Ten Judges Under Police Protection Due to Death Threats

Senior justice system official: Criminal organizations strong enough to act on threats of bodily harm against judges.

Ten judges are currently receiving police protection due to threats on their lives by criminal elements, sources involved in this protection said Thursday.

The protection given to the judges in question, by both the police and the unit that provides security to the courts, varies depending on the threat level, the sources said. In some cases, the decision to provide security to a judge derives not from a specific threat, but from the assessment that criminal defendants whose cases are pending before a given judge might attempt to influence the outcome by threatening the judge.

Three judges have received the maximum level of protection over the past two years, due to specific threats on their lives by crime organizations: Tel Aviv District Court Judge George Karra, who convicted the top members of the Hariri crime organization; Jerusalem District Court Judge Hana Ben-Ami, who convicted senior figures in the Abutbul crime family; and Haifa District Court Judge Kamal Saab, who was threatened by a major local crime organization.

A senior official in the justice system said Thursday that the criminal organizations are considered "strong enough and serious enough" to act on their threats of bodily harm against judges, and law enforcement agencies are therefore treating the threats as credible.

Once, Israeli crime organizations viewed attacks on law enforcement officials as a red line that should not be crossed. However, the July 2004 murder of Tel Aviv District Court Judge Adi Azar was allegedly carried out by a prisoner on furlough from his life sentences.

And while a gag order still prevents publication of details about the murder of attorney Yoram Hacham nine months ago, police officials said on the night of the murder that a falling out between Hacham and the crime organization he represented was the reason for the killing.

Security around Judge Karra was tightened significantly in March 2007, after he imposed harsh sentences on the leaders of the Hariri-Iyat gang from Jaljulia, near Kfar Sava. The gang terrorized businessmen in the Sharon region.

Jamal Iyat, a key figure in the case, was sentenced to 15 years in prison, two years' probation and a fine of NIS 50,000. Eyad Iyat, another key defendant, received a 14-year sentence, as well as a two-year suspended sentence and a NIS 50,000 fine. Thirteen other defendants received sentences ranging from one to 11 years.

Since that verdict was issued, police have patrolled the area around Karra's house, and the bomb squad regularly inspects his car and those of his relatives. This past February, security was further tightened around Karra following receipt of an intelligence tip about a plan to harm him.

Then, on Sunday, a 28-year-old Jaffa resident with a record of property offenses, managed to steal the security camera outside of Karra's home.

In a video clip that found its way to the Internet in October 2007, Karra spoke of the security around him: "Your life as a a private person, is over the minute you are threatened. It means 24-hour a day security. You have no privacy. You can't even listen to the music you like in your car. "

Courts spokeswoman Eilat Filo said Thursday that the courts administration and its security unit would not cooperate with this report.