JERUSALEM – Israeli restaurateurs are shocked and angry over revelations that a gang of eastern Jerusalem Palestinians sold them smuggled, unsupervised meat for years.
Nine people were arrested on allegations of being part of the gang on Monday morning. They allegedly forged expiry dates, slaughtering dates, and kosher certifications for the meat products.
The suspects were arrested following a combined investigation by the Israel Police, as well as the Ministry of Agriculture, Tax Authority, and Ministry of Health.
A factory in the neighborhood of Atarot, a Jewish part of eastern Jerusalem, was apparently the main distribution point into Israel for the smuggled meat.
Officers from the Israel Police on Tuesday confiscated more than 20 tons of meat from the factory.
The smuggled meat was allegedly purchased by a Palestinian importer in a South American country, then shipped to the Haifa port in northern Israel. It was transferred to a storage facility in the West Bank and then smuggled into Israel, often in trucks unfit to transport packed meat and without supervision from Ministry of Health inspectors.
“The gang used special methods and they were quite careful,” an official who was part of the investigation told the Ynet news website.
“They smuggled the meat inside double walls in small trucks. This is a serious issue. Conditions of storing meat in the Palestinian Authority are different to conditions in Israel,” the official said.
At the Atarot factory, the meat was repackaged and its manufacturing date, expiry date, and kosher certification reprinted.
Some of Israel’s top restaurants were mentioned among the victims who purchased the bad meat.
Haim Cohen, owner of Tel Aviv’s famous Dixie restaurant and a celebrity judge on the reality show Master Chef, said on Tuesday that his restaurant was offered the smuggled meat but his workers could tell it was of inferior quality and did not buy it.
“I am proud of my crew who managed to see through it, that the meat was not good. It was tested but never sold in the restaurant,” Cohen told Ynet.
Cohen pointed an accusing finger at the police and the Ministry of Agriculture, who after revealing the fraud named several restaurants that were clients of the Atarot factory.
They accuse me of bringing in meat from the Palestinian Authority. They didn’t come to my fridges, didn’t check, never found anything. They didn’t call me and say, “Mr. Cohen there are suspicions that so and so, please come down to the station.” … Whole trucks enter [Israel] with double walls; where are the police? These could have been explosive trucks, trucks carrying terrorists. … And to the Agriculture Ministry inspector I say: If someone was an accomplice, say so and arrest them, but please consider the [restaurant owners] who are also victims in this.
Cohen said he did not believe any of his colleagues knowingly bought the faulty meat.
Apart from the meat confiscated, police impounded vehicles and thousands of shekels in cash. They said they will also interrogate dozens of clients who bought meat from the factory. They added that more arrests are forthcoming.