Meir Deutsch of Regavim
Meir Deutsch of RegavimIsrael National News

Speaking at a real estate conference in Eilat, Meir Deutsch, director of the Regavim organization, discussed the phenomenon of paying protection money to criminal groups in Israel, and the effect this is having on society in general.

"This is a problem that is entirely different from how people envision it," Deutsch told Israel National News. "It has reached the stage where it threatens the personal security of regular Israeli citizens, and I don't mean just in the Negev. 85 percent of Israel's building contractors across the country are paying protection money. This drives house prices up, and it also affects agriculture, businesses, and service providers.

"People think that protection is when someone threatens you with a gun, demanding to get money or he'll shoot. That's not the case; it doesn't work like that. What happens is that if someone opens a cell phone store in Beer Sheva, a young man walks into the store to congratulate him on the occasion and then gives him a calling card, telling him that, 'Lately, there's been a wave of fires and here's the number of a great security company. So long.' That's it, and if the store owner calls the number on the card, then he'll pay the 'company's' fee and cover his expenses in the prices he charges to his customers. If, on the other hand, he doesn't call the number, then his store will be burned down.

"These days, however, people don't even need that visit," Deutsch notes. "When a new contractor comes to town right away he makes sure to find out who needs paying. People just want peace and quiet and to make sure that no one's going to steal their equipment, so they pay up. It's a simple equation."

Deutsch stresses that this is going on all over the country, with cases occurring even in the upscale Katamon neighborhood in Jerusalem. "There are entire families who make a living off this," he describes. "When Aryeh Shiff's car was stolen and he shot the thief, the thief's wife was interviewed and she was heard demanding that the state support her now that her family's breadwinner was no longer earning. These crime families view protection as their income. And we're not talking about families with three or four members - it's clans of dozens of people."

Deutsch further describes how the police and courts are seemingly helpless in the face of this development and need to develop unconventional means of dealing with it. "We need to involve the Shabak," he says. "The Shabak knows how to find terrorists and it can also manage to locate those who run these protection rings and see that they're put behind bars."

Regavim has put together a comprehensive plan including all relevant factors and legal aspects concerning the issue. One of the points relates to the Interior Ministry which registers the place of residence of Bedouin Arabs simply as their tribes, which extend over more than a hundred kilometers square, meaning in practice that it is impossible to locate them. "People's ID cards should contain a clear address where the person can be found," Deutsch says.