September 24, 2018

The Shin Bet Agent Transformed by Tragedy

A personal tragedy that befell Shin Bet security agent Roy Peled sparked a diplomatic spat between Israel and France, and changed the course of his life.

In 2011, when Peled was 27, his 25-year-old girlfriend, Lee Zeitouni, was killed in a hit-and-run accident in Tel Aviv as she was crossing the road on her way to work. The driver, Eric Robic, had been drinking in a club before driving more than twice the speed limit. A dual French-Israeli national, Robic fled to Paris.

Peled embarked on a three-year journey to extradite Robic and his passenger, Claude Khayat, to Israel. His dogged campaign sparked a media firestorm, which reached the upper echelons of the French and Israeli governments. Robic was later found to have had nefarious dealings with the mafia, but the extradition requests were ultimately denied. 

Peled was in Poland when he received the life-shattering news that Lee was dead. The couple had just moved in together and were “madly in love,” he said. Peled’s professional life was also on a secure track where the near and distant future appeared to be on a standard trajectory, albeit in a job infused with the intrigue and jet-setting lifestyle typical of careers in counterterrorism. 

In the wake of the accident, Peled became an expert on the law, international relations, public relations, diplomacy and social media. His team’s first step was to ensure the cause remained in the public consciousness. To achieve this, he exhausted all creative means, including flying drones over the French ambassador’s house and hanging giant banners proclaiming “Justice for Lee” from the Eiffel Tower.

“We became a machine,” Peled said. “But our only fuel was the people supporting us.”

Even though his efforts to extradite Robic to Israel ultimately failed, the Peled and Zeitouni families’ vigorous lobbying ensured the high-profile trial was moved to the courtroom in France where Marie Antoinette was sentenced. In 2014, Robic and Khayat were sentenced to five years and 15 months in prison, respectively.

Roy Peled flew drones over the French ambassador’s house and hung giant banners proclaiming “Justice for Lee” from the Eiffel Tower.

Does Peled feel like the crusade robbed him of the chance to mourn Lee properly?

“Grief is something that is very individual,” he said. “Each one of us is dealing with trauma in his own way. I realized that I needed to put emotions and feelings aside because really quickly it became something big. These guys [were] highly involved with the mafia, so I needed to be focused. Is that good enough? I don’t know who [gets] to decide that, but it worked for me.”

Peled used the skills he learned during his campaign to carve out a new career. Today, he lectures on leadership and organizational management, and is also a business consultant. 

He raised almost $120,000 shekels ($33,000) via a crowdfunding campaign to publish his book, “Only Good Things,” which, he said would be the closing chapter on the events that have defined his life for so many years.

“Like every story, [mine] evolves with time,” he said. “And now it’s time for me to move on to other things in my life. This story is over.” n