The killing of Haftom Zarhum: The sickness of an Israeli lynch mob out of control


“Gunman goes on shooting spree at Beersheba bus station before he is shot down; security guard shoots asylum seeker after misidentifying him as assailant,” was the headline of an Israeli newspaper Sunday evening.  It was a rapidly developing story that night as reports came in that two terrorists with guns had attacked the Central Bus Station in Beersheba, a site of terror attacks in 2004 and 2005.  Video emerged of one of the perpetrators being shot and then beaten by a mob as he lay dying (see graphic video and another video). Then an Eritrean man told Channel 2 that the man who was shot and beaten was someone he knew, an Eritrean, not a Palestinian.  Media began to buzz, was this the first terror attack carried out by an Eritrean migrant?

Soon it emerged that it wasn’t.  The man shot, beaten and killed was just like you and me, just a person going to do some shopping, and innocent man fleeing from terror who was shot down as he ran.  If he had just been wounded by mistake, he could be patched up probably and a terrible case of mistaken identity would have been logged.  That’s happened before.  At least one passenger in the Sabena hijacking was shot by Israeli commandos who raided the plane and freed the 97 hostages. Friendly fire happens in cases of terrorism, as was the case on October 10 when an Israeli special police shot his colleague while preventing a terror attack.

But what happened on Sunday night to Haftom Zarhum has left me deeply shocked.  After he was shot, and apparently shot again according to the security camera footage, a mob of people gathered around him. “People took out their rage on the wounded Eritrean and abused him…We thought he was one of the terrorists. He was shot in the legs and the real terrorist ran outside,” said a bystander.  So the real terrorist was almost allowed to escape while an innocent man was shot and beaten and lay dying, his last efforts to hold up his arm against a savage crowd of men baying for his blood, to no avail.

Habtom Zarhum (screenshot)

Habtom Zarhum (screenshot)

Negev subdistrict police told The Jerusalem Post that those “who brutally beat a foreigner after he had already been subdued and was lying on the floor and did not pose a danger at all…the police view the incident with the utmost severity and will not allow civilians to take the law into their own hands.”  However the police told Ynet that “The security officer who suspected the victim was a terrorist and shot him, will not be investigated.”

“The nation of Israel lives!”

The situation leaves a scary thought in our minds.  What happened to Haftom Zarhum can happen to anyone in Israel.  One minute you are walking, then someone shouts “terrorist” and someone with a gun mistakes you for the “terrorist” and shoots you down.  Despite your protestations, the mob comes and kicks and beats you as you lie dying.  The mob who beat the man not only hit him with a bench, but they kicked him, and all while other security and police and IDF soldiers looked on.  A few good people came and tried to help, but they were the few. The story that the “law will not be taken into the public’s hands,” is misleading.  The law is in the public’s hands.  When paramedics arrived at first they didn’t bother to treat the dying man and they were encouraged not to by the mob.  When they did finally put him on a stretcher the mob tried to keep them from evacuating him.  Then the crowd broke out into chants of “Death to the Arabs” and, according to Ynet, “Am Israel Hai” or “the national of Israel lives.”  The nation of Israel lives?  Does it live when a mob of it is standing over a dying man taking turns beating him?  When paramedics, police and the army are all there to watch and people record it with video.  Is that part of the “nation of Israel lives”?  How is it living, when it’s soul is dying and being eaten away by racism, hatred and lynching?  Will one person from the mob that beat and kicked a dying man apologize?  Do they feel guilty? No.  They feel like big strong men.  Those who kick and beat a man bleeding on the floor, think highly of themselves, they are the leaders of the group, the prized individuals in the group.  They aren’t shamed.

And it’s not the first time. Over the last two weeks I have seen time and again gangs of men parading in Jerusalem shouting “kill the Arabs.”  It’s part of a culture.  It’s part of a norm.  And we are supposed to pretend it is just a fringe of bad behaving youth.  But the youth have come home.  The youth run the show.  The youth can lynch and murder any of us, any day, for the crime of walking in the street, looking the wrong way, so that we become “Arabs” and “terrorists” and then the mob is set in motion to cries of “get the terrorist.”

As he lay dying, from Ynet

As he lay dying, from Ynet

How has the public responded in Israel?  With a shrug of the shoulders.  Major political leaders have not all gone to visit the dead man’s family or community or express remorse.  Isawa Freij of Meretz is one of the few who has come out and spoken up.  Do the majority of Israelis look on this event and think “this could be me, being kicked and left to die”?  Or does the public think, “oh, it’s one of those migrants, well that’s too bad, but whatever”?  If Mr. Zarhum had been from a different background, say with a name like Mr. Feinberg and come from a moshav in the Negev, would he still be alive today?  If this gross tragedy had befallen a Jewish Israeli from a “good family”, how would the public react?  Would it not have some national mourning? Some huge protest?  But Mr. Zarhum is not “one of us,” not an “Israeli.”  If an Israeli had been mistaken for a terrorist and shot and beaten to death by a mob in Paris, of course the whole country would be talking about trauma and anti-semitism and various other stories.  But that’s not what happened and the public’s ability to show empathy and caring is lessened.

