A group of 30 people stand at the old central bus station in Tel Aviv, listening to an overview of drug use and prostitution in the area. Suddenly, a young, muscular guy approaches. "Don't talk about drugs," he tells the group's guide. "I'm warning you not to talk about drugs!"
The guide keeps his cool. "Go away," he says to the man, who has a crazed look in his eyes. The guy takes a step back and the guide continues speaking, cautiously. "The police found some 'substances' here. I can't say the word now." The big guy returns, holding a piece of wood. "Don't say it! Say it and I'll kill you!" The group urges their guide to leave. "Let's get back on the bus."
"Why should we go? Does he own the street?" he responds, following Batman's code: 'We will not be intimidated by thugs.' But the guide is no Bruce Wayne. He is Buki Nae (pronounced "Na-eh"): self-described as short, chubby, balding and middle-aged. He is also one of Israel's most famous crime reporters.
For readers of the Hebrew press, Nae's name is synonymous with crime stories. "There are a lot of crime stories groupies," Nae tells Metro. "People read the newspaper not for the news, but for my stories." His reports are juicy, spiced up with professional lingo and delivered in a unique in-your-face style.
Nae got his start as a crime reporter in 1987 at Ma'ariv. In 1988, he moved to Hadashot, where his stories were given his iconic ashtray logo. When Hadashot closed down five years later, Nae transferred to Israel's largest daily, Yediot Aharonot, where he worked until he was fired earlier this year.
Five years ago, Nae started operating his night tours, taking people through the back alleys of Tel Aviv.
He is proud of his work on the crime beat. "Other writers come in, work for a year and a half, figure out the difference between a detective and a cop, and move on to other jobs," he says. But Nae stayed, snooping the streets, revealing one scoop after another. Soon after being dismissed from Yediot, he found a new job on Ofer Shelah and Raviv Drucker's Friday evening news show on Channel 10. "I'm not rushing anywhere," he says with a smile. "I received huge severance [pay] from Yediot Aharonot, my tours are fully booked until August, and I shoot articles for TV [while I'm leading them]. I love everything I do."
The eight-hour tour begins at 5 p.m. at the northernmost point of the Tel Aviv port, which marks the border of Tel Aviv's northern police precinct. Nae begins with a story of cops trying to push a body, found floating in their precinct's section of the Yarkon River, to another precinct's section, to avoid dealing with the paperwork. The crowd laughs. In general, it seems that stories mocking the police are a major theme in his tour. But Nae disagrees. "That's not true. I tell the stories as they happened. If someone finds them funny, that's their call. If the police do something good, I'll tell about that, as well. My problem with the police is that many times I've discovered criminal activity and reported it, but they ignored me, saying I should mind my own business."
The second stop on the tour revolves around one such story. This is where Nae, calling himself "One Nagging Writer," tipped off the police about gambling in the area. He's a great storyteller, joking about criminals ("They put questions like 'How long was the Six Day War?' into the gambling machines and then said they were 'smart' machines and as such could not be impounded") and the criminal justice system ("The court couldn't actually do anything at first. The law only addresses gambling machines"). He also makes fun of himself: "I go to a bar, buy a girl a drink, end up spending NIS 1,000 on her, and then she says she won't come home with me because I'm not her type. That's why I prefer going to prostitutes. They're cheaper."
He tells of the stabbings ("puncherim" in street slang) among youths at the port clubs, the drugs sold everywhere, pubs that have been shaken down, police brutality and about the police "looking for action. They get paid so very little that the action is the only thrill of the job." He seems to know everything. He points out a mat made of plastic, explaining that "it'll be easy to clean at 4 a.m after all the drunks threw up on it."
