Gil Gibli: "My assumption is that the victim does not remember these details."
Nir Kafri

Face value
By Ayelet Bechar

Gil Gibli rose from his seat almost joyfully, while waving his finger accusingly into the frightened face of the bus driver. "Aha!" he said. "You did look into the mirror! So you did see where he was sitting! Tell me, did he go more than halfway down? From what distance did you see him? Did you see his legs? Did you see his ankles? Tell me, tell me!"

For several days in September, an unusual series of meetings was held in the conference room of the business daily Globes. Gibli, the paper's illustrator, interrogated three people who were on Egged bus No. 830 to Tiberias on the morning of June 5. The bus exploded and went up in flames at the Megiddo Junction after a tremendous collision with a booby-trapped car driven by a suicide bomber. Seventeen of the passengers on the bus were killed and the others were injured. Each of the three witnesses - the driver, an officer on his way to his base, and a young woman who worked as a checker on the bus - sat with Gibli for six or seven hours. The purpose: to describe the faces of two other passengers, both of them men of about 40, one of whom was apparently killed. The composite sketch was meant to identify the man who was killed, whose body was not sought after or identified, and who was the first terror victim in Israel to be buried anonymously.

A film crew was also present in the meeting room: director David Ofek, photographer Ron Rotem and producer Elinor Kowarsky, of Eden Productions. "They were the ones who initiated the idea of preparing the two composite sketches - in coordination with the police - and turned to Gibli, who agreed to work on a volunteer basis. The meetings were filmed in their entirety as part of a documentary movie, entitled "Number 17 is Anonymous," about the campaign to discover the identity of the 17th casualty, a campaign that was successfully completed two weeks ago (see box).

Gibli was a tough interrogator. He demanded that the witnesses not think, not remember. Sometimes he reprimanded them, almost shouting. He demanded that they tell him the first thing that came into their heads. But also that they describe in minute detail the impression that remained of the two figures that they had seen for only an instant, people with whom they had spoken for a few seconds, one or two minutes at the most, three months earlier. At first it seemed hopeless.

The bus driver, Michael Arel, 61, remembered one of the anonymous passengers, but insisted that he didn't know where the man was sitting. Gibli managed to prove to him that he was mistaken. He didn't ask him directly about it, but asked about the passenger's hair. Arel managed to described the hair on the back of the unknown man's head. He said that the man's hair was lying flat. Gibli thought for a moment: What do you mean his hair was flat? That means that you saw him from the back.

After the additional barrage of questions - "Tell me, tell me!" - Arel remembered another important detail. "He [Gibli] attacked me in that way until I remembered, although I only saw him for one second," he recalls. "I only followed him in the mirror, how he went to sit, until he passed the back door and disappeared from view."

The vital piece of information was that the unknown man had chosen to sit at the back of the bus on the left, in other words, in the area where there were no survivors.

The meeting with Gibli and the preparation of the composite sketch was the beginning of the turning point in the filming. "It was clear to us that if I were to take the witnesses to the police station and to sit with a criminal identification technician in front of the computer, nothing would come of it," says Ofek, the director. "A long time had passed, and none of the witnesses believed that he had the image of the two passengers in his memory. They had a general recollection, but they really didn't believe that they could draw a composite sketch from it."

At the police's national headquarters, they explained the difference between the computerized method of work, which connects the facial details into a composite sketch, and the work of an artist (see box). The artist "brings the person back to that moment," says producer Kowarsky, "and tries to reconstruct the general impression. That's how we got to Gibli, who had already worked with the police several times."

But nothing prepared the crew for the first meeting with Gibli.

Kowarsky: "I spoke to him several times over the phone, and I had a certain impression of the guy. It was very far from what we discovered when we came to meet him. Suddenly, I see an ultra-Orthodox man. Out of confusion I put out my hand, but he bowed to me and said: `Sorry, I'm a religious man.' This surprise was only a sign of things to come. The way in which he worked, and his amazing ability to draw out the image from the driver and to put it on paper astonished me, astonished the driver himself. We simply sat there fascinated."

The religious kibbutznik

Gibli, 45, declares with a bit of pride that it's impossible to label him and, indeed, that it never was possible: He is a kibbutznik who became religious, the son of a fighter, an artist who studied in New York and does illustrations for a financial newspaper, a jazz critic - and, in recent years, a successful police artist.

He became religious 19 years ago, and now lives in Bnei Brak with his wife and their five children. In New York he worked as the assistant to political caricaturist Ra'anan Lurie, and he came to Globes in 1998, when it was decided to add illustrations to the paper. He does portraits of people to accompany news stories, and writes a weekly jazz column as well for the daily.

"The fact that I'm religious doesn't interfere with my work here," he says with a smile. "All in all, it's not such a bad newspaper, because all the sins mentioned in it, such as fraud and embezzlement, appear in the Mishna [Jewish Oral Law] as well."

While admitting that his occupation is quite surprising to "our community," he immediately retreats from what he has said in embarrassment, because "What is `our'? The ultra-Orthodox? The newly religious? I don't know." In any case, Gibli seems to have become accustomed to being an exception in any group he's with, and even quite enjoys it.

