Investigator recommended shelving Teitel case
In 1997, Jack Teitel was an American tourist who rented a car, murdered a man and fled Israel. In 2000, a lie detector test led to his release. Documents obtained by Ynet reveal police and Shin Bet's failure in getting their hands on Jewish terrorist for 12 years
"Jack Teitel rented a three-door white Fiat Punto car on the day of the murder. He was located at the scene of the murder a day after the murder. He gave the rental company a false arrest. He provided a false alibi about his whereabouts at the time of the murder. He drove only 208 kilometers in the car – the distance matching a drive from Jerusalem to (the settlement of) Susia and back. And he bought a flight ticket back the United States only three days after the murder, although he had planned to fly two weeks later, according to a conversation. This matter must be emphasized."
These were the remarks made by Police Supervisor Yaron Shitrit, head of the special investigation team in the Judea District, when summarizing the investigation of the murder of Issa Jibril Musaf, a Palestinian shepherd from Khribet Dirat in South Mount Hebron. The murder took place near the settlement of Carmel.
Despite these clear findings, the recommendation was to shelve the case. The suspected murderer was put on trial only 12 years later. In the meantime, he continued his campaign of violence and attempted murders, which luckily did not claim additional lives.
Documents obtained by Ynet from the thick investigation material against Teitel reveal an almost incomprehensible picture. The police and the Shin Bet had signs which would be hard to interpret in two different ways, and yet the murderer got away. The transcripts from the investigations of the Jewish terrorists, who had murdered Arab taxi driver Samir Akram Balbisi in Jerusalem even before that incident, are also revealed.
In the same document summarizing the investigation on October 1997, three months after Musaf's murder, in a clause titled "matters which have yet to be completed, Shitrit referred to Teitel alone and to the fact that he had managed to leave Israel "for an unknown reason," but wrote that the day he entered Israel he would be interrogated.
He also noted that a letter had been sent to the police representatives in the United States in order to collect details about him. The Israel Police were apparently about to lay their hands on the culprit, but the bottom line comes two clauses later: "At this stage, and as we have no findings and evidence leading to the suspect, we recommended shelving the case." The reason: "An unknown criminal."
Witness: He said he murdered 2
A specification of the findings in other documents from the same investigation noted that a filmed reenactment was carried out with a witness to the Musaf murder at the scene of the crime. The witness had pointed at a Fiat Punto car and said that was the exact vehicle he had seen.
"The car stopped and the driver, a tourist, was questioned about the incident, provided an alibi and was released." A sample of shooting signs was taken from the vehicle. The tourist was Jack Teitel, who was then only an American citizen.
In another section, Shitrit reports of a Susia resident who refuted the alibi provided by Teitel, who said he had been at the family's home. Head of the investigation team wrote that "the matter must be checked thoroughly."
One of the required actions stated in the report was "locating the American tourist and collecting a second testimony – due to the contradictions in his testimony. We are talking about Jack Teitel." But Teitel was already far away, in the United States.
Three weeks later, on September 1, 1997, Shitrit reported that a request has been sent to the Interpol to locate Teitel's picture. He was declared a person wanted for interrogation. Inquiries at the border crossings revealed that he had left Israel on August 11, 1997. An inquiry with the credit company revealed that Teitel had made a purchase at the Defense weapons store. Eventually, however, the investigator recommended that the case be "shelved".
The next development in the investigation, according to the documents, took place on July 1999, when an American citizen by the name of Y.R. was arrested and questioned, and told the investigators about several meetings he had with Teitel.
In one of the meetings, in the summer of 1997, Teitel told him that he had murdered two people and stabbed another one – once in Jerusalem and once in the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai. He said he had rented a car and drove it to Beit Hagai, searched for an Arab guy, shot him and killed him with a gun. Teitel said he had brought the gun from America, but refused to show it.
