CSI Tel Aviv: Gay Youth Center Murder Drama Rivets City on Eve of Pride March

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Any fan of classic crime TV shows like “Law and Order,” “CSI” or “Prime Suspect” knows how the typical TV homicide investigation plays out. The most obvious theory for the murder is never the right one, and the "logical" suspects are never the ones who did it. There's always a twist.

After the investigation takes the cops and prosecutors on a journey replete with red herrings and false leads, it is the most unlikely figure in the drama that turns out to be the murderer, and then they are dramatically apprehended in a climactic moment.

Usually, real life crime doesn’t play out the way that it does on television. But the recent arrests in connection to the 2009 Tel Aviv Gay Youth Center murders of Nir Katz, 27, and Liz Trubeshi, 16 point to a narrative that's shaping up to be something right out of a Hollywood crime drama script.

The difference is that on television, the crime usually takes four days to solve, not four years.

Residents of Tel Aviv remember clearly how the initial reports of a masked man walking into the facility, known as Bar Noar, and opening fire, rocked the city to its core. The incident sent shockwaves through the gay and lesbian community, and to an extent, transformed it. The threat, the idea that the anger and hostility against homosexuality could be so deadly, and that the violence would play out in one of the few spaces where they were supposed to be safe from judgment, was devastating. The community drew together in its fear and pain - there were candlelight vigils, solidarity marches, and even some celebrities decided to come out of the closet in the aftermath, in an effort to do something to stem the hatred.

In the ensuing years, as gay life and gay culture in Tel Aviv has blossomed and the community has grown in visibility and influence, the unsolved murder has been a black cloud hanging over it, usually marked by a solidarity event on its anniversary. It has been a reminder of a disturbing reality - that no matter how good things seemed, an enraged homophobic murderer was still lurking out there somewhere.

The news of the arrests of three suspects on Wednesday couldn’t have been timed for a more dramatic effect. In a Hollywoodesque twist, they took place on the eve of the Tel Aviv Gay Pride March, the most important day of the year for the community and the culmination of Pride celebrations. At first, this seemed like a perfectly timed victory, a cause for extra celebration at the march - the enemy of the gay and lesbian community was finally being brought to justice.

But then, the television crime drama twist emerged when police told the press that “they have ruled out the possibility that the shooting was a hate crime. Rather, they think the motive was personal.” Some media outlets have been using the word “revenge.”

We don’t know the suspects' names yet, but the outlines of the main characters are there behind the pixilated photographs and video of them resisting arrest on the street, and cursing and fidgeting in court. The man described as the main suspect, the police have said, deserted the army for four months following the murders. His alleged accomplices, two petty criminals who were teenagers at the time, committed a spate of crimes while they were under surveillance throughout the murder investigation, according to the police. 

The biggest bombshell dropped on Thursday morning, when a fourth person whom the police are calling a "well-known and senior figure in the gay rights community" was arrested. He is being held not on suspicion of involvement in the murder, but for “allegedly knowing the motive for the murders and obstructing the investigation by not sharing that information with police.” (Members of the gay community are protesting the use of the phrase ‘senior figure.’ The gay community is not a hierarchical organization like the government or the army, they point out, and there are no ‘junior’ and ‘senior’ members.)

Unless significantly more information comes to light, the much-anticipated Gay Pride march on Friday will take place under a different kind of cloud - one of uncertainty.

Emotions are decidedly mixed. On one hand, there should be a sense of relief that there has been a break in the case, that the police did not drop the ball on the case after all, and that if the motive is not pure homophobia, it is a good thing for the community.

On the other hand, the possibility that the murder may have occurred within the community itself, by trusted members, and that the mysterious “senior
gay figure," who somehow helped conceal the perpetrators of the crime, is also potentially devastating. Social networks are buzzing with questions. What is meant by “personal revenge?” Was this over money? Unrequited love? And even if he was somehow involved, how in the world could such a “senior figure” consciously cover up the identity of the perpetrator of a crime that had so devastated and frightened his own community?

As one Facebook commenter mused: “I wonder which is worse, a hate crime or a revenge crime?”

Only when the full details come out will we know for sure. As they say on Law and Order - stay tuned.

A memorial ceremony for the victims of Bar Noar shooting, September 2012.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

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