Relief but no closure after arrests in Bar Noar case

LGBT community deals with revelation that a well-known activist is linked to the motive, and the state’s star witness is an openly gay man who helped plan the attack.

June 14, 2013 01:53
Suspect in Bar Noar shooting

Suspect in Bar Noar shooting 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

“This is not closure, closure is what you get when you meet an old friend for coffee and you get caught up. This will take years to get better.”

Chen Langer was a 22-year-old youth counselor at the Bar Noar Tel Aviv LGBT youth center on the night of August 1, 2009, when a masked man burst in with a 9-mm. pistol and started gunning down the teenagers and counselors hanging out in the basement.

Langer was shot in both legs and spent the next six months recovering in a wheelchair.

In the days after the shooting, he became the public face of the tragedy, an outspoken survivor and youth counselor who found himself comforting terrified teenagers, dealing with the trauma of the shooting and the fear that the killer would strike again.

The former youth counselor and later spokesman of the Aguda – The Israel National LGBT Task Force, just had a long week. Last Thursday he stood at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, one of a small number of survivors and relatives of the victims who came to look the suspects in the eyes, almost four years after they allegedly took the lives of volunteer and youth counselor Nir Katz and Liz Triboshi, 16, and wounded 11 people, most of them minors.

Like others spoken to by The Jerusalem Post, Langer is certain that the murders were a hate crime, and doesn’t buy the official police explanation that it was a simple case of a personal grudge taken to the extreme by two young neighborhood thugs with a pistol and a score to settle.

“Obviously it’s a hate crime. If it was just an act of revenge then why would they go in and start shooting everyone?” he said. “By not saying it’s a hate crime they’re ignoring the motives which cause violence like this.”

News of the arrests caused shockwaves across the LGBT community in Israel, not only because it brought back the trauma of that night four years ago, but also because at the center of the case are two figures from their own community.

They are a veteran activist who worked as a youth organizer at the Bar Noar for years, and a young, openly gay man who allegedly helped the suspects plan the murder before becoming a jailhouse informer and bringing the alleged perpetrators to justice four years later.

“Surprise is an understatement, this is a person who worked in the community for 20 years and helped thousands of LGBT youths,” said Gal Kol, spokesperson of the Aguda, in reference to the veteran activist held for sexually assaulting one of the three suspects, a crime that police said was the motive for the revenge attack.

“He wasn’t a saint, a righteous man, some people didn’t like him here or there, just like anyone else,” said Kol. “But there was never a single complaint about him, it’s impossible to grasp that he’d do something like this.”

The state’s witness also presents a complicated and confusing picture. Though he was certainly less known than the activist, the witness did cross paths with a number of people in the community who remember him as a rowdy and troubled young man. He came to the Bar Noar center as a teen, but was later asked not to return because of his disruptive behavior.

The witness, who told police he thought the suspects only planned to beat somebody up at the Bar Noar, is from Pardess Katz, a rough neighborhood in Bnei Brak that was a crime hotbed in the ’80s and ’90s. He grew up there with his close relative and Bar Noar suspect Tarlan Hankishayev, who is accused of helping trigger- man Hagai Felician plan the shooting.

A former associate said that because of his sexual orientation, which was known to his friends, the witness felt a need to prove himself to Felician and Hankishayev, leading him into trouble with the law time and time again. The witness came from a traditional family and when they discovered he was gay, they kicked him out of the house, although he was still a teenager.

The witness’s fate began to change earlier this year, after he allegedly suffered physical and verbal abuse in the Sharon Prison at the hands of guards. The witness, serving time for assault and a property offense, contacted the Aguda, who provided him with legal assistance and began pursuing a case against the Prisons Service.

Attorney Moshe Shochetman, who represented the witness on behalf of the Aguda, described him on Thursday as a trustworthy young man who decided to come forward as a way of thanking the community for helping him when he was behind bars.

“He said he wanted to make it up to the people in the community who helped him, to make right with the community,” Shochetman said, adding that his former client is in good spirits, and reached an understanding with police that after the trial, they will help him start his life over again with a new identity, most likely in a foreign country.

What does it mean for the large yet close-knit Israeli LGBT community that two of its members were linked – directly and indirectly – to one of the darkest events in its history? “There are gays and lesbians who are criminals or murderers, or professors and doctors – it’s a big community with all types of people,” said Itai Pinkus, chairman of the Tel Aviv LGBT center and a former city council member.

“I’m never comfortable to hear about people from my social group doing negative things, but this is just it – gays and lesbians are no better or worse than other people.”

Though the trial has yet to begin, and an indictment may be long in the making, all those who spoke to the Post expressed a feeling of relief that police appear to have found the culprits after almost four years living in fear of further attacks.

“People feel more safe here now,” said Kol on Wednesday, “but until the case, is over there won’t be closure. The feeling isn’t one of happiness, it’s full of sadness.”

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