For Israeli Ex-cons, Crime Pays

For years, freed prisoners designated as needy have been given business premises to help them rejoin society. This dubious system is regularly abused by the ex-cons - and government ministries are clueless.

A criminal - Shushan Barbi, for example - is released from prison. In order to enable him to earn a decent living, the municipality gives him a kiosk for free or maybe for virtually nothing. Afterward, he expands his business and also takes over adjacent public space. The municipality turns a blind eye. This is not an isolated incident but rather part of a real system that reveals what seems to be a legitimate connection between local government and the underworld.

The cover name of the system is "rehabilitating prisoners": By law a local authority can decide that a criminal who has just been released from prison is in financial need - and provide him with employment. He can be given gardening work, for instance, but also a stall or a property owned by the municipality. Such "employment" is provided without the supervision of the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, the Interior Ministry or the Prisoner Rehabilitation Authority. It is granted without limitations, for many years, and sometimes is even transfered by inheritance to the next generations.

Twenty-nine years ago the Bat Yam municipality gave released prisoner Shlomo Nir a license to operate a kiosk on Hadekalim Beach for 10 years. The original contract prohibited the transfer of rights of the property to someone else, but despite that it was transfered to his wife, Rachel Nir. Later the couple were promised that after 10 years they would become protected tenants.

A document in the possession of Haaretz, written this year by the legal adviser of the Bat Yam municipality, attorney Hannah Cohen, indicates that the agreement to confer the status of protected tenants "has no legal basis or any grounding in the language of the contract." Cohen adds that the document was not even approved by the city council or the Interior Ministry, and that throughout the years the couple failed to pay property tax or rent at the site, and even committed building violations.

Nir died in 1997 and the property, controlled by his wife, was leased to others. About half a year ago this case was brought before a municipal council meeting that was supposed to approve the protected tenancy status, but it was removed from the agenda.

The Bat Yam municipality's response: Permission to use this municipal property was given in 1983, according to an agreement signed illegally at the time. As part of extensive activity to establish order among city-owned properties that were handed over for use decades ago, the municipality decided that the case of Nir would be sent for a decision by the city council and the approval of the interior minister. The municipality is opposed to allocating real estate to rehabilitate prisoners. Since Shlomi Lahiani was elected mayor in Bat Yam, no land has been allocated for that purpose.

The stall expanded

Many local authorities claim that giving a former criminal a chance to open a business like this doesn't happen anymore. But at least in Netanya and Hadera it has apparently continued even in the past decade. For example, Shushan Barbi, 32, who is suspected of killing three women in a hit-and-run accident in Netanya two weeks ago, was given the opportunity to set up a stall in a city market as part of a rehab program. In 2005 he received premises on Ben Zvi Street free of charge, from the Netanya municipality, in order to build a kiosk on it.

Itzik Ben-Malki
Nimrod Glickman