"On kibbutz, I was an `outside child,' not a real kibbutznik, and even today I don't fit in completely. I pray in a Yemenite synagogue, and there they laugh at me because of my Ashkenazi traits [common to Jews of European descent]; after all, I didn't grow up in Kerem Hatemanim [a Yemenite neighborhood in Tel Aviv]."

His parents, Yitzhak and Amalia Gibli, divorced when he was four years old, and he lived with his grandparents on Kibbutz Givat Haim. "My mother was a student of music and a choreographer, and she couldn't raise me," he explains, adding that at the age of eight, he went to live with his mother and her family in Be'er Sheva, and four years later returned to kibbutz - this time, to Kibbutz Mizra.

"My father was a fighter in Unit 101. When I asked to go to a kibbutz, he approached his commander and asked him where to send me. Arik Sharon [who headed this secret unit, created to retaliate against Arab terrorist actions] recommended Mizra, where two members of the unit already lived. The two of them really adopted me - Tzava Sadan, who was killed in the Yom Kippur War, and Hanan Samson, who was killed in the Jordan Valley."

Evidence of the continuing embrace of the Unit 101 family is the fact that some of its members, friends of his father, were the ones who collected money, about $4,000, and sent the young Gibli to study in New York. There he discovered religious Judaism.

Gibli: "I couldn't stand Manhattan, the city suffocated me, I wanted to run away. I went to live in Queens, in the heart of the Jewish neighborhood. On my first Yom Kippur, I traveled to school and saw that the city was empty. I was there alone and that really surprised me. When I returned home in the evening, I saw groups of people going to the Ne'ila prayer [the final prayer of the fast day]. It attracted me, aroused my curiosity. I wanted to be part of the herd. I think that's a natural process."

The continuation of the process was intensive study of Jewish history and philosophy, observing the mitzvot (religious commandments) and marriage to Esther, a religious Israeli woman who had come for a family visit.

Sticking to tradition

During his years in New York, he completed his studies at Empire State College, an open university inspired by the American school of abstract impressionism. Gibli speaks enthusiastically about this style of painting, and draws a straight line between the knowledge he acquired there and his ability to draw composite sketches for the police. "I studied classical drawing without compromises, I wanted to stick to tradition. I was greatly influenced by the fact that even the greats of modernism, such as Mark Rothko and De Kooning, knew how to draw. It's a method that treats a portrait like a block of wood that is systematically sliced, to create first of all the shape of the head, of the skull. The details come at the end."

This method of work - which progresses from the overall shape to the details - is the opposite of the way in which composite sketches are assembled by the police. Gibli says that he understood that immediately when he came by chance to a police seminar; the course was organized by an advertising agency that ordered a composite sketch of Israeli model Sandy Bar as a "wanted woman," Wild West style.

"I met with investigator Shimon Fransus, who was the `high priest' of police composite sketches. He showed me how it works - the old method of slides (see box), which has now been transferred to the computer. In my opinion, the method has no foundation and no ability [to help in identification]. Film slides of facial parts have no depth, they're one-dimensional. My assumption is that the victim does not remember these details, he can't remember them. It's like remembering a two-week-old dream. The witness can remember a general impression, as in an Impressionist painting - so that if the figure was 30 meters away it will look blurred, and if the sun was red, the face will be red too. I have to examine the entire situation, rather than ask about the attacker's eyebrows. The fact that an investigator goes and asks about the shape of the hair or the eyes seems ridiculous to me, and can't lead anywhere. I also think that the police are swept up by the computer and by modernization, without any background to it. An `identity technician' has to have a background in graphics, he has to be a good artist, with a background in anatomy and classical drawing."

Despite his criticism of the work of the police, he was excited about getting involved in it, and the police were convinced of his ability - to date, he has drawn about 9,000 sketches for Globes - and have begun to give him investigative files.

"My first test was the investigation of an eight-year-old girl who had been raped. The attacker, who was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, told her to close her eyes, but I assumed that at some point, she saw something. I understood from the description of the situation, from her height and the estimate of his height, that she was apparently close to the attacker's ear. I asked if he had hair on his earlobe, and she said he had hair inside his ear. I added that as a comment to the composite sketch. Later the investigator told me that the upstairs neighbor, who had been arrested as a suspect in the rape, had hair in his ear as long as my peyot [earlocks]."

Another composite sketch he drew led two years ago to the solving of the murder of Sarah Samookhi, owner of a lottery booth in Ashdod. Despite the fact that the robber shot Samookhi in front of dozens of passersby, it turned out that none of them had seen him from the front. The police's computerized system is incapable of producing a composite sketch in profile, and Gibli was recruited again. The sketch he drew was broadcast on "Shidur Hoker" ("Crimewatch"), a popular television show dealing with unsolved criminal cases, and caught the eye of a policeman who was watching the program, who recalled that the face was similar to that of a bank robber arrested in Holon. The robber, who understood that he was suspected of murder as well, damaged his face in order to avoid a line-up, but in the end confessed to the murder and reenacted it.

Another composite sketch, which later turned out to be amazingly similar to the person involved, was that of the "rapist of little girls" from the south, who was caught this past May after a lengthy police investigation.

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