Nearly a decade has passed, but the deadly attack on an LGBT youth club in Tel Aviv remains a painful – and open – wound.
The shooting spree, which left two dead and 11 wounded, also remains a mystery: The Israeli police spent millions of shekels in a futile effort to find the masked gunman who fled the scene in August 2009.
Now, the shocking events in which Liz Trubeshi, 16, and Nir Katz, 27, were murdered are the backdrop to a thrilling true crime TV series called “Who Shot the Barnoar Kids?"
For the LGBT community, the Barnoar attack was a chilling reminder that, despite their increased visibility and progress on the legislative front, its members can still be a target for violence.
Some said the attack was motivated by homophobia and was intended to send a violent and silencing message to the entire community. Others maintained it was a revenge attack on the club's manager – Shaul Ganon (who was absent at the time of the murders), due to nonconsensual sexual contact he supposedly had with the alleged murderer's brother.
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A key figure in the series, Ganon is a fascinating character. Barnoar, located in the building of the Tel Aviv Gay and Lesbian Association in the center of Tel Aviv, provided a weekly support group for LGBT youth (most of those injured in the attack were minors).
Ganon - who was considered the protective "father figure" of the Barnoar kids – became, at an advanced stage of the investigation, the new focus of the probe. According to the testimony of former state’s witness Zaur Khankashiyev (a patron of Barnoar with a criminal past who is now serving time for obstruction of justice), Ganon raped Binyamin Felician, the brother of Hagai Felician – the man Khankashiyev tried to frame. Both Ganon and the Felicians adamantly deny. However, while being questioned in the investigation, Ganon admits – and this is shown in the series – that he had sexual relationships with many young men (none of them minors, he says), and that he kept a second cellphone for contacting them.
Early in the first episode, Ganon says older men used to hang out outside the club waiting for young patrons to leave and that he would go outside and chase them away. These men were looking for teenagers from troubled backgrounds whom they could “take under their wing” – which usually meant sex in exchange for various favors. Or, in other words, teen prostitution.
Lives have been ruined
The series strives to show the violent and dangerous consequences that can result from the need to lie about your sexual identity. But it doesn’t go so far as to make the connection between sexual orientation and sexual exploitation, and doesn’t shame all those men to the extent that they would never again dare to entice at-risk youth with promises of some sort of salvation in return for sex.
“We didn’t avoid the subject in the series,” says Avner Bernheimer, who created the show together with Idit Avrahami, Roni Manor and Noy Carmel. “We touched on it as much as we could. There are teenagers in the series who talk about older men who would hang around the Barnoar and wait in ambush for them. The thing is that no complaint was ever filed against the Barnoar or against any of the counselors there for sexual harassment or inappropriate relations. If there ever was a complaint filed, we didn’t learn of it, perhaps because minors were involved.
“And regarding the story that Shaul Ganon told the police, that he met with a young man in the offices of the association after hours – this young man was, as far as anyone knows, not someone who frequented the Barnoar. We couldn’t tell a story for which there is no proof and we didn’t want to invent guilty parties,” adds Bernheimer.
“Enough lives have been ruined by this whole thing. It’s not enough to gossip – you need to present facts, and we didn’t find those,” he says. “If there’s a problem of sexual exploitation between older and younger men in the community, of course that should be addressed. But we didn’t find proof of that in the Barnoar, aside from some unsubstantiated stories. And as I said, no formal complaints were filed.
“By the way,” he adds, “this is a problem that ought to be discussed in both the straight and LGBT communities. Older men exploiting young girls is just as disgraceful and possibly more widespread. It’s not something particular to the LGBT community.”
Bernheimer says two things spurred him to create the series: “I wanted to revive police interest in the case, which is an open wound in Israel society, in the LGBT community and for me personally. And I still think that the victims deserve to see the case solved so that they can move on, so that we can all move on. It was important to us to show the innocent youths who were hurt and are forever scarred. It was important to show that they – not Elor Azaria – are everyone’s children,” says Bernheimer, referring to the IDF soldier who garnered much public sympathy after being jailed for killing a wounded Palestinian assailant lying on the ground in Hebron. “It’s important to us that these boys and girls are known and treated like any victim of a terror attack.”
What did you think about Zaur Khankashiyev saying in the show that he could still bring the killer to the police now?
“He says more than that. He says he’s ready to back it up with evidence, and to pledge that if he is shown to be lying again, he’ll spend another 10 years in jail. I have it on tape,” says Bernheimer. “I believe him when he says something happened to him in the Barnoar and I believe that he has information about what happened there – but I don’t have proof, unfortunately. His lies may very well have brought us to the point where no one will ever believe him and no one will ever be convicted, unless he were to provide solid forensic evidence. In any event, the guy is a fantastic playwright. To me, the show is about ‘Zaur’s play.’”
You’re ready to trust someone who lied to the police and the prosecution?
“It’s always possible that he’s lying again, but why would he do that? He’s been in isolation for four years already,” says Bernheimer, referring to Khankashiyev’s imprisonment. “He’s suffering. He wants to turn over a new leaf.”
Didn’t the show’s creators want to say something more explicit about the potential murderer?
“We acted with journalistic responsibility. The police should go to Zaur and check again what he’s hiding and whom he’s protecting, and why. At worst, they’ll come away with nothing.”