Our violent shadows

It was mid-day in a quiet Petach Tikva neighborhood on June 27th, when a man hopped off a scooter next to a kindergarten, ran down the street and shot two men dead before racing back to the scooter and disappearing into the city.
Underworld figure Eli Orkabi, 35, lay dead on the pavement next to local contractor Eran Fartush, 42, who it appears was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – in this instance a quiet suburban neighborhood that looks every bit as harmless as every other one across Israel.

Orkabi’s violent death came thirteen years after he stabbed Alon Michaeli to death on the promenade next to the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv. The motive? An argument over a beach chair. Orkabi signed a plea bargain in the case, and only three later was out prison after a manslaughter bid. In the next mob incident in Petach Tikvah, on the night of July 25th Dekel Tzafar, a 35-year-old associate of Orkabi was killed along with Sharon Farhi, 31, when a bomb exploded within their car while they were parked at the Yarkonim junction.

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Mobster Meir Abergil (blue shirt) at a Tel Aviv bus stop, not waiting for the bus. (Photo: Ben Hartman)

On June 27th after getting back from the shooting in Petach Tikvah, I stood at a bus stop a block from my Tel Aviv apartment, and saw none other than first tier Israeli mobster Meir Abergil chatting with a middle-aged American man a few meters away. They talked for a couple minutes and then got into a waiting black Mercedes and drove off down Dizengoff, past the Lev Tel Aviv police station a few doors down to a destination unknown.

That same day, the Bar Noar murder case was moving towards an indictment against chief suspect Hagai Felician while simultaneously, police were investigating the very same Pardes Katz gangster who had arranged the shooting of Felician’s brother Yaakov in the Bnei Brak neighborhood in November 2011, during which Hagai was also wounded. That gangster would be arrested a few weeks later for his alleged role in the bombing of a Tiv Taam supermarket on Ibn Gvirol in Tel Aviv in March.

Maybe it’s obvious, but it’s surprising sometimes how much organized crime and gangland violence – especially car bombs – there is in such a small country, much less in the “Start Up Nation”. Furthermore, if there’s only one degree of Separation between Israelis in this country, among Israelis caught up in the crime game it seems like it’s not even one degree.

The more you write or read about them, the more they seem to be everywhere – at the bus stop near your house, at the Tiv Taam you shop at after hours laying an explosive device in the store room, at Metzitzim beach next to your house drinking red bull and vodka the weekend before they’re arrested – as in the case of Hagai Felician.

When I first moved to Israel, with the perception of an American Jew raised on stories of the Raid on Entebbe or the hit teams sent out to avenge the Munich Massacre, I used to look at passersby sometimes and wonder how and if they were involved in the security services. Were they in the Shabak? The Mossad? Where’d this guy serve in the army? I used to think that almost any able-bodied man on the street was potentially some sort of trained assassin and should probably be approached with caution.

In time I realized that in Israel it’s not the guys who were in Sayeret Matkal or an undercover West Bank assassination unit that you should be wary of – it’s the guys the army didn’t want to draft, didn’t want to give small arms training and wouldn’t let within a country mile of an M-16 because they already had a rap sheet longer than a Tavor rifle. The commandos? They had to join an army to learn how to use a weapon or have a reason to fight.

The ones who fell through the cracks though, it turns out are everywhere, our violent shadows in day to day Israel.

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