was also defending “the Russian kids and Ethiopian kids” who get hit by the police but come from cultures less likely to protest.

Since The Jerusalem Post‘s Yaakov Lappin broke the story last December – thanks to the doggedness of Amir Melzer, the boy’s lawyer – many have stood by this beleaguered family. Together, they have demonstrated that Israel remains a community with a conscience, more a small town with a soul than a heartless megalopolis.

Terrible things can happen here, just as they can anywhere else. Violence and corruption remain a concern. But armies of everyday heroes stand ready to respond.

Before the story broke out of the Anglo bubble and was highlighted in the Hebrew media, angels of mercy from Ra’anana had swooped down, bearing Shabbat dinners, contributions and hugs. Hadar, the Israel Council for Civic Action, lobbied effectively. Minister Isaac Herzog and MK Yohanan Plesner were the first politicians to stand up for Israel’s true character.

Other soldiers of civility included a retired police official, a top criminologist, an AACI social worker, an old shaliach of mine who was the first Sabra to call and offer help, along with donors from across the Jewish world who covered some of the family’s unexpected expenses of more than NIS 100,000. Much more help is needed. The boy’s lawyer opened an account for donors, who are desperately needed. All these patriots and dozens of others who offered time, expertise and love, expected no compensation – beyond demanding justice and that this family experience the kind of idealism and communal caring that makes Israel, Israel.

In that spirit, when the prosecutors dismissed the case Lior asked permission to address the court in English. This was a big moment. The prison nightmare began when the judge who remanded the youth forbade the youth’s brother from translating the court proceedings for the father. Many experts – and Israelis on the street – agree that had the family been more connected, fluent and skilled in working the system, there would have been no four-day remand. This time, the judge agreed. “I hope never to see you again,” Lior said. Offering a classic Israeli response, she smiled and said: “you mean in a courtroom?” He replied that of course he would be happy to see her in the mall or around town.

Fortunately, other healing moments have helped the family inch toward recovery. In February, the victim testified against his three prison tormentors. As Lior described it, after “five grueling hours” something remarkable happened. Those attending “witnessed a remarkable metamorphosis from a victim who had been emotionally broken back into his former self. S. showed incredible strength and resilience as he took on three defense attorneys.” Lior finished that email with pride: “Today S. walked into a courtroom a slave to fear and the memories of the traumatic experiences he had suffered, and emerged whole.”

Similarly, when tough legislators exited an emotional hearing of the Knesset’s Interior Affairs and Environment Committee, some in tears, when they hugged the family and offered support, when one anonymous Israeli woman donated 10,000 shekels to the family through a politician to “show we are not all bad,” the family finally felt heard, affirmed, protected, embraced. That day MK Amir Peretz told the boy: “Don’t worry, Israel is with you.” Peretz called to congratulate the family when the charges were dropped, too.

The first time I spoke to Lior, he was uncomfortable, saying, “I’m used to being you, the guy on the other side of the phone line, offering help.” Fortunately, Lior and his family are back to doing what comes naturally to them. Recently, hoodlums in nearby Sajur sodomized a young boy with a broomstick and videotaped their crime. As soon as he heard, Lior called the boy’s family, giving them phone numbers, advice, support, “so they don’t have to go through what we went through.”

That’s the kind of person he is – and that’s the kind of country we must always be.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. He is the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book The Reagan Revolution:  A Very Short Introduction was recently published by Oxford University Press.

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