An Israeli court released for publication on Sunday that Binyamin Ze’evi, the son of assassinated minister Rehavam Ze’evi, is one of the suspects in a decades-old unsolved murder case.
Ze’evi, a former member of the Shuvu Banim cult led by Rabbi Eliezer Berland, was indicted Friday over his role in the 1986 murder of 17-year-old Nissim Shitrit. Ze’evi, left the cult 10 years ago and has refused ever since to discuss his membership in it.
Judge Avraham Rubin of the Jerusalem District Court lifted the gag order on Ze’evi's name following a petition by Haaretz through attorney Maya Katz of the firm of Lieblich-Moser-Gluck.
Ze’evi opposed publication of his name saying that if it became known that he is the son of former minister Rehavam Ze’evi, who was known for his ultra-nationalist views and was assassinated by a Palestinian in 2001, he would also become a target for violence by Arab prisoners. However, he decided not to appeal the ruling.
According to the indictment, Ze'evi and the other suspect indicted, Baruch Sharvit, who is still a member of Shuvu Banim, assaulted Shitrit, whom they suspected of romantic ties with women, in an apartment in Jerusalem, after which they drove him to the Eshtaol Forest near the city, where they and other members of the sect’s “modesty guard” beat the teen to death. After they had buried him, they reported the murder to Berland.
According to the indictment, Berland instructed his son-in-law, Zvi Zucker, who was in charge of the modesty guard at the time and is also a suspect in the case, to assault people who had strayed from what he perceived as religious norms and transgressions against the community’s laws of modesty. The indictment states that Shitrit, who was a volunteer in the police, was attacked by the modesty guard a few months before he was murdered, because he had been meeting with women.
At first the police suspected that Ze'evi was also involved in the murder of Avraham Edri, whose body was found in the Ramot Forest in 1990, but the focus of the investigation against him then moved to his alleged involvement in Shitrit’s abduction and murder. Ze'evi invoked his right to remain silent during questioning and did not cooperate with his interrogators.
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Ze'evi’s lawyer, Slava Rodenko, said in response that his client “denies the suspicions against him and insists on his innocence. Mr. Ze'evi left the Shuvu Banim community many years ago and since then he has been persecuted to the point of endangering his wellbeing and security. Anyone present at his remand hearing who read the indictment knows that the suspicions against Mr. Ze'evi are based on the sole testimony of one of the members of the community (Baruch Sharvit), who received an order from the community’s rabbi about a month ago at that famous meeting at the jail.”
The meeting in question was when the police held a confrontation between Sharvit and Berland, after which Sharvit confessed to his part in the murder and said the rabbi had asked him to “tell everything.” Afterwards, Berland retracted his statements and his lawyers said that he had made them to satisfy his interrogators.
Ze'evi’s lawyer added: “As the recent court hearings show, the investigation is full of difficulties and raises major questions, among them the veracity of the sole witness and his intentions. After receiving and studying the investigative material Mr. Ze'evi will fight for his innocence and good name with all his might in court, and he hopes justice will be served.”
The case was reopened last year following an investigative report by Shani Haziza of Kan Broadcasting television, who discovered that the background of Shitrit’s disappearance and Edri’s murder was their romantic involvement with women. Ze'evi, who was interviewed for the investigation, refused to relate to Shitrit’s brother’s request to reveal the place of Shitrit’s burial, which in unknown to this day. Ze'evi did, however, admit that the affair was connected to the Shuvu Banim sect.
“I don’t know how the story of Shitrit is connected to me,” Ze'evi said at the time, “I’m not cooperating on anything connected to Shuvu Banim.”
When another suspect in the affair was asked as part of the television investigative report about Ze'evi’s involvement he said: “When you mention names I can’t cooperate.”
Edri’s murder, also attributed to Shuvu Banim members, has still not been solved. Most of the suspects, including Berland and a mayor whose name is under a gag order, have not been placed on trial at this time because the statute of limitations applies to their alleged offenses.
On Thursday, all the suspects in the affair were released to house arrest except for Berland, who was returned to prison to continue serving his sentence for financially exploiting his followers. The police believe that one of the main suspects in the murder is a man who died of COVID last month in Poriya Hospital in Tiberias.