sderot - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - October 11 2010
Moyal outside Sderot: “I carry the public and political bug and I don’t deny that I want back into public life.” Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Last Thursday, the State Prosecution's southern district informed former Sderot mayor Eli Moyal that the case against him had been closed and that no indictment would be submitted against him. Moyal had spent almost three years under a cloud of suspicion while police investigated whether he had transferred hundreds of thousands of shekels, earmarked to reinforce the city's defenses, to associates of his in an election bribery scheme. The police also suspected Moyal of other irregularities such as arranging appointments and exaggerated payments for cronies in the municipality as well as wasting public funds in other ways.

Now the case has been closed for lack of evidence and lack of a reasonable chance for a conviction.

Since Thursday, Moyal's telephone has not stopped ringing. Residents of Sderot have been pouring out to him. When he heard the news, he was in a state of euphoria and found it hard to speak. Now he has a great deal to say.

Do you believe that someone in Sderot tried to frame you so that you would leave the post of mayor?

For sure they tried to set me up. They drank my blood. I know who these people are but I won't publish their names; I'll respect myself and them. I don't plan to do the same thing to them, to fight them and to take revenge. There is a Chinese proverb that says "He who seeks vengeance must dig two graves - one for his enemy and one for himself." I have no desire to harm these people; I know them so well that I even know their shoe size.

Did the opening of the file against you influence your decision not to run again for mayor, and do you regret that decision?

My decision not to run for election in Sderot stemmed solely from the fact that the police were investigating me. A few days after the investigation began, I announced in the media that I was suspending myself from the position of mayor and I stated that so long as the slightest cloud of suspicion was over my head, I certainly would not continue in the position of mayor. Three days after my announcement, then-interior minister Meir Sheetrit went to Sderot and stated that there be elections in the town within 60 days. I remember that I asked myself whether the interior minister was punishing me for taking responsibility and suspending myself. People are always talking about values and morals and then a mayor suspends himself and the interior minister simply punishes him for acting responsibly instead of appreciating the step I took.

How does it feel to turn suddenly from an admired mayor into someone seen as corrupt who looked out for himself and his cronies while they suffered from Qassam fire?

I was described in the local and national media as the country's biggest crook - the person who stole 350 million shekels from the coffers of the municipality. The municipal budget of Sderot at the time was 100 million shekels and they suspected I'd stolen more than three times the annual budget. I told my son and my girlfriend about my personal feeling from that story - that the personal aspect was less important than the public one. I used to go to the homes of residents who were injured and to visit the bereaved families in Sderot, and my aim was to keep them in the town. They used to say to me: "Sure, we'll stay here and the mayor will make millions at our expense and take the money meant for protective reinforcement. We'll stay here while he continues to have a ball." I felt absolutely awful. When I asked the residents to abide by the law, they would say to me, "You are asking us to abide by the law?" I simply didn't know how I could continue as mayor like that.

Now I have comfort - the residents of Sderot know that Mayor Moyal did not steal and was not a liar and really cared about them. Until the investigation was over people were sure I was a criminal but today they understand and I am comforted.

Now that the case is closed, do you plan to run for mayor again?

I carry the public and political bug and I don't deny that I want back into public life. I simply don't know whether it will be in Sderot or on the national level. Right now I'm picking up the pieces and putting myself together again and then I'll decide.

Do you talk about the affair in the new book you're publishing about your time as mayor?

The book is ready. I wrote it during the time of the investigations against me but I don't refer to the affair at all. I wrote it in a completely different kind of mood from what I'm in today and I'll probably have to make some changes. There is nothing personal in the book, only social criticism of the country.

You decided to remain in Sderot after you left your position as mayor. What are you doing today and how are you earning a living?

I took a bit of a break over the past two years. I wrote the book and I went to the theater and the cinema, and I had time to read. I earned a living from things that were not so important, but mainly I waited and waited for the decision because the matter had paralyzed me.