Now, after his report led to the police commissioner's resignation, Judge Vardi Zeiler is mincing no words. 'Today we have a very severe problem of law and order. Everything has been cracked wide open,' he asserts. And this spirit of lawlessness throughout the system leads him to the conclusion that 'everything is disintegrating.' A candid interview with a very worried man.
A day or two before the Zeiler report was sent to the printer, a newspaper article caught the eye of the committee's chairman, retired Jersualem District Court president Judge Vardi Zeiler. According to the report, the State Prosecutor's Office had signed a plea bargain with the Parinyan brothers, Oded and Sharon, who were accused of murdering the felon Pinhas Buhbut. The case, which was at the center of the Zeiler Committee's work, was open for six years until finally, after every possible mistake and obstruction had occurred, an indictment was filed against the Parinyan brothers. They were accused of sending the policeman Tzachi Ben-Or and Shimon Elmakayas to murder Buhbut.
Yet, despite everything, no one will be convicted for this murder. Ben-Or, who admitted to having pulled the trigger, was himself murdered in Mexico in 2004. By a combination of incompetence and sheer rot, the Israel Police succeeded in making this witness for the prosecution flee to his death. In his absence, the murder clause was deleted from the indictment against the Parinyans and against Elmakayas. Instead of life imprisonment, they will spend only five years in prison; another two and a half years and they're out.
After reading the newspaper report, Zeiler sat down to add an epilogue to his report, which he titled "Gloomy Reflections." "Upon concluding the preparation of this report," he wrote, "and with the completion of this plea bargain, the curtain has come down on this theater of the absurd. The murder of Tzachi Ben-Or and the inability to bring him to testify in the trial was not decreed by the heavens; it was the action of people who brought about the tragic situation in which those who were suspected for years as being murderers or accomplices to murder, and those who could prima facie provide evidence against them were not arrested, as all the law enforcement systems were paralyzed and watched the theater of the absurd unfold. Everything goes on just the same and there is no one to sound the warning at the gate."
The Zeiler report, which is nearly 200 pages long, is a belated warning. It is the outcry of a person who coped with evil in his many years as a judge and has already headed a number of public committees, including the panel that dealt with the failed Pal-Kal construction method that led to the collapse of the Versailles wedding hall and the commission that examined the regulation of the bank shares. Zeiler has seen a lot, but today he is genuinely afraid that he will get up tomorrow morning and discover that the state has disappeared. That it crumbled in an instant.
Even though the Parinyan case began with a murder (Pinhas Buhbut) and ended with a murder (Tzachi Ben-Or), what shocked Zeiler most was a marginal episode that turned up as a byproduct of the main investigation: the case of the gas-mask batteries. That episode was not included in the committee's original brief, but he decided to investigate it, in part because the protagonists are the same protagonists - police officers Yoram Levy and his protege Reuven Gilboa of the Southern District - and also because that story encapsulated all the elements of the police fiasco.
In May 1998 an Israel Defense Forces storeroom was burgled and thousands of batteries for gas masks were stolen. Even though the complaint about the theft was filed with the police in Ashdod, and even though no one from the Ashdod station asked Levy and Gilboa to help, the two volunteered to deal with the case. Instead of utilizing the police force in an effort to find the thieves, Levy and Gilboa decided to mediate between Oded Parinyan, who turned up and declared that he could supply the stolen batteries in return for an appropriate amount of money as "ransom," and the representative of the insurance company involved, a retired police officer named Haim Pinhas, nicknamed "Shogun."
Pinhas demanded that the payment to Oded Parinyan, who claimed he was the "liaison" regarding the batteries, be made under police auspices. He brought to the police station hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash - between NIS 250,000 and NIS 600,000, according to the different accounts - and Gilboa took the money "in trust" and later delivered it to Parinyan. The batteries were returned to Pinhas. The committee suspected that in this instance Levy and Gilboa assisted the Parinyan family "to make a bundle" at the expense of the insurance company, even as they prevented the police from operating as the police are supposed to act - to try and solve the crime.
Judge Zeiler, what was your personal feeling during the year in which you dealt with the Parinyan affair?
"It was terrible. And it's not like I'm only used to seeing good things. In court as well as with the bank stocks probe and the committee investigating the Versailles banquet hall disaster, I saw things and, each time it seemed like this had to be the absolute worst. That nothing could outdo this. But then each time you find out that actually there can be something worse. And in this case it was very difficult. Here there was pure filth. I saw it with my own eyes."
In all your years as a judge, there must have been times when people came into your courtroom and lied to your face. When they looked right at you and said things that had no connection whatsoever with reality. Did you experience anything like that with this committee?
"Yes, a lot. It's not uttering a clear and blatant lie. There were situations in which testimonies were coordinated and we couldn't tell who was lying. Conflicting testimonies by groups of police officers where it was clear that someone lied. We sensed a certain wind blowing within cliques. In other words, there was a whole constellation of things that greatly detracted from the trust you could give, given the circumstances. It's not always an outright lie. It's a lot broader than that. We felt a degree of hostility from certain directions. An institutional hostility."
Was there anything that especially horrified you?
