gay vigil jerusalem 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi)
Saturday at 10:45 p.m. Another hot, muggy Tel Aviv summer night is interrupted by an urgent message on the police beeper. "Shots fired on Rehov Nahmani. Several people hit," the message reads.
Is this another mob hit? A terrorist attack, perhaps?
Five days hence, and police are still trying to figure out why a masked gunman burst into a low-profile support center for gay teenagers and proceeded to open fire on youths who were in the middle of a quiet card game.
Within minutes of my arrival on the crime scene, situated near Tel Aviv's fashionable Sderot Rothschild, and a hub for the city's thriving gay community, it became apparent that a new form of terror had been unleashed on the streets.
Members of the gay community, tearful and shell-shocked, stood behind police lines together with hundreds of local residents, as cameramen and reporters battled one another to gain access to police spokespeople and leaders of the LGBT community. Several emergency vehicles had converged on the site, and ZAKA workers - veterans of countless scenes of carnage - smoked cigarettes, while patiently waiting for the police's CSI Unit to complete an initial survey. They then moved in to retrieve the bodies of Nir Katz, 26, a gay councilor, and 17-year-old Liz Trubeshi.
What paramedics and emergency officials found in the basement of the youth center has been likened to a horror film.
"These were teenagers," Yaniv Weisman, chairman of the Israeli Gay Youth organization, told The Jerusalem Post, with tears in his eyes. "They came to this center from across the country to talk to one another and receive help."
The words Weisman would utter next are key to understanding why police are still not sure whether the attack was a murderous homophobic rampage, a crime of passion by an "insider" - a member of the gay community - or perhaps a combination of the two: a self-hating gay man enraged by his own homosexuality or by a failed love affair.
"This was supposed to be a safe place for them. Someone knew what they were doing when they came here. This is not a pub or a club," Weisman said. Indeed, very few people knew of the existence of the basement center, other than dedicated gay activist volunteers and the teenagers who came there to seek refuge from the scorn of their families and friends.
"Today, someone sent a message that gays in Tel Aviv and Israel are not safe," Weisman said. But apparently, police still do not know who.
IN THE hours immediately following the attack, hundreds of police officers on foot, riding mopeds and driving patrol cars, scoured the streets of Tel Aviv in search of the gunman. Policemen could be seen looking behind bushes and down dark alleys, and cruising the city's streets in unmarked vehicles.
Within minutes of the shootings, business owners and local residents were instructed to lock their doors and remain inside. "They said a gunman was on the loose," a pizzeria owner said. "I shut up shop. They were looking all night."
In a bid to prevent details of the investigation from leaking to the murderer, police have slapped a comprehensive media ban on all information relating to the hunt.
Unlike other media bans, which have been partially enforced at best, law enforcers seem to "mean business" this time. On Thursday, Tel Aviv police announced it was launching a criminal investigation into the daily Haaretz for allegedly violating the ban. Very little, therefore, can be reported on the lines of inquiry being pursued by detectives.
What can be said is that the Israel Police has set the capture of the killer as its number one priority, and it has recruited its most experienced detectives and investigators for the job. This is not only in order to bring the perpetrator to justice, but out of fear that, if not apprehended soon, he could strike again.
At the scene, when the first ripples of mourning and anger began to flow through Tel Aviv's gay and lesbian community, some activists pointed an accusatory finger at the haredi world, particularly at the Shas party, well-known for anti-gay statements.
"Shas has the blood of two innocent kids on its hands," gay activist and columnist Danny Zak said, speaking from the scene. "Shas has blamed gays for earthquakes and diseases. This is incitement, but no one is put on trial for it."
Hundreds of members of Tel Aviv's gay and lesbian community gathered with placards and candles to protest the killings. "Love is allowed, killing is forbidden," one sign read.
On Monday night, police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen responded to such talk by warning against "tainting sectors and populations with suspicions."
"This is a despicable and cruel murder. A most professional unit has been tasked with solving it," he added. "The Israel Police sees the investigation of this incident as being of the utmost importance, and all resources needed to solve the murders will be allocated."
Despite the initial accusations, the gay community appeared to agree with Cohen that it was too soon to blame anyone.
"We must be open to all options, including the possibility that this is linked to self-hatred," said Weisman.
In the meantime, gay leaders have rallied around the more positive banner of fearlessness in the face of homophobia.
Addressing a crowd of several hundred people waving rainbow flags who gathered on Sunday to denounce the murders, Weisman drew applause when he said, "The most important thing we can do... is to get out of the closet. Being in the closet weakens us. The closet is a disaster."