'If someone brings a knife, by the end of the night he'll use it'
It is evening, and 20-year-old Asaf (a pseudonym) is sitting with five friends on a bench in Rishon Letzion's old industrial zone. He has gentle features and black hair generously spiked with gel. They invite me to a have a plastic cup of vodka with imitation Red Bull.
In the past month alone, there have been three teen stabbings. A 16-year-old were seriously injured, and another 16-year-old and a 13-year-old were lightly hurt.
"You see people coming here looking for something," says Asaf's friend Shlomi, a suntanned teen in an undershirt. "People leave home with a knife to look for trouble, and here they find others who are also looking. If someone brings a knife here, he's coming with the intention of stabbing someone. Even if he calls it self-defense, by the end of the night he'll use it."
Violence, stabbings and youth gangs are nothing new to them. In a nearby alleyway, not far from where they're sitting, an acquaintance of theirs, Yaakov Getta, was stabbed to death.
Any one of them can call on several dozen friends if necessary, they say. "Everyone here has to make his own friends. Anyone who isn't connected is paralyzed - he takes a slap or a punch or a knife, and goes home or to the hospital or wherever. I can bring five or six cars here within five minutes, and a little later, a lot more than that if necessary."
When Shlomi is asked if he knows what awaits when he is "called up," he answers without hesitation. "Anyone who comes after a friend calls him knows he's coming to rough someone up, and maybe get roughed up, too. There are always people who are afraid to come, who are called over and then disappear the second something happens," he says.
Usually the scuffles involve only fistfights, and the brawlers dissipate when they see a knife. But many 13- and 14-year-olds take knives to nightclubs, and even to school.
Asaf himself has stabbed two people over the last three years. He served a year and a half in prison for the second incident after an eyewitness testified against him.
"The second you stab, when the blade goes into his body, you don't feel anything - just adrenaline and focus. You pay for the smallest mistake you make, a glance that may have been out of line," he says. "You've done your thing, there's no reason to wait there anymore. If you stay you could be arrested, and they could bring other people. But you won't get out of there in good shape."
Asaf and his friends say even today, each of them can imagine stabbing someone, should a friend or relative call them for help. They don't usually carry knives, but they don't need one to help a friend, Shlomi says. "We're 10 people here, it doesn't matter if there's a knife or not. There are tiles, boards and beer bottles here. You can stomp on someone's head or chest. You don't need a knife."