"The batteries deal. Especially the nonchalance with which it was done. People are sitting in the police station and transferring money and stolen goods and deceiving the army and their own commander. This was very hard to see. When the senior command is sitting just above and corruption taints the middle ranks, it's a catastrophe. Karadi is sitting there in one place and right below him, all is blackness."
What is this blackness? Can you characterize it for us?
"It's a web of relations that's created when justice and evil are mixed up together. Evil is brimming with money. The police people facing it earn only a pittance. Therefore, its ability to pull them wherever it wishes is boundless. And then involvement arises. A single clique is created, and this is a terrible thing. It means that whoever is not in this clique has no life. And essentially you've got an entire police force sitting there and not realizing what's going on. And then the most dangerous situation is created: tzadik ve-ra lo, rasha ve'tov lo - 'the righteous person has it bad and the evil person has it good.' And this case was the embodiment of this situation."
But what was really so egregious about the batteries affair?
"It concentrates within it all of the negative aspects. The absence of existing norms, the absence of instituting norms, the absence of scrutiny and supervision. People running totally wild. No sense of fear, no sense of authority. Total filth.
"But it's not just the batteries affair. We've all run into this sort of thing. You want a certain service and unless you find a macher, you can't break through the barriers. Why? Because everything is concentrated there.
"In the course of my work, I learned something I didn't know: namely, that crime kingpins do arbitration in return for a fee. In other words, police officers manipulate police activity in order to be helpful to those with whom they wish to curry favor. And no one is investigating this. No one is examining this. Everyone sits there all complacent and no one does a thing.
"And when an honest officer named Magen comes from Tel Aviv to Lachish and wants to close a casino because he knows that a casino is a hub of crime and prostitution and all sorts of iniquity, he's told, 'Don't touch.' He's told, 'No, you can't, this belongs to the Parinyans, they're protected.' And he's a brave fellow, this Magen. He doesn't accept this. I don't know how they didn't murder him. They could have killed him, no problem. But there are very few like him. That's what's missing.
"In general, what happens is that a good person ends up despairing. He can't do anything to break down the clique."
From what you describe, it sounds like, in Israel, evil is stronger than justice.
"We investigated a specific matter. To say that this reflects the entire police force? To generalize from this particular incident - that's not the police. But I can't say that. I don't know if what we found is a true statistical sample or only random."
What you did here was to drill deeply at a specific point, in a way that exposes the entire geological structure.
"That's possible. But there's also another possibility. In the same narrow sector that we examined, we found that the normative fabric had disintegrated."
The impression is that you found a mafia.
"A mafia is a crime organization that succeeds in penetrating the layers of government. If Yoram Levy is heading Yamar (the police's central unit) and leaks a file full of information, and the case then falls apart, the suspicion is that a representative of the criminals is sitting there inside the police and doing this so they won't be investigated. But this is a single example. Only if the suspicion is proved and only if it is discovered that the same thing is happening in 30 other places in the police force, could you speak of a mafia."
The implication of your report is that with that specific drilling of yours, you unearthed a Sicily-in-Israel.
"Sicily is an entire region where there's this phenomenon of crime taking over government. You're asking me whether crime has penetrated the government in Israel? I don't know. But I do know that if the phenomenon I saw at this one narrow point has spread throughout the Israel Police - it's Sicily. But I must be very cautious. I'm very suspicious of Yoram Levy. But I did not rule that the suspicion was proved because I don't have any finding that I can put my finger on. If the suspicion is true and if this truth is to be found in wide swaths of the Israel Police, then it is an evil regime. A mafia-type regime."
'Sicily' also refers to crime that has penetrated the political system. The Parinyan case arouses suspicions of this kind. It was accompanied by talk of a political conspiracy concerning Karadi's surprising appointment to the post of commissioner by Tzachi Hanegbi. Your committee chose to disregard this issue.
"To this day, I don't know why Karadi pushed the way he did for Yoram Levy's appointment. Everything was against this appointment. Karadi's behavior on this matter was very, very curious. It could be because this one owed that one and that one owed this one. But this area, too, of this one owes that one and so on, can also be political or family-related or have some other cause. It could be that he did him some favor. A lot of people brought up the possibility that there were political matters here. For the most part they didn't do so in writing, but in conversation. Since the speculation is genuine, we were not at ease over it.
"Karadi himself, who left a positive impression on me, said that he'd never seen Omri (Sharon). He wasn't at the ranch. He was very upset that this thing was being attributed to him. And we deliberated over it. We searched for some explanation for his odd behavior. But we didn't find any linkage. No one came to us with any solid evidence."
Not even Yaakov Borovksy?
"Borovsky approached me indirectly. And, in the same indirect way, I replied and told him that if he had real information, I'd be willing to meet with him. But there wasn't. It's all rumors. Which is why the committee stated that there is not a single piece of evidence from which we could conclude that there was a political connection. There is no evidence that there was a political dimension and no evidence that there was not a political dimension. If we'd been specifically charged with examining the manner of Karadi's appointment, we would have summoned Tzachi Hanegbi and Omri Sharon and everyone else to testify. But if there's no mention of this in our letter of appointment and no lead, conducting an investigation of this type is something that won't be done."