Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Thursday led a chorus of condemnation over the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old girl by a group of over 30 men at a hotel in Eilat.
The case has sent shockwaves through Israel, after testimony indicated the men lined up outside the intoxicated underage girl’s hotel room, patiently waiting their turn to rape her, as eyewitnesses failed to intervene.
“This is shocking, there is no other word. This is not only a crime against the girl, this is a crime against humanity itself that is worthy of all condemnation and those responsible must be brought to justice,” Netanyahu tweeted.
Gantz, in a tweet, said: “From yesterday afternoon, I’ve been trying, and failing, to understand: What is a man who is standing on a crowded line with dozens of others, on the way to a room where a young, disoriented girl is lying down, trying to prove?”
“The police investigation is still underway, but it’s important that I convey a message to those who participated or bore witness to this case or others: The only thing you’ve proven is what depravity of your soul and morality you are capable of. Before the criminal aspect, there is a moral soul-searching that must be done here. And to the complainant, it’s important that I say: My heart is with you, you are not alone,” added Gantz.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, in a statement, called for a swift police investigation to locate those responsible. “We must all perform a deep reckoning on how this could possibly happen in our midst,” he added.
The case drew horrified responses from politicians on Wednesday night and Thursday.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said the incident was “unfathomable.”
“Did no man in this group think about his sister, his daughter, his good friend? Did no man tell his friends, ‘stop, what the hell are we doing’? My heart is with the girl and her family,” he added, also calling for the publicizing of the accused men’s photos. “Be ashamed, you scum.”
Joint List leader Ayman Odeh on Wednesday night said he had “no words to address the cruel rape in Eilat.”
The teenager made the police complaint on Friday. A suspect was detained on Wednesday, and his remand was extended for five days at the Ashkelon Magistrate’s Court. He was described by Hebrew media reports as a 27-year-old resident of northern Israel.
A second suspect, also 27, from Hadera, was arrested on Thursday morning. He was scheduled to be brought to court later on Thursday for a hearing.
Police said additional arrests were expected.
The TV network reported the teenage girl went to the southern resort city earlier this month with a friend, where they met a group of the friend’s acquaintances. They all went out to drink together and at one point came back to a room in a hotel.
The teenager and her friend say that this is when the girl was raped by the men, one after the other.
The first suspect was arrested after messages between him and the teenager revealed there was video documentation of the alleged assault. He denied communicating with the girl, saying someone else was using his phone.
The suspect said that more than 30 men had sex with the girl, but that documentation from security cameras would prove that it was not done under duress — that the men stood in line at the entrance to the room while the girl, intoxicated, called for them to come to her one by one.
Police said the teenager’s friend tried to help her, but was unable to.
The girl’s friend reportedly told investigators that one of the suspects “said he was a medic and wanted to help” when it was clear that the girl was under the influence of alcohol. The suspect “took advantage of her and slept with her when she was out of control,” the friend said, according to Channel 13 news.
Nine out of 10 rape cases in Israel are closed by prosecutors without charge, according to an annual survey released at the end of last year, which also found a significant increase in reports of sexual assault and harassment to the authorities.
The report by the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel found that in 2018 police opened 6,220 investigations into alleged sex crimes and harassment, including 1,166 of suspected rape, marking a 12% increase as compared to the previous year and a 40% rise from 2013.
Last year a group of Israeli men and teens were arrested in Cyprus after a British woman said they gang-raped her at the Ayia Napa holiday resort on the east Mediterranean island.
The British tourist was found guilty of lying about the alleged attack but has stood by her account of the 2019 incident, saying Cypriot police gave her no choice other than to retract her claim.
All 12 of the Israelis were initially arrested but released after police said the woman retracted the rape allegations. They all returned to Israel and were greeted with scenes of celebration that many commentators deemed highly inappropriate under the circumstances.