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Israeli tourist raped in SA on her birthday

  • Tourist (2)
A 22-year-old Israeli tourist was raped on her birthday while on holiday in Graskop, Mpumalanga, recently in the midst of a nation-wide protest against sexual violence.
by TALI FEINBERG | Sep 12, 2019

“She was on a backpacking holiday with her boyfriend and another male friend,” Lisa Sheard of the Kruger Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism told the SA Jewish Report this week. “They were camping at a backpackers’ lodge in Graskop.”

Sheard, who said the Israeli woman turned 22 on 1 September, the day of the attack, was one of the first people on the scene. She was horrified to discover that the woman was young enough to be her daughter. Sheard thought that it was possible the young woman had just finished her army service and wanted to explore South Africa and celebrate her birthday in a beautiful setting.

She said the 22-year-old was camping at Valley View Backpackers in Graskop. Around midnight, the woman and her boyfriend were sitting outside on a bench. He had just baked her a cake for her birthday.

Valley View owner Joseph Lucas said he usually locked the gate to the communal area at midnight. He had 38 guests, and everyone was asleep except the three Israelis, so when he saw them, he asked them to lock up when they were done in the kitchen.

Not long after that, four heavily armed men silently cut the fence and entered the premises. They took the female Israeli tourist back through the fence to the open valley, and forced her to strip. One of the assailants then raped her.

Meanwhile, the other robbers forced her boyfriend to knock on the door of fellow guests he knew to give them access. These guests had expensive cameras, and Lucas believes the intruders had been monitoring the lodge for some time. “They knew exactly what they were looking for, and forced the male tourist to knock on that particular door to get the cameras.”

Soon after the robbery, the criminals ran off, leaving the traumatised Israeli woman out in the veld. Lucas reports that the entire incident was so quick and quiet, he had no idea it had happened before police arrived at the lodge. The third Israeli managed to escape, and called the police.

He said the lodge’s guests and staff, as well as the police and the community at large, were shocked and traumatised by the event. In the two decades the lodge had existed, nothing like this had ever happened. In fact, the Israeli woman’s boyfriend had visited the lodge in the past, and felt confident that it was the ideal place to celebrate her birthday. The manager said the lodge had since beefed up its security with a new fence, panic buttons in every room, patrols, and a security guard.

Sheard’s organisation is the first port of call in the area in an incident like this. “Our approach is ‘we will look after you’, and that’s what we did.” Recalling the chain of events, she said that she was woken on the Sunday morning to news of the attack. Concerned, she drove to the scene of the crime, where her organisation offered to help the Israelis with whatever they needed.

“Because the young woman had been raped, they went to the closest hospital, which is in the nearby town of Sabie. There, she had a medical consultation, and the tourists gave statements to the police. We then organised for them to stay at a small ‘backpackers’ in the home of a local woman, who gave them the warm and homely environment they needed. They didn’t want to go back to the lodge, or be set up in a hotel, so this woman provided the ideal accommodation,” said Sheard. An experienced rape counsellor from Nelspruit visited the Israeli tourist twice, allowing her to debrief, and assisted her in liaising with the police.

As the young woman was a tourist, the police sped up the investigation, and the Israelis were able to leave the country within 48 hours. Thankfully, their passports hadn’t been stolen, and the group had one cell phone between them, so they were able to move their flights forward, communicate with family, and head home. Sheard said the group was upset but not angry, and that the rape victim was calm in spite of the circumstances.

“It was especially traumatic that it had happened on her birthday. I think they were all grateful for the support offered, and I just hope she gets the support she needs back in Israel,” said Sheard, who promised she would keep in touch with the Israelis.

Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Leonard Hlathi confirmed that the rape and robbery took place on 1 September. Contrary to media reports, he said the woman was not gang raped, but raped by one of the perpetrators. “We have a team working on the case, and are reviewing all the technical aspects,” he said, but no arrests have been made.

The attack happened on the ‘Panorama Route’ in Mpumalanga, which includes G-d’s Window and other major attractions. The Israelis had been to the Kruger National Park, and Sheard estimates they had been touring for about three weeks. She says the safety and security of tourists is a priority across the country, and her organisation will continue to lobby government in this regard.

Ayellet Black of the Israeli Embassy in South Africa said after the attack, “The Embassy of Israel was contacted by the family and immediately ensured that all necessary steps were taken. Together with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we assisted the family through this difficult time.”

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