A day in the life of Israel's most threatened judge
No less than four surveillance cameras are positioned around the building where the most heavily guarded judge in Israel lives - Tel Aviv District Court Judge Uri Shoham. One camera looks down from the roof, one monitors the ground floor entrance, another records activity in the parking lot and one is at the entrance to Shoham's penthouse apartment.
Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, images from the security cameras flash across computer monitors at both a security office in Shoham's building and the Dan District police headquarters. Every suspicious movement is recorded - whether a car or a passerby on foot - and within minutes a patrol car appears on the scene.
Shoham, who served as the Military Adjutant General among other posts, before being appointed to the bench in 2001, has unprecedented security detail. Even the heads of the country's largest criminal organizations, who were tried in the Tel Aviv District Court in recent years, have never armed themselves with such security.
Last month Haaretz reported that the police and the Courts Administration security division found Shoham to be the most threatened judge in Israel.
Two of his colleagues, George Karra from the Tel Aviv District Court and recently retired judge Bracha Ophir-Tom, saw their threat levels drop after some years.
The threat against Shoham grew after he ruled in February 2009 against the heads of the Sharufi crime organization from Jaffa, whom he handed long prison sentences. After the verdict was read, one of the defendants told Shoham: "You will hear from us, when the time comes." Following the statement, the police conducted an evaluation and it was determined that the crime family would be investigated, and security around the judge and his home would be increased.
The security detail monitoring Shoham runs like a Swiss watch. The guards check license plate numbers of cars that park nearby or pass the house, and suspicious vehicles are reported to the police.
The guard at the entrance to the building is employed by a private security firm, paid for by the courts. Security equipment was placed in the building's bomb shelter, the guards at the entrance are changed every 12 hours.
All the guards are veterans of combat units, have experience in other security work such as at Israel Railways, and meet strict requirements for training and readiness. They work three to four shifts a week.
The guard patrols at irregular intervals, once every two or three hours. He circles the area around the building and fills out a report. Every few hours a patrol car arrives, or an unmarked police vehicle, to check up on the guard.
Any strangers entering the building must identify themselves and undergo a search with a metal detector.
The neighbors on the small street, which runs along the border between Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, all know their heavily protected neighbor. One resident said yesterday that police sometimes close off the street. "There is a feeling that the prime minister lives here," she said, "or at least a senior minister. There are [a lot of] police cars, even though they are trying not to disturb the neighbors with their sirens."
Another neighbor said that last year the guards spotted a number of burglars on the street, and within minutes the street was blocked off by police cars - because the guards thought the burglars might have been trying to harm Shoham. "There is a higher sense of security than on any other street, but on the other hand this is stressful since you know the penthouse and the entire building could be a target," said the neighbor.
Bring in the canines
Every morning, a little past 7 A.M., a police bomb squad officer arrives on the quiet street with a canine unit. The sapper examines Shoham's car and the area around the building, while the dog and handler patrol the area. Shoham is usually accompanied to the courts by an unmarked police vehicle - which also accompanies him whenever he goes out, even if it's just with his family for a break. The bomb squad also checks his car in the court parking lot before he goes home every day.
The security around Shoham is also felt in the courthouses. The private guards acompany the judge during court sessions and while he works in his chambers. He never steps into the corridors without being accompanied by a guard.
When intelligence reports speak of increased threat levels, the security is reinforced; sometimes he is escorted by up to three guards at one time.
One court security guard told Haaretz yesterday that the best job for a student is to guard a judge for a private security firm because "at night you can study without being disturbed."
Yesterday Shoham arrived home early in the afternoon. A guard from the private security firm sat alongside him, and a police car accompanied them all the way home. The guard met them at the entrance to the building while a canine unit checked out the area before Shoham arrived.
Shoham's car, which is leased by the courts, is changed regularly to make it more difficult to identify.