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Court convicts 4 in 2020 Eilat gang rape, 7 more guilty of aiding assault

A Beersheba court on Wednesday convicted four people of rape over an incident in which a teenage girl was sexually assaulted by a group of men and teenagers while vacationing in Eilat in 2020.

The four, including Issy Raphaelov, 31 and Eliezer Meirav, 30, as well as two minors, both aged 17, were convicted of rape, sexual assault, gang rape and a host of other crimes against the victim, who was 16 at the time.

Another seven people, many of them minors, were convicted of aiding the assault, failing to stop the act, and other charges.

The case shocked the country and spurred calls for reforms, as testimony indicated that a large group of men lined up outside the intoxicated girl’s hotel room, awaiting their turn to rape her, as eyewitnesses failed to intervene.

“It’s sad to think when you see the picture as a whole, that if only one of the accused had been the righteous man in Sodom, the acts could have been prevented or at least cut short,” the panel of three judges said in their verdict.

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The court stressed that when a group commits a crime it does not mitigate the responsibility of the individual offenders.

“We want to convey a clear message — an act committed by an individual as part of a group, the individual is fully responsible for it, and there will be no remedy for him by hiding behind the group, or trying to hide behind his friends,” verdict read.

Illustrative: The Beersheba District Court in southern Israel, on December 1, 2019. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Judges in the case hailed the victim, who watched the verdict from a separate room, for her testimony in the case.

“Your voice, which was muffled in room 216, was heard well and echoed through the halls of the court,” she was told.

Prosecutor Rotem Yohanani Har Zion joined the judges in noting that not one of those involved had tried to help the victim.

“There was not a single defendant who helped her or thought to ask if she agreed to what was being done to her,” she said in a statement.

Attorney Rotem Tubul, representing one of the minors in the case who was accused of watching the rape but not participating in it, called the verdict a “precedent.”

“There is a lot to learn from it and that’s probably what we will do,” she said and called the court’s conclusions “harsh.”

“These are questions of morality,” she said, adding that she doubted her client had committed a criminal offense.

Orit Sulitzeanu, director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, said “the mark of Cain should haunt the rapists for many years, just as their heinous actions will haunt the victim.”

She said “the fact that there is not a single ‘righteous person in Sodom’ to stop the horror, is a huge stain on Israeli society.”

Hagit Pe’er, head of the Israel Women’s Network rights group, welcomed the convictions saying, “The court sends a clear message that even those who ‘only’ stand by, or only ‘assist’ and do not prevent the horrific act are legally responsible. We are human beings and not animals, and it is the duty of each and every one of us to behave accordingly.”

According to court papers, on the day of the rape the prime suspect Raphaelov began talking with the girl at the pool of the Red Sea Hotel. She rejected his advances.

The girl, who had been drinking alcohol, later in the day felt unwell. Though not a guest in the hotel, she went up to a room with her friends. Raphaelov offered to assist her while allegedly pretending to be a medic, and, along with another person, diverted her to a different room, number 216. He then assaulted her while the other defendants joined him, some raping her while others milled about and jeered as the assaults continued.

That the rape was committed in the presence of other people enables a longer prison sentence up to 20 years, the Kan public broadcaster reported. Assisting a rape can carry up to ten years in prison.

Another suspect in the case was convicted in January 2022 after he signed a plea bargain. The suspect, 17 at the time of his conviction, was found guilty of an indecent act for being in the hotel room at the time of the assault and watching the incident. Another minor was earlier convicted in 2021, also in a plea bargain.