HomeMay 2012Between Paris and Tel Aviv

Between Paris and Tel Aviv

It’s been just seven months since Lee Zeitouni, 25, a vivacious student in Tel Aviv was killed in a hit-and-run accident that has ruffled relations between France and Israel.

Both the driver and passenger of the black BMW that mowed down Zeitouni early Friday morning, September 16, 2011, were French citizens. Within four hours of the crash — before police had traced the damaged vehicle to the parking lot of their upscale Tel Aviv apartment — the two fled with their families to France.

To date, the two perpetrators of the crime are walking free in France — a fact that has incensed many Israelis who want to see the two prosecuted and sentenced in Israel, and see it as another example of criminals fleeing from Israeli justice. The problem? France has no extradition treaty with Israel and will only extradite its citizens to European Union member states. French authorities have stated that, if requested, they will arrest and try the two men, but, as yet, no formal request has been received from the Israeli authorities. Zeitouni’s family and friends insist that the men be sent back to Israel where they will be subject to far harsher sentences.

Claude Isaac Khayat, 40, and Eric Rubic, 38, had been living in Israel with their families but are not Israeli citizens. Both men allegedly have a history of involvement with some of Israel’s most notorious criminal clans — Khayat allegedly had ties to crime boss Charlie Abutbul — and since their return to France, Khayat was arrested for speeding and released after paying a fine.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities are reportedly continuing their investigation into the case, although details of the investigation have been placed under a gag order. A spokesperson for Israel’s Justice Ministry said that officials from the state attorney’s department of international affairs have visited France and are cooperating in the ongoing investigation.

At a January 3 session of the Knesset Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, several MKs asked officials from the state attorney’s office about the progress of the investigation but were told they could not comment. Committee chair Danny Danon (Likud) promised to demand a closed meeting to investigate why the investigation is dragging on.

An active public campaign headed by Lee Zeitouni’s boy friend Roy Peled is quickly gathering support via Facebook (Justice for Lee) and through a series of actions designed to galvanize public support to force a change in the law and to extradite Khayat and Roubi.

Roy Peled says that 83 Knesset members have so far expressed their support, and he believes the lobbying efforts are beginning to bear fruit. “People in Israel and in France are waking up,” he said. An online petition demanding the suspects be extradited to Israel has almost 41,000 signatories to date.

“We’ve also started a lobby movement to recruit support in France,” Peled said, noting that many French parliamentarians tell him that the existing law is “ridiculous.”

Peled traveled to France in December and in a widely-aired segment of the popular Ilana Dayan “Uvda” (Facts) Israel TV investigative journalism show, managed to get Khayat on tape admitting that he drove the vehicle that killed Zeitouni and subsequently fled the country.

During the visit, Peled tried to convince Khayat to agree to be tried in Israel, but Khayat rejected the idea, telling Peled, “Even if I spent 100 years in an Israeli jail it wouldn’t bring Lee back.” For Peled and the Zeitouni family, anything less than seeing the criminals serve time in Israel “won’t let us or Lee rest in peace.”

Lee’s father, Itzik, a member of Kibbutz Neve Or where Lee grew up, has also visited France to ask for the suspects to be extradited. Zeitouni urged French Jews to support the campaign, saying, “Our aim is to ask those who caused Lee’s death, and the community in which they live, to shoulder the responsibility of their act. We turn to you so that an end can be put to this injustice. Their behavior has to be absolutely reprimanded; they must be excluded, banished. They must be tried in Israel and punished according to Israeli laws and customs.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has weighed in on the case and said that those who killed Lee Zeitouni “are accountable” to justice, but he stressed that France doesn’t extradite its nationals.

In a speech to the annual dinner of the representative group of French Jewry last January, Sarkozy raised the extradition issue.

“I want justice not just for the family but also for them,” Sarkozy said, adding that France doesn’t extradite its citizens. “There is no exception to this principle,” he stressed.

“But if the family of this young girl and the Israeli government file a lawsuit in France, then the suspects will be brought to justice here immediately,” he said.

“We must not let this crime go unpunished,” the President concluded.

For Roy Peled and an increasing number of Israelis, bringing legal proceedings against people who have committed serious crimes in Israel to justice in a foreign country is not in the cards.

Peled hopes to activate public opinion in the same way as the campaign for Gilad Shalit successfully raised consciousness and led to intense pressure on the government to come to terms with Shalit’s captors.

“Once Lee’s killers are brought to justice here, we will continue the struggle for other victims of hit-and-run tragedies and to make criminals accountable where they commit crimes,” pledged Peled.

To raise funds for the huge legal costs involved in the campaign, the Justice for Lee Committee’s next event will be an art show in Tel Aviv featuring the best of Israel’s artists who will all donate their work to benefit the effort.

Justice for Lee

Contributions can
be made to:
Tsedek Bishvili at:
Justice for Lee
Shahar Israel st. 822
Rehovot. 76450

Iban: IL 120111470000110926333

The non-profit organization association number: 580551067
Discount bank, branch number 147, Tel-Aviv, Israel.

Account number: 39962

The association is under legal advice of Dr. Y. Weinroth and Co. Law office and is managed under the supervision of Y. Gabay Accountants.


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