Yoel Zilberman

Protection money terrorism, an existential threat to Israel

For the past seven months, the protests in Israel have been dominating the headlines daily — where roads will be blocked, what business executives have said about the continuation of the protests, and how the legislative process is expected to proceed. While the nation’s agenda has mainly been focused on these matters, the Israeli public must not forget that protection money and agricultural crime are still present, especially in the periphery, but not exclusively. The issue of property rights and personal security in Israel cannot be allowed to escape from the headlines. While the government has been rushing towards legislating new bills, there are farmers who suffer daily from terrorism, yes, terrorism. The issue of protection money plagues the agricultural lands of Israel and has long transcended a niche security concern; it is a form of terrorism that hurts the civilians that work Israel’s lands day after day. They also deserve that their pain will be voiced on the streets.

The lack of governance in the periphery and personal security did not start yesterday; it is a painful topic that has been occupying HaShomer HaChadash since its early days. What began with just farmers has turned into a tremendous epidemic of crime across the entire country, with deep roots in industrial areas, construction sites, and now even in the center of cities. Not many know the true scope, but the protection fees economy and the black market that surrounds it, is a crime empire that generates 150 billion shekels — 10% of the banking activity of the State of Israel.

The Israeli government does not have a comprehensive strategic plan that will address this dangerous matter and be managed as required by the prime minister. A strategic plan is required for personal security for the citizens of Israel because it is not possible for business owners to have to pay double taxes — legal taxes to the state alongside taxes to criminal organizations.

In southern and northern Israel, 70 percent of businesses pay protection money fees — and that only accounts for those who report it. Today, even in Ramle and Lod, hair salons have been closed due to the costs of paying expensive protection fees. Protection money is an issue everywhere, even central Israel. Unfortunately, we are also aware of local authorities struggling to resist paying these dangerous criminals.

Recently, another incident of arson was reported in Kfar Shamai. Four horses were burned to death and a mow was burnt to ashes. The damage was estimated at hundreds of thousands of shekels — and the farmer? The farmer was left with a bullet magazine on his fence as a warning for what’s to come. Unfortunately, the law enforcement and punishment are not enough to combat this successfully, the judges of Israel need to tour the agricultural lands, meet the farmers who are suffering and understand their pain.

While we pushed with all our will to create institutional deterrence mechanisms, we understand that Israel decided to adopt a more tolerant approach: accepting the crime and not taking responsibility about the state’s security and lack of governance. On rare occasions, the country does very minor and superficial actions that often encourage the phenomenon to expand; groups of criminals gain money from charging protection money, cultivating drugs and smuggling weapons — earning billions of shekels that enable them to purchase entire neighborhoods in Israel. In an unimaginable period of time, groups of criminals managed to make an “exit” from threats and harassment and became rich under the custody of Israel, having violated the covenant with its citizens and created a double mechanism of paying taxes as can be seen in third world countries.

In reality, the topic of governance requires getting “up close and personal” with the “enemy within” – an issue that many of the state’s leaders shied away from. We feel more comfortable talking about the “enemy outside” that is far, behind borders and fences, But the enemy within brings up complex emotions and creates constant tensions in local communities. Over the years, we saw people avoiding this problem because it is not “politicly correct.” When you don’t face your problems, they blow up in your face, and when you do, you can make a real difference, corrections that do not only come in the form of sticks, but also carrots that can build trust and communication. As long as we refrain from doing that, the situation will only get worse.

The public wants to see the government and law enforcement authorities stand against terror – not against their citizens, with actions – not fancy words. The Israeli public chooses personal security repeatedly, wanting to be protected and free in its country, the Israeli citizens are done being afraid every time they open a business, build a house, plant a grove, or drive in the Negev, they want to see that there is someone that will stand against vigilantes. It cannot be fathomed that in a modern country lawlessness, lack of deterrence, and above all, lack of punishment is so present. This is the for the government to stand behind its promises and give the citizens of Israel their sense of security back, just like it did with the Abraham Accords and Iran.

The travesty that is protection money isn’t some distant concern; it is everywhere and the country owes it to its citizens to take immediate care of it, but until the government finally wakes up, civil organizations including HaShomer HaChadash will continue to do what it can to protect the civilians of Israel.

Working the land and making the desert bloom was in the hearts of pioneers who built the land on which we stand. The land was not only a source of livelihood; It was a goal and a vocation. Even before the idea of establishing a Jewish state was set, building the land of Israel and the redemption of its lands was the true goal of the first pioneers.

The soil remembers everything, wars, violence, crime, and the cries of its farmers who work it every day. We will continue working so it will know better days.

About the Author
Yoel Zilberman is the founder and CEO of HaShomer HaChadash.
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