Police bust criminal ring smuggling Palestinian workers

Some of the workers - as many as 350 per day - were packed into refrigerator trucks.

Border Police revealed Monday that investigators had uncovered a criminal ring responsible for a multimillion shekel industry in smuggling Palestinians to work illegally in Israel. Some of the workers - as many as 350 per day - were smuggled into the Tel Aviv area packed into refrigerator trucks that departed from the town of Beit Likya, across the Green Line from Modi'in. Ch.-Supt. Moshe Avital, the Investigations Commander of the Jerusalem Area Border Police, said the workers were smuggled in subhuman conditions, men and women packed in together for hours at a time, surrounded by filth. But more disturbing for police was the fact that the criminal ring they uncovered was operated, similar to a mafia syndicate, by two "godfathers" - one a Palestinian resident of Beit Likya and the second a Jewish resident of Bat Yam. Avital said that like an organized crime ring, there was a strict hierarchy below the ringleaders that included mid-level "capo regime"-type bosses as well as "foot soldiers" who were employed as drivers of the 12-15 daily transports. Police said the drivers would pack 25-45 people in each transport, leading to a total of 250-350 illegal workers smuggled beyond the Green Line per day. Workers who were recruited by Palestinian "organizers" arrived from as far away as Jenin to enter the trucks in Beit Likya. With each worker paying NIS 200-300, police believe that the organization earned approximately 1.2 million NIS per month. Avital said the investigation began over a month ago, when police stopped a refrigerator truck driven by a Palestinian only to discover that the refrigerated compartment was full of people. Under questioning, the driver revealed that he was part of a larger organization that operated both within the West Bank as well as in the Tel Aviv area. "There are four aspects that make this specific case particularly serious," Avital explained, citing the mafia-style organization, the close cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian criminals, the subhuman conditions of the transports and the scale of the enterprise. "The scale of the organization was far beyond anything that we had ever seen in the past," Avital added. The organization's heads were indicted 10 days ago, and Avital said indictments would be issued within the next two days against the transport drivers as well. Meanwhile, Border Police forces searching for Palestinians working illegally in the central region said they have noticed a considerable reduction in the number of workers caught since the ring was busted. But Avital said he was sure the reduction was only temporary. "The economic factor is so attractive that it is only a matter of time before somebody else will come along to fill the vacuum," he explained.