It was a horrific hit-and-run accident that left the country shocked. A young
woman killed instantly in what appeared to be a case of reckless driving, and
two suspects who not only fled the scene, but within a matter of hours had
boarded an airplane and returned to their native France.
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Yet just over a
month since Pilates instructor Lee Zeitouni, 25, died on a Tel Aviv street, her
killers – who have confessed to the police and the public – are still free, and
little attention has been given to this tragic story outside of Israel,
including in France.
“We had moved into our apartment exactly a week
before the accident, and I was away on business for a few days, so we only spent
two days there together,” a clearly broken Roy Peled, Zeitouni’s life partner,
says as he recalls the events of Friday, September 16.
“The irony is that
we moved into that apartment because it was closer to Lee’s work and she
wouldn’t have to drive a motorcycle or take the bus to work, which we felt was
dangerous. She only had to cross one road,” he says sadly.
owned a fitness club, has given up his work completely in order to dedicate his
life to bringing the two men – Claude Isaac Hayat and Eric Rubic – to
“Since it happened, this is the only thing I can do,” he says.
“It is the right thing for me, as Lee’s partner, to catch the people who killed
the woman that I wanted to marry and spend the rest of my life
According to Peled, who has been working furiously on simultaneous
campaigns here and in France, his goal is to make sure Zeitouni’s story does not
drop from the headlines until the two suspects are behind bars.
stories disappear, but not this one,” he says, adding that in the last month, he
has already received an outpouring of public support, including from several
people who lost loved ones in similar hit-and-run accidents.
contacted me. She lost her daughter and left it up to the police to find the
killer,” says Peled. “The police never caught the driver, and the woman said she
feels that her daughter has not forgiven her for not bringing the killer to
FUELED BY this and by an obvious anger over the fact that these
two men, according to the most recent information, are living free in Paris,
Peled has established a formal campaign.
Together with friends, family
and other volunteers from the Extradition for Lee Zeitouni’s Killers campaign,
Peled has utilized social media to raise awareness, demonstrated in front of the
French Embassy and, on Wednesday night, stepped up the battle by actively
disrupting a speech by visiting French Minister for Europe Jean Leonetti at a
conference in Haifa.
With their hands painted red to represent Lee’s
blood, Peled and his supporters stood up during the minister’s presentation and
interrupted proceedings for a few minutes to remind him that “there are two
people in France who have killed an Israeli.”
“I don’t understand how
someone can hit another person and then run away,” states Peled. “But that is
what happened, and the moment they ran away, it turned into a murder
Speaking on Channel 10 a few days after the accident, one of the
suspects, Hayat, expressed regret for what had happened and explained that he
had not meant to kill Zeitouni.
“We want to be with you in Israel, we
want to go to the family and tell them how awful we feel,” Hayat said in the
telephone interview. “We will pay for this for the rest of our lives. We have
killed a Jewish woman, and I want to tell everyone that it was an accident. I
want to ask for forgiveness from the Israeli people, it hurts me and I do not
know how it happened.”
While Peled is aware of attempts by the two men to
apologize for the accident, he maintains that it is now irrelevant.
sure [they] didn’t get up in the morning and say, let’s go out on the street and
kill someone, but if you put it all together, then they are murderers,” asserts
Peled, who has carefully pieced together the events leading up to the accident,
including testimony from witnesses who saw the two men at various night clubs, a
casino and even a strip joint. Others have reported them drinking, although
nothing has been officially confirmed.
“There is a police report from
witnesses who saw the driver of that car going up on the sidewalk and running a
red light; that is how he hit her,” he continues. “Of course, it can happen to
anyone who goes out on the road, but the fact is, if you hit someone, then you
stop and at least try to help them.”
WHILE THE facts seem clear, the
international element of the case raises the question of whether the two men can
be extradited to stand trial in Israel and whether they can be convicted of a
crime outside of French territory.
Peled, who is working with the backing
of Zeitouni’s family, says he is less concerned with the intricacies of local
French or international law at the moment and is simply disturbed that there
have been no arrests yet.
“First they need to be arrested, and then
afterward, I will leave it to the justice system,” he says, adding, “It’s just
not right that a person can come here, kill someone and then within in hours be
back in France and be free to do whatever they want.”
With a gag order in
place, it is difficult to gauge any progress, but comments by the State
Attorney’s Office in the days after the accident indicate that there has been
coordination with French counterparts, and local media reports in France state
that a judge has been appointed to investigate the case.
Avi Bell from Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law says that the likelihood of
extradition depends on local French law and how it reads in relation to the
European Convention on Extradition.
“If we have no treaty with France,
then all Israel can do is request their extradition, and if France wants to
oblige, it will,” says Bell, who is not associated with the case.
meantime, Peled and his supporters are focusing on creating social pressure in
France, and especially in the Jewish community there.
“I am determined to
get this story to as many people as possible,” says Peled. “In Israel we have
been successful, and there is not one person who does not know the name Lee
Zeitouni. We want that to be the case around the world, too.”
25 volunteers working on the campaign in Paris, Peled says he is not deterred by
the fact there has been little media coverage in France.
“We are working
on it, and we hope to create a national discussion, for everyone and especially
among the Jews,” he says. “I want the whole Jewish world to know about this
case. I believe it is our duty as an international Jewish community to make sure
that we pay our debts to society, especially in a situation like this.”