Sela grew up in the Hatikva Quarter, an impoverished neighborhood of Tel Aviv, and as a young boy, witnessed his alcoholic father commit suicide by jumping off an electric pole. He subsequently entered foster care. His case later entered the textbook of Israeli social work education as an example of severe failures in his foster care as a teenager.
According to police, Sela committed at least 24 and possibly as many as 34 rapes, sexual assaults, and sexual molestations of women and girls over the course of five years. Sela would break into their homes, usually late at night or in the early morning. Sela forced his victims to shower afterward to reduce physical evidence, and threatened to kill them if they left the shower before half an hour had passed. To avoid identification, he would attack and then rape his victims from behind, ensuring that they would only get glimpses of him.In three instances, he videotaped his victims and threatened to publish the tape on the internet or give it to their friends if they reported the crime. Sela's crimes gained notoriety, and he became known as the "Tel Aviv rapist". Sela was first arrested in 1995 and sentenced to two years in prison for having systematically molested his cousin from the time she was eight to when she was fifteen. While awaiting trial, Sela made an attempt to escape.
Manhunt and capture
A force of detectives commanded by Arnon Notman was assigned to the case. Between 1997 and 1999, they questioned up to a hundred men who matched victims' descriptions per day. Sela was arrested on December 14, 1999. Notman received an emergency call that a man wearing black jeans and a purple T-shirt had attempted to rape a young woman in a parking lot. Notman assigned a detective to interview the victim, called for reinforcements, and began to circle the neighborhood. Another call then came in that a man wearing the same attire had attacked an eight-year old girl at 17 Weinschel Street. Notman and reinforcements arrived at the location, spotted a man who matched the description, and cornered him against a fence. After arresting Sela, Notman saw that he resembled the descriptions of the Tel Aviv rapist. A scan of his Teudat Zehut showed that he had already been in prison. Further research showed that the Tel Aviv rapes had temporarily stopped during his incarceration period. Detectives extracted DNA from Sela, which was found to match samples given by nine of his victims. Sela indicted on 14 counts of rape. Following a plea bargain, he was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. He is currently serving his sentence at Nitzan Prison in Ramla.
Escape and recapture
On November 24, 2006, Sela escaped from police custody while being transferred to a court hearing. Shortly after his escape, hundreds of police officers began a search throughout Tel Aviv, with cruisers, mounted police, and a helicopter participating in the search. Police also set up roadblocks in the city. The search became focused on southern Tel Aviv after a resident reported that he had visited his mother there. A nationwide manhunt involving thousands of police officers was launched. Two weeks into his escape, sightings of Sela were reported in the northern coastal city of Nahariya, and a relative told tipped off police that Sela had visited him and told him he was heading north, and gave police details about the car Sela was driving. Large numbers of police officers were then deployed to Nahariya.
On December 8, 2006, Sela was arrested at a police checkpoint near kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot, located near Nahariya. Sela resisted arrest and tried to run, but was chased down and handcuffed. Sela identified himself as an Arab, but an identity check at the Nahariya police station confirmed Sela's identity. However, there was controversy after pictures emerged of police officers abusing and humiliating Sela after his capture.
On the same day that the arrest occurred, police investigated reports from citizens claiming to have spotted Sela in Tiberias, and a police helicopter and several cruisers were called to Ness Ziona after a citizen reported seeing a man similar to Sela.
Sela was put on trial for several offenses committed during his escape attempt, including breaking and entering and theft. In July 2012, he was sentenced to an additional 4 years in prison by the Rishon LeZion Magistrate's Court.
Life in prison
While imprisoned, Sela filed dozens of court motions every year, most of which focused on inconsequential issues and were rejected. Due to his persistent motions, he became known as a "serial appelant". The repeated motions put a burden on the authorities, as the Israel Prison Service was tasked with bringing him to each hearing and returning him to prison, a process that necessitated the presence of police and massive security due to Sela being considered a high escape risk. On 14 August 2011, the Beersheba District Court limited Sela to eight motions per year and imposed a NIS 70 fine on him for every motion rejected. Judge Shlomo Friedlander said that the decision was to prevent authorities from spending an unequal share of their resources on his appeals, which could deny other prisoners their rights.
- Stoil, Rebecca Anna (November 26, 2006). "Benny Sela: A study in evil". Jerusalem Post.