Additional documents reveal that on July 25, 1999, an arrest warrant was issued against Teitel for 24 hours. On May 12, 2000, he arrived in Israel and was arrested at Ben-Gurion Airport, jailed, and questioned by the Shin Bet for the first time. He denied any involvement in the murder and provided explanations to the suspicions against him.
'Said you could kill a man from 200 meters'
Teitel returned in order to immigrate to Israel, presumably because he did not believe anyone was following him. That wasn't accurate, but it also wasn't far from the truth. The Shin Bet gave him a polygraph test, and according to the police, promised to release him if it would reveal that he was speaking the truth. That was what happened, and despite the police's weak insistence, he was set free.
Even earlier, in a memo from May 18, 2000, Investigator Ze'evi Federman Pini reported of a conversation with Teitel. "Today, during our ride from the court in Petah Tikva to the detention facility in Ariel… during the conversation Jack told me that he had almost enlisted in the police and had studied criminology for two years and was familiar with investigation methods.
"We also spoke about weapons and the army… He explained to me how to fire with an M-16 and how to squeeze the trigger, showing me how to breathe, and also showed me the upper pad of the finger, which he said should be used to squeeze the trigger. He also told me that he had purchased an AK-47 Kalashnikov rifle and that he could distinguish between the shooting sound of the Kalashnikov and M-16. Jack told me I could kill a man from 200 meters (656 feet) away with my M-16," the investigator said.
In a discussion about his arrest several days later, it was written that during his interrogation by the Shin Bet he was meant to stay in detention in Petah Tikva, but due to lack of room, he was transferred to the Ariel Police, where he was put in a cell with five Palestinian prisoners. The investigators were no aware of this, and asked for a separation only after the discussion.
'Messianic activity worse than murder of Jews'
Teitel was arrested again only nine years later. Until then, he had managed – according to the indictment – to try to murder a few more people. He planted explosive devices which injured Palestinians and explosive charges near police cars; seriously wounded teenager Ami Ortiz or Ariel, the son of a messianic family, with an explosive device disguised as a Purim gift basket; and injured Prof. Ze'ev Sternhell with a pipe bomb placed at the entrance to his Jerusalem home.
Teitel's drawing of one of his actions from investigation material
The documents include summaries of his interrogations from October this year. One of the issues he was asked about was attacks he had planned but did not execute.
He said he had thought about targeting Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer, but did not have enough time to inquire about him. A month after an explosive device was detonated outside Prof. Sternhell's home, Teitel was taken in for questioning by the Shin Bet and halted his activity.
"It's possible that had he not been summoned to that meeting, he would have continued his actions against other people, and Yariv was a good candidate," said the police memorandum about Teitel. One of his other plans was to target leaders of the homosexual and lesbian community in Jerusalem.
He noted in his interrogation that he was ready to continue his activity and kill more Arabs, and had already planned to target "a senior Palestinian official" several weeks before the gay pride parade, in order to cause tensions and even bloodshed between the two people, hopefully prompting the police to call off the parade.
He had also planned to murder a Palestinian and film his execution in order to lead to bloodshed which would prompt the police to call off the parade.
As for the explosive device in the Ortiz family home, Teitel explained that their activity was worse than the murder of Jews, and the Jews following them have no afterlife.
According to the investigation material, "He regretted the fact that the son was injured by the explosive charge. He wanted to kill the parents. He said the attack conveyed a strong message about missionaries."
He also told his investigators that he did not regret what he did and that "he felt he had reached an achievement by killing the two people." He also justified the actions of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's murderer, Yigal Amir, and had a lot of appreciation for Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslims in the Cave of the Patriarchs.
In some of his interrogations, he said he was afraid he would have to compensate the victims' families if they decided to file a civil claim again him. Such a lawsuit was indeed filed following the criminal indictment.
Teitel told his investigators he likes to write, and he may write books from prison, including about his actions. After being allowed to walk free for 12 year, he has definitely accumulated enough material for a book.