Instead what emerges in Israel is the excuse factory.  That “he was lynched, but…” factory of explanations.  When I posted on my Facebook and Twitter about how shocking this was, the comments that came back ran a gamut from outrage to complacency and excuses.  “Oh, give me break, he was hit a few times by an angry mob who mistakenly thought he was a terrorist…nothing to do with his color.”  Who gave the angry mob the credentials to decide who is a terrorist?  Perhaps the angry lynch mob is the real terrorist?  If they were all shot down and left to die would that be acceptable?  That’s what one wonders?  If you shoot down a lynch mob, mistaking them for terrorists, that is apparently murder of innocent people, but if the lynch mob does it, then it’s just a “mistake.”  Whoops.  We beat a man dying and cheered as we did it.

Another part of the excuse factory is “It’s an awful mistake, but Palestinian terror is to blame.”  In this story basically anything becomes acceptable now that there is Palestinian terror.  By why are all the millions of innocent Israeli lives suddenly void, because some Palestinians also want to kill Israelis?  Why does it become acceptable, excusable, to kill Israelis, because other people want to kill Israelis?  That doesn’t make sense.  The murderous acts of terrorism should make society value life, especially innocent life, not devalue everyone’s lives just because of a few terrorists.  If any innocent person can just be killed and it is “because” of Palestinians, so therefore “mistakes” happen, then it is truly a scary country.  It is a reminder of the fascist mxim of the Freikorps in Germany encapsulated by Major Schulz when he said “it’s better to kill a few innocent people than let one guilty person escape.”

The excuse zombies also march to the drum of “he was identified by a security guard as a terrorist,” so therefore it is understandable.  Security guards are not given a license to kill and are not even trained highly in identifying terrorists from a crowd.  They are trained to make security checks and when a terrorist emerges, to stop the terrorist.  That doesn’t mean they have a license to pick out of a crowd of people running, one guy, and just shoot him.  And just because a “security guard” has shot a man, who now poses no threat and is bleeding and dying, is not some sort of excuse for dozens of people to savagely beat the dying man.

One story we hear is that paramedics couldn’t treat him promptly when they arrived because he was “identified” as a terrorist and supposedly some sort of security squad had to say he was no longer a threat.  However if that was the case why was a crowd allowed to beat him and kick him?  He was too much of a threat to be treated, but apparently not much of one to be beaten by a crowd of people while police and soldiers looked on?  It is the police responsibility to secure a scene, not give a wounded man over to be beaten.

The last story we hear in Israel, even from members of Knesset, is this was “friendly fire.”  That has been mentioned above.  There are cases of hostages being harmed in anti-terror operations or friendly fire.  But when you shoot an innocent person in “friendly fire,” you don’t then go and beat the innocent man to death.  In the Sabena raid, the man was evacuated immediately.  This wasn’t a case of friendly fire.  This was a case of mistaken shooting, probably a second shooting to “subdue” and then a lynching and interfering with medical personnel in the course of their work, which probably prolonged the man’s wait time, and led to his death.  The balance of the innocent man’s life was likely decided by the actions of the mob.

A man with a metal walker protects him perhaps, some tried to help. Screenshot.

A man with a metal walker protects him perhaps, some tried to help. Screenshot.

Some people say that condemning the mob, and the societal acceptance of these kind of mob attacks after terror attacks, and referencing Israeli culture is somehow anti-Israel.  Just call it a “mistake” they say.  Shhh, don’t mention it, it might make Israel look bad.  It’s “anti-Israel” to be angry about it.  But who is really “anti-Israel”, the people who are disgusting by the killing of an innocent man, or the people beating the man as he dies?  The lynch mob is the one that is guilty and anti-Israel, not the person who wants justice for Haftom Zarhum.  How did society get turned around so Israel is the “victim” and Zarhum is somehow the problem for having died, for having been beaten, for having existed basically.  In such a state, where the lynch mob is not the problem, but discussing it is, that state is the problem.  The anti-Israel people are the one’s running society, the anti-Israel people are the ones in charge of the “pro-Israel” discussions, because they want to allow a society of our of control mobs to keep up their behavior, rather than arrest them all and declare them terrorists, who terrorize the society. I’m far more afraid of a savage lynch mob than of a few Palestinian terrorists, because I know the whole of the security establishment in Israel works to stop Palestinians, but who works to stop the mob?  When the mob is upon you and beating you to death, the police and paramedics and soldiers are all at its mercy.

Unfortunately some in Israeli society think that any discussion of this “slanders” Israel.  They think that incidents should be ignored and not confronted, and the media exaggerates them.  But it isn’t slander.  A mob should not behave that way and a message must be sent against mob violence. People should have empathy and they should care about all people and not dismiss them.  Foreign press reporting this tragedy are right to shed light on it and Israel should not play the victim.  The victim was the man beaten to death.

The culture of the vigilante and beating people who are dying must be confronted.  A video a week and a half ago shows another man kick a woman in the head who is detained in Haifa.

Will the investigation bring justice?  His friends were interviewed on Channel to, they said “he was a human being” and couldn’t understand why he was killed when on his way to renew a visa.

The missing minutes

In the video of the initial shooting of Mr. Zarhum posted on Kikar HaShabat, which is from a security camera, we see that the first shot fired at Zarhum is at :45 on the tape and perhaps again at 1:15.

The first one

Security camera screenshot

Security camera screenshot

And then

Security cam screen shot, 1:15

Security cam screen shot, 1:15

Where is the rest of the video to show the people coming and beating him, and the paramedics evacuating the others?

2 responses to “The killing of Haftom Zarhum: The sickness of an Israeli lynch mob out of control

  1. Pingback: The insane psychosis of Israel’s “we save terrorist lives” hasbara fetish | Seth J. Frantzman·

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