‘This is terrorism’ – Galilee business owners decry Arab extortion rackets

Business owner receives WhatsApp from organized crime gang demanding more than $100,000, threatening that his family and business will be harmed should he refuse to pay up.

By Adina Katz, World Israel News

Small business owners in Israel’s northern Galilee region spoke out about a widespread atmosphere of fear in the area, as organized crime gangs force proprietors to pay thousands of shekels in so-called “protection fees” or risk seeing their businesses torched.

The owner of a newly opened bed-and-breakfast in the city of Tzfat, who spoke to Ynet anonymously due to threats against his family’s lives, said he had received a threatening WhatsApp message from an extortioner.

They demanded a large sum of money, stating that the man and his children would be killed should he refuse to pay up.

“No one can help you, idiot, and if you ignore us, you’ll pay for it. You are in our crosshairs. If you talk to anyone, you and your daughters are gone. You have a debt of 400,000 shekels [$108,000],” the message read.

The victim told Ynet that business owners are “going through a crazy hell here” and equated the the extortion rackets with terrorism.

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“They are really terrorizing us, killing our souls. It’s a death sentence,” he said.

“I can’t leave the house after ten at night – because of this human scum, my wife and kids are afraid to be at home alone.”

Several weeks ago, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir pledged to protect business owners and crack down on extortion, ordering a raid of a Bedouin town that is home to some of the organized crime rackets.

A new law proposed by Ben-Gvir, which will set a mandatory minimum term of three years in prison for people found guilty of attempting to extort small businesses, will be presented in the Knesset on Wednesday for a first reading.

Last month, Israeli police filed an indictment against two brothers from an organized crime gang who burned down a small hotel and torched cars in a privately-owned parking lot that had refused to pay extortion money.

But to the owner of the bed-and-breakfast, the authorities aren’t doing enough to combat the phenomenon.

“I contacted the police, but I feel like they’re doing nothing,” he told Ynet.

“They didn’t even bother to trace the number that I received the threats from. The [criminals] feel like they’re invincible, that they can do whatever. And [business owners] feel that there’s no one helping us.”

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