Israel's 'drug capital' hopes 'surge' plan is the answer

Around 1,500 addicts arrive in Lod every day to buy narcotics.

needle 88 (photo credit: )
needle 88
(photo credit: )
Around 1,500 addicts arrive in Lod every day to buy narcotics - the city's Rakevet neighborhood specializes in heroin and crack cocaine. The addicts sometimes even come in unofficial "taxis," in which groups of junkies pay drivers to take them to the city. After a recent survey claimed that Lod was the most crime-ridden city in Israel, police and municipal officials did their best to downplay the dubious superlative. Nevertheless, even the most optimistic plans for the future require officials to contend with disturbing statistics indicate that, despite a series of well-publicized police operations earlier in the decade, the city continues to be Israel's drug-supply center. The police's own Web site declares that "the towns of Lod and Ramle are drug trafficking centers for the whole country." Ilan Harari, who was appointed chairman of the Lod Municipality after mayor Benny Regev was found to be too corrupt to continue in office, said Thursday that enough was enough. He announced a plan designed to strengthen residents' sense of personal security. Using volunteers, municipal inspectors and police, Harari plans to increase the visible presence of uniforms and add 50 security cameras. Seven checkpoints, he said, would be established at the entrances to the city in the hopes of catching the junkies en route to their suppliers. Rudolph Giuliani's clean-up of New York City provided a large part of the inspiration, said Harari, who claims to have read the former mayor and current US presidential candidate's book multiple times. Last month, Harari met with Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, and presented him with the plan. Dichter said that he viewed Lod as a "national project" and that dozens of Border Police officers would be deployed to the city. Lod municipality spokesman Yoram Ben-Arosh said they hoped that police manpower there would be permanently increased. The proposed "surge" would not be the first such endeavour. In 2002, then-Police Central District chief Benny Kaniak launched a major undercover operation in Lod, targeting the "ATMs" - the drive-up crack houses that dominate the city's poorest neighborhoods. The operation lasted close to a year, ending in May 2003, and although crime rates dropped, they returned to previous levels after a few months. According to Harari's office, the proposed Lod improvement plan will need an additional budget of NIS 10 million to become more than helpful suggestions on paper. In the meantime, the city - nicknamed "the Queen of Crime" by the Hebrew press - continues to suffer. With a population of 75,000, 565 drug-related files (or one per 133 residents) were opened in the past 10 months. While housing prices throughout the Shfela and Dan areas have risen, Lod has suffered a net decline in home values - and municipal officials say that crime is the biggest factor. In a recent poll of Lod residents, nearly 65 percent said personal security was their largest concern. Police say that big things are in the pipeline, and that change will be felt in Lod in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, the ATMs continue to operate, ensuring that the city maintains its dubious first-place status.