A little help from our Italian friends

What can we learn from Roberto Saviano, author of ‘Gomorrah,’ and how can we apply it to the Israeli mafia situation?

Italian writer Roberto Saviano, author of ‘Gomorrah.’ (photo credit: ALESSANDRO GAROFALO/REUTERS)
Italian writer Roberto Saviano, author of ‘Gomorrah.’
As we all know from the movies, Italy is one country that has dealt with its own Mafia problem for quite some time. One figure in that ongoing drama is Roberto Saviano. He is considered Italy’s authoritative voice on the intricacies of organized crime. But his notoriety came at a heavy personal cost.
Growing up in Naples, he witnessed the turf wars between rival Mafia clans. This vast underground world, known as the Camorra (The System), is comprised of many gangs that often feud with each other amid constantly shifting alliances. Their acts of deadly violence and retributions oozed out of the darker corners of the city and into safer neighborhoods, impacting everyone. Witnessing the violence himself and even seeing a dead body at a young age, Saviano grew angry and frustrated at the lack of efforts to address the problem. It was then that he decided courageously to stick out his neck.
In a 2015 article that appeared in the Guardian, Saviano writes: “I wanted to tell the world what this war zone was like: the victims’ families tearing their clothes, the stink of piss from a man who knew he was going to die and couldn’t control his fear, people shot in the street because they looked like the intended victim. I got to know the workers in industries run by the Camorra. I got to know the messengers, the look-outs who worked for the clan. I read court records, news reports, trial transcripts. I pulled their stories together, the stories of my neighborhood, and published a book called Gomorrah. Something about it touched a nerve. It became an instant bestseller – so many people bought it that the Camorra couldn’t ignore it.”
Soon after Gomorrah was published in 2006, Saviano began to receive death threats. Even now, more than a decade later, he still lives under police protection. He can no longer venture from his multiple undisclosed residences without a police escort and bulletproof car. Before giving interviews or appearing on TV shows, he must make complex arrangements to conceal his whereabouts and ensure his safety.
“Doing anything spontaneous just because I feel like it would be ridiculously complicated,” he writes.
What can we learn from his book and how can we apply it to the Israeli situation? While Saviano covers the more gruesome aspects of organized crime, he also delves into the minutiae of its economic bases. He discusses, for example, the Mafia’s hand in garbage and industrial waste removal, the garment industry, construction projects and public works fraud.
While this kind of economic analysis might not make for exciting reading, it shines a much-needed light on areas that reveal hidden connections to legitimate or sanctioned operations. The Camorra’s economic power, Saviano explains, “is born not of direct criminal activity, but of the ability to balance licit and illicit capital.”