Jewish man at kotel
Jewish man at kotelFlash 90

Just like in Capone-era Chicago, Israelis visiting the Kotel have been forced in recent months to pay money demanded of them by a “protection racket” based in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem – or risk damage to their cars, or persons.

Police have launched an investigation, and several members of the gang were recently arrested – but the gang is still operating, witnesses said.

The gang works outside the Dung Gate, the entrance to the Old City that leads directly to the Kotel, according to the Kikar Hashabbat website. The gate is used by thousands of people daily, and is the main access point for tourists, many arriving by bus or rented car.

Parking on the street is usually difficult to find, with the spots near the entrance usually taken by buses and security vehicles. Drivers of rented cars and Israelis arriving in their own vehicles usually need to park some distance away from the gate – out of view of police and security officers. It is these drivers that the gang targets, offering them some “friendly advice to pay a security fee to 'watch' their vehicle,” said one security source.

It's truly “an offer they can't refuse,” because if they do, the visitors often find their vehicles damaged when they return – and the gang awaiting them, giving them a beating for failing to pay up.

So far, two residents of the Silwan neighborhood, aged 17 and 20, have been arrested, after an undercover agent who tried to park his vehicle outside the Gate was approached and offered “protection.” The officer identified himself and the two started to run, but he was able to catch them.

Police said they expect to make further arrests in the case.