The Health Ministry destroyed last week 750 kilograms (1,650 pounds) of meat at a well-known Netanya butcher. The move was only considered marginally newsworthy, but the raid on the butcher was one of the first fruits of the government’s emergency operation to address the problem of crime in the Arab community.
The law enforcement campaign is directed at Arab organized crime rings, which police believe are responsible for most of the shooting incidents and other violence in the country’s Arab towns. It is being led by the police and the Public Security Ministry. The surprise raid on the butcher shop was conducted by the Health Ministry, but behind the scenes, there was involvement from the State Prosecutor’s Office, the police, the Agriculture Ministry and the Israel Tax Authority.
And the shop wasn’t selected by chance. According to law enforcement sources, it is owned by the Abu Latif family, which the police consider one of the country’s main organized crime rings.
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The Abu Latifs, which operate mainly in the north, are one of three main crime organizations that law enforcement agencies are targeting. The other two are run by the Hariri family, which operates in the north and center of the country, and the Jarushi family, which operates in the center of Israel.
In light of the stepped up activity by the Israel Police, some of the groups’ leaders recently began operating from Turkey and Eastern Europe – until the storm passes. “Every business on the Tax Authority’s books will be examined – every bakery, every cement company, every piece of land, every site, every car,” a senior police officer vowed, “and with every means available.”
The resources devoted to the effort, which is being directed by Deputy Public Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz, are sizable. Every ministry and public agency with enforcement powers is participating, from the police to the finance and environmental protection ministries. The operation is expected to last about six months.
Aside from directly battling violent crime in the Arab community, the police are also hoping to inflict immediate financial damage on the organized crime rings.
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“To maintain an organization with foot soldiers, apartments, guards and salaries, you need a lot of money,” a senior police officer said. “Because it’s hard to put the organizations’ leaders in jail, you have to damage them financially. These organizations move millions of shekels, and the goal is to sever their economic backbones, to dry them up and undermine their operations.”
But the police understand that effectively fighting crime requires real achievements, such as the arrest of senior organization members. That can only be done by infiltrating undercover agents or getting lower-ranking organization members to turn state’s evidence.
“The day on which one of the organization’s leaders is brought out in handcuffs is closer than people think,” one senior police officer predicted.
Abu Latif: control of local government bids
The Abu Latif family lives in Rameh, in the north. Police say that most of the family’s hundreds of millions of shekels in annual revenue is derived directly or indirectly by controlling contracts awarded by Arab local governments and from protection money extorted from contractors. It also offers non-bank gray-market loans, deals in drugs and smuggles weapons.
“The organization has managed to penetrate local governments, and it effectively controls contracts and gets money from the state budget through companies it controls,” a senior police officer said. The group intimidates other contractors to keep them from bidding against companies it controls, the source added.
Police say there isn’t a single Druze town in Israel that the Abu Latif gang doesn’t control. It also controls some non-Druze towns in the north, including Yasif and Jadida Makr. A law enforcement source said the family controls businesses in several fields, from construction to butcher shops and olive imports.
“They make certain to bid on every contract from Arab towns in the north, while using threats and extortion,” a senior police officer added. “In practice, they control the north.” Its dozens of foot soldiers – many of them army veterans – also smuggle arms across the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. “People are terrified of them,” a senior police officer said.
The organization avoids fights with other crime groups, but it’s seeking to take over religious institutions and is trying to expand its activity in Turkey, where some of its leaders are currently living.
The Hariri organization: A third of gray-market loans
The Hariri group operates mainly in Umm al-Fahm in the north and farther south in the so-called Arab Triangle and the Sharon region. Its main revenue source is gray-market loans, and the police believe that it controls about a third of all such loans in Israel. Other revenue sources include protection money, proceeds from drug dealing and arms smuggling and fictitious investments in foreign currency.
Police have had trouble penetrating the organization, which also has ties to Jewish organized crime rings. That's partly because each family member has his own field of operations, and also because police haven’t uncovered disputes among family members.
“The organization is growing stronger in the Triangle region and the north and is acting very violently against business owners and against anyone who tries to stand up to them,” a senior police source said.
Police say the crime group has been behind a large number of killings and shooting incidents in the Haifa region over the last year, primarily in response to attempts by local gangs to take over businesses and criminal operations in Haifa and the Carmel region. On the other hand, the Hariris maintain good relations with the Abu Latif family.
“They can be seen at joint events. They go out together and are very careful not to come into conflict,” a law enforcement source said.
The gang is headed by Odeh Kuteir, a leading Arab criminal, as an arm of the Hariri organization, police say. Kuteir, who operates in the Jaljulia region and the center of the country, is currently in detention, but police say he is still running his criminal operations from inside prison.
The Jarushi crime group: Undermined from within
The Jarushi family, based in Ramle’s Juarish neighborhood, is considered the third most important Arab crime organization. It operates mainly in the Ramle and Lod regions, southeast of Tel Aviv, and its income comes mainly from bidding on infrastructure contracts awarded by government companies and local governments.
It also collects protection money from contractors and other companies involved in construction. It owns casinos in Eastern Europe and is involved in gray-market loans and gambling. In addition, it owns companies that sell cars, including luxury vehicles, and the police say the companies are used to launder money.
In the 1990s, the Jarushis were involved in a violent feud with the Karajeh clan, which also operated in the Ramle area. In the end, the Jarushis won out and the Karajehs moved to the north, strengthening the Jarushis in the process.
The Jarushis’ major problem now is the internal disputes among family members, which have already claimed several lives. The most noteworthy was Haitham Jarushi, one of the organization's leaders, who was stabbed to death in May while praying at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
A month later, three Jarushi family members – a man, a woman and their 16-year-old daughter – were killed on a highway junction in the north. The man’s brother is Zayed Jarushi, the head of the family, who is embroiled in a leadership battle with his cousins, Amir and Haitham.
The internal conflict is undermining the family’s status as a mediator in the Arab community. But despite its problems, it is still considered a major player.