When the group moves on to the next stop, the place where four-year-old Rose Pizam's body was found, Nae tries to shed new light on the story. A man went missing the same night Rose was thrown into the river, and his body was later found in the bushes near by - is there a connection? No one knows, but the audience has something to talk about when they return home. This story, too, is not lacking in criticism of the police. Nae reveals that the diver who discovered the suitcase containing Rose's body had found her two hours before the TV crew and police arrived. However, according to Nae, the diver was asked to put her back in the water, so it would appear that the police were there when she was found. Is this pure gossip or important information? But the audience is thrilled. They love his criticism of the police.
One story follows another. The tour stops at another crime scene, this time on Sderot Ben-Gurion. A rapist was captured in one of the buildings. Fifteen years later, two weeks after he was released, he committed another rape at the same spot. Elsewhere, Nae tells how the Karnaf fast food chain refused to pay protection, prompting criminals to set several of their stores on fire.
Nae is aware that his tour is long, and for variety, introduces the members of his tour group to two famous criminals. The first is ex-thief Motti Ashkenazi, whose criminal life turned upside-down the day he stole a bag containing an explosive device. He was dubbed a hero, sent to rehabilitation and now works as a beach inspector, searching for thieves. The group laughs as he shares his own stories: "People would ask me to keep an eye on their bags. I'd say sure, and disappear with it the minute they were gone." The audience is pleased he finally went straight. "People love stories, not hardships," Nae observes.
Next, on Sderot Rothschild, he introduces Zalman Vinder, aka Zalman Shoshi, Israel's most famous transvestite. Today, Rothschild is a club and restaurant hub, but in the 1980s, Vinder recalls, "This used to be our main spot of work." He tells his sad life story, from childhood molestation to becoming a male prostitute, but asks the audience not to cry. "If you cry, I'll leave, and Buki won't pay me," he admonishes. His stories of life as Shoshi are funny and feature frequent profanity. The group, pensioners of Hever in their 60s, have no problem with this. Nor do they have any objection to the next stop - a strip club, where Nae saw Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Marom, head of the Navy, enjoying a lap dance. Nae reported the story in Yediot Aharonot, raising a lot of questions about whether the public needs to be informed about such matters. Nae stands behind his decision, saying, "If I could see him, anyone could, and that puts field security in jeopardy."
The tour's last stop, at the city's old central bus station, is the seediest. Elsewhere, members of the group only imagined their guide's stories; here, they see them first-hand. Prostitutes fall in with the tour, and Nae gives them NIS 50 each to tell their stories. Batya thanks him for the money, which represents one less customer between her and her heroin fix. "She's been an addict for 14 years. She'll die here," Nae tells the group, while handing Batya her money. He then points to Dafna, an 18-year-old drug addict. She arrived from Ma'alot two weeks ago, and now works the streets. "I told the police about her," Nae informs his audience. "They came, busted some junkies but did nothing. However, I credit the police for cleaning this area up. As bad as it looks, it used to be much worse."
We move on to the local police station, which Nae says is always closed, due to a limited budget. "But why isn't the state doing something about it?" everyone asks. "Ask them," Nae replies.
"Why do you do these tours?" I ask Nae. "There is no philosophy behind it," he answers. "I want to show people what happens in Tel Aviv after nightfall. It's my job. It's what I do best."
It's already 1 a.m. On the ride back to the parking lot where the tour started, we pass the beach. Couples are kissing on the boardwalk, young people are waiting in line at a club. Over at the old bus station, Dafna is entering someone's car - later on she'll score her hit. Someone will get mugged tonight, another will search for love in a back alley. The city doesn't sleep.
Regarding Buki Nae's allegation that policemen pushed a floating body into another precinct to avoid paperwork, a Tel Aviv precinct spokesman had this to say: "I believe you're making too much of an effort to get our response. What Buki says is bedtime stories, little made-up anecdotes for his audience. There is no way that the police would find a body and push it somewhere else, that's completely made up. As for the story with Rose, I believe that is also a lie, but you have to check with Central Precinct."
Regarding the alleged discovery of four-year-old Rose Pizem two hours before the police came, a Central Precinct spokesman told The Jerusalem Post: "This is an unfounded, baseless story. No such thing ever happened."