A deadly act of vengeance against a mob witness, or a murder carried out by an abusive husband against the wife he had repeatedly threatened to kill? Negev police are still trying to piece together the motive for the murder of a Beersheba woman gunned down in front of her three children in her car in the southern city Monday night, and so far still haven’t nailed down the motive.
The case is covered by a gag order that prevents publication of the name of the victim or that of her husband, though it’s unlikely any of his former associates don’t know who he is.
The husband was a well-known crime figure who for years was one of the top lieutenants of the biggest crime boss in Beersheba. He later turned state witness and his testimony formed the backbone of a case that saw the crime boss and four of his top lieutenants convicted in 2009 of a litany of serious crimes including extortion and conspiracy.
The case also involved incidents in which the defendants used hand grenades to extort and intimidate rivals.
These instances include throwing a hand grenade into the yard of a local journalist in Beersheba who had written negative reports on the crime family.
The journalist was unharmed.
The witness was given protection by the state in exchange for his testimony.
His criminal record was expunged and he and his family were moved abroad with a large stipend from the state to begin life anew.
Though his identity is covered under a gag order, for years the witness was far from discreet. Just before he moved abroad as part of the witness protection program, he sat down for a long interview with a Channel 2 investigative news show, during which he spoke at length about his life of crime.
Before that interview was even filmed though, he had already for some time been publishing a blog about his life in the Israeli underworld.
A few years after they moved abroad the witness and his wife made their way back to Israel, where not long after he was arrested for domestic violence crimes committed against his wife.
Today he makes his home in a segregated wing of Shikma Prison in Ashkelon, where until recently he continued his campaign of brutality against his now-deceased wife.
One of the two indictments quotes the witness threatening his wife on multiple occasions from a prison phone at Shikma, including a call in September 2015 in which he told her he would get released in five months and “when I get out they [the couples’ children] will become orphans. I’ll murder you, I’ll slaughter you.”
According to the indictment, his wife told him not to call again and blocked the prison phone number.
Days later, the witness called his son’s phone and had him hand the phone to his mother, at which point he again threatened to kill her, as well as her sister and brother-in-law.
On Monday, the Negev subdistrict spokeswoman said that investigators are still exploring all possible motives, including that the witness arranged to have his wife killed and that she was killed as retribution for his cooperation with police.
Israel’s witness protection program is relatively new. The plan for the program was first drafted by representatives from the Ministry of Public Security and the State Prosecutors office and police in 2002, as a serious gangland war was raging then in Israel.
A bill passed by the Knesset in 2008 put the program into effect, under the management of the Public Security Ministry. The initial plan was to have the program handle about 20 witnesses per year; the ministry has never disclosed how many witnesses they handle at any given time.
The first head of the program was ex-Shin Bet official Aryeh Livne, who drew from his knowledge relocating former Palestinian informers who needed protection.
Due to the small size of Israel, the best option is typically to move the witness and their family abroad, at no small cost to taxpayers. This is done through an arrangement with the host country, typically in Europe. The arrangement is a two-way street, and these countries can also reach deals to send witnesses to Israel.
In November 2013, Shimmy Anu, a top associate of mob boss Shay Musli, was found murdered outside Johannesburg, South Africa. Shimmy’s brother Beru was a top enforcer of the Musli family who had turned state witness months earlier, helping form what would later become a major case against a series of Musli family members.
Shimmy’s murder is believed to have been retribution for his brother’s betrayal, and to send a message to other potential witnesses, that even their families can be targeted.
The high cost of relocation means that typically the program is reserved for high-level underworld figures looking to testify against their former associates, and is not usually an option for law-abiding citizens who come forward to complain against the mob.
In January 2015, a man named Shay Bachar was killed when a bomb placed in his car exploded as he was driving through Hod HaSharon. Bachar was a small business owner who had agreed to testify against mobster Avi Ruhan and his associates, who had extorted money from him.
He was not in the witness protection program at the time of his death.