Social Affairs: Finding justice for Lee

Just over a month since Zeitouni was killed in a hit-and-run, her boyfriend is stepping up campaign to bring her killers to justice.

Hit-and-run victim Lee Zeitouni 311 (photo credit: Courtesy: Facebook)
Hit-and-run victim Lee Zeitouni 311
(photo credit: Courtesy: Facebook)
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.
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.
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“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.
Peled, who 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 justice.
“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 with.”
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.
“So many 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.
“One woman 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 justice.”
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 case.”
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.
“I’m 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.
However, Prof. 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.
IN THE 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.”
With some 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.”