The gangs of Israel

Much as Marguerita Lautin's image tugged at our heartstrings, she wasn't the first innocent victim.

lautin 224.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
lautin 224.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Three weeks ago the country was shocked when a young mother of two, Marguerita Lautin, was shot dead at Bat Yam beach while spending an idyllic afternoon with her husband and children. The bullet that killed Lautin wasn't meant for her. She was the unintended victim of a botched gangland contract allegedly ordered by crime boss Itzik Abergil against two of his own "soldiers" because of suspected double-dealing. The Police National Fraud Unit expected the hit and kept the scene under close surveillance, but was unable to prevent the slaying. This time police didn't make do with merely arresting the shooters, but went ahead and actually detained Abergil, their assumed dispatcher. This in itself is a refreshing and commendable change, considering past police reluctance to go after top mobsters and, indeed, years of insistence that Israel is free of organized crime. This hardly means that Abergil is out of circulation. It's no easy job to make a case against him stick and his lawyers may soon spring him. Yet focusing on Abergil sends an important message to him and all his high-ranking cronies that they will be held liable for the indiscriminate violence that puts the lives of innocent citizens in harm's way. Much as Marguerita Lautin's smiling image - snapped minutes before the tragedy - tugged at our heartstrings, she wasn't the first innocent victim of underworld wars, and as things stand, she won't be the last. A few years ago office worker Sara Adiri was killed upon entering the elevator in a south Tel Aviv industrial building. The perpetrators did not know her; they just placed their bomb as a "warning" in the framework of an extortion racket. Two young parents, Daniel and Ella Nahshon, died together in 2003 at a Hadera car lot under very similar circumstances. An explosive device was set off in central Tel Aviv, claiming three lives. A LAW rocket was aimed at a Netanya apartment high-rise in an attempt to assassinate a resident mob linchpin. Had the plot succeeded, there's no telling what the death toll would have been. The same goes for the botched assassination attempt against Ezra Gavrieli at the Azrieli Towers car park. These are just selected highlights. There are many other cases of "mistaken" killings, and yet more which, miraculously, didn't cause fatalities but could just as well have done. It's all a matter of chance, and chance cannot be relied upon to spare any of us. Only a concerted police and judicial offensive against organized crime will stem the tide. IT'S ESTIMATED that six nationwide crime families are now vying for control of as much territory as they can wrest. Their hegemony is reportedly challenged by the Arab Taibe-based Hariri and the Ramle-based Jarushi organizations, with Beduin gangs claiming a monopoly on protection, drug, larceny and burglary farther south. In real life there are no facile movieland solutions. Known crime kingpins cannot be brought to justice, without evidence that stands up in court, where judges tend to mete out lenient sentences and sometimes allow cases to drag on for years. This is no way to deter crime. Combating this terror-from-within must be recognized as a national priority and accorded the necessary budget to enable the police to wage war. Plainly, more judges are needed to eliminate the backlog and more cops must be hired. The state prosecution needs more skilled lawyers. Police wages and work conditions are so poor as to constitute a clear disincentive. As the population grows, the number of officers protecting it decreases. Our police-to-population ratio is a quarter of the average in Western countries, where the local constabulary isn't additionally required to function as a militia to provide internal security. Israel's police moreover, isn't only understaffed, but also underequipped. Regrettably, many of the social ills that effect Western society - street crime, juvenile delinquency and family violence - are also present in Israel. But nothing threatens our social fabric and challenges the rule of law more than organized crime. We owe it to Marguerita Lautin's husband and children to invest the creativity and resources necessary to face down the mob bosses.