Crime but no punishment
Hebrew media review

Crime but no punishment

Yet another brazen assassination in Tel Aviv by rival gangs, and the papers wonder where the police are

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The car in which 27-year old Taher Lalah was shot to death by masked gunmen in central Tel Aviv (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
The car in which 27-year old Taher Lalah was shot to death by masked gunmen in central Tel Aviv (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Gangland violence rocks Tel Aviv once again as a driver is gunned down in broad daylight near the beachfront art venue at the old train station, where a children’s event is taking place. The press has a field day and asks when it will all end.

Ticking off the latest underworld assassination, Maariv reports that the murder of Taher Lalah, 27, on Saturday raised the toll to “14 criminal killings in five months.” He was shot multiple times at close range by two masked men while stopped at a red light. Haaretz makes it the third killing in two weeks. Yedioth Ahronoth, with characteristic tabloid flair, puts a black backdrop behind the front page crime scene photo and in bold red letters writes “Civilians in the line of fire.” Israel Hayom also plays it up, describing the killing as “An assassination before the eyes of parents and children.”

The victim of the shooting, Lalah, had an extensive criminal record, Haaretz reports: He was, “among other things, convicted of violent crimes, breaking into a business and stealing cars, and in February of last year was even arrested on suspicion of murder.”

Pundits take to the papers to weigh in on what has become a wave of underworld violence afflicting Israel. Dan Margalit writes in Israel Hayom that the Third Intifada is here, but that rather than coming from Ramallah or Gaza, it is from “the crime centers of Israel.” He says it’s not just problematic because it’s endangering innocent bystanders, but because the police are losing their power of deterrence.

He calls for an iron-fisted response from the crime fighting authorities. “The police need to have the authorization for additional aggression against suspects; and to receive greater funds for purchasing drugs in order to penetrate criminal gangs and obtain substantive testimony; and courts would do well to review the Jewish tradition which bestows compassion and mercy on the cruel,” he says.

The old ways are no longer sufficient to let Israelis live a normal life, he says.

Alex Lautin, whose wife was killed in a drive-by in Bat Yam in 2008, also refers to the rise in gang violence as an intifada in his column in Yedioth Ahronoth.

“What else needs to happen until we understand that we’re in the grips of a criminal intifada?” he asks. “What needs to happen in order for the legal authorities to recognize the fact that it’s not crime, but actual terrorism which threatens every citizen in the country, as it was in the wave of attacks of the Second Intifada?”

He calls for giving the police the authority to combat the criminal underworld “in the same way that the IDF and Shin Bet deal with nationalist terrorism,” by which we can only assume he means targeted assassinations, raids and airstrikes.

Criminals “need to be afraid to leave their homes, not we — civilians who are trapped in the line of fire while out enjoying Shabbat with their kids or walking around their neighborhood,” he says.

“Don’t blame the police,” veteran crime reporter Buki Naeh writes in a lengthy Maariv column. He says that the limited police force Israel has opted to have cannot be expected to sit on every criminal and stop them from robbery, murder, rape or threats at the last minute.

“Nowhere in the world can the police prevent these kinds of assassinations,” he says. “It’s the people of Jaffa who assassinate one another, and the declaration by the Tel Aviv police chief of a state of emergency and a special task force and cancellation of officers’ vacations — that’s a cheap, populist declaration.”

Naeh notes that the assassination on Saturday took place right next to one of the buildings housing “offices from which [the police] manage secret, covert surveillance by the Tel Aviv police,” but despite that there was little if anything they could have done to prevent it. The problem with the police is systemic, not just a failure to stop one killing or another, he says. The police used to to hit the pavement and chase criminals, now they tap phones and monitor the underworld with cameras, but the criminals don’t fear the law.

“The police are an easy punching bag for society,” he says. When a gang blows up the car of a rival, “we blame the police for not jumping on the bomber a second before he pressed the remote. In the movies that’s good. Not in real life.”

When not covering the crime wave, the papers also report on the sale of Viber — an Israeli-developed app that enables VOIP and text messaging on smartphones — to a Japanese company for $900 million. Israel Hayom calls it an “exit” for the small tech company’s Israeli owners.

Yedioth Ahronoth reports that Portugal, like Spain before it, is weighing granting the descendants of expelled Jews the ability to apply for citizenship. “A passport like Ronaldo,” the paper runs as its headline, appealing to the soccer-crazed masses.

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