Four years in the making

The alleged trigger man from the Bar Noar shooting in court last Thursday. (Photo: Ben Hartman)

The alleged trigger man from the Bar Noar shooting in court last Thursday. (Photo: Ben Hartman)

When the full details of the Bar Noar case are cleared for publication, probably sooner rather than later, it will be one of the strangest and most lurid crime cases written in Israel in years. Surprising and terribly tragic, the current police case against the three main suspects and an LGBT activist involved in the story runs counter, though maybe not entirely, to what many assumed was a hate crime against the community.

In the almost four years since Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Triboshi, 16, were killed and 11 people wounded at the LGBT youth center, at Tel Aviv or national police press conferences officers have been questioned about the case, both seriously and in jest, the investigation – the most expensive in the history of Israel – and the failure to make arrests remaining an albatross over their neck.

For crime reporters a breakthrough in the case has for four years remained the major page one story waiting around the corner to be written once the arrests are made and the gag order is lifted, or made worthless as more and more reporters print details meant to be stricken from the public record.

The scramble by crime reporters from the Hebrew press to publish more and more details from the case since the arrests were made Wednesday was typical for how such bans are often flaunted as soon as they’re issued. On Wednesday night, in a conference call with reporters police said that three suspects had been arrested, and that the only other detail that could be released is that the crime was not “nationally-motivated”, i.e., the alleged perpetrators were Jewish. Everything else was ruled off limits.

While the names and pictures of the suspects have still not been printed (but are probably somewhat well-known already in a country as small as Israel where secrets can’t be kept), by Thursday morning, more and more details were being printed. In court at the remand extension for the suspects (which appeared to have the biggest press turnout for a criminal court hearing that I’d seen since former President Moshe Katsav was convicted of rape at the Tel Aviv District Court in December 2010), lawyers asked police about details from the investigation that they were reading in real time on Ynet. Police would not comment on the reports going up online, while the judge joked that “I signed two gag orders this week and nothing has changed since then,” even as information was being published online in violation of the order.

The information started to snowball, with each outlet feeling more comfortable about printing details of the investigation once they saw others were flaunting the gag order as well. While the full story is still not being reported, what was already out in the Friday newspapers was far more than what police wanted printed, which is to say, nothing. In the end, Israeli outlets pushed the envelope of the gag order just enough for it to not entirely tear open. As much as they did violate the gag order, it should be noted that while last December Israeli outlets did report a new breakthrough in the case, they answered police pleas to not describe what the actual finding was, the publication of which could have prompted the suspects to flee months before the arrests were made.

When the gag order is finally dead and buried and the full story does emerge, the public will read about young men with a vendetta, including a minor, gunning down innocent strangers in an act of rage. That shouldn’t make anyone breathe a sigh of relief.

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