On 18 October, 29-year-old Eritrean refugee Haftom Zarhum was severely beaten and shot to death by a vengeful mob of Israeli soldiers, prison officers and police in and out of uniform, security camera footage recently obtained by the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz has revealed.
The mob mistook Zarhum, unarmed and injured, for the gunman who had opened fire moments earlier at the central bus station in Bir al-Saba (Beer Sheva), a city in the south of present-day Israel.
The gunman, a 19-year-old Bedouin Palestinian citizen of Israel named Muhannad al-Okbi, killed an Israeli soldier and wounded approximately 10 others, mostly Israeli security personnel. He was ultimately shot and killed by Israeli forces.
Zarhum had traveled to Bir al-Saba that day to apply for a permit so he could stay in the country. He was on his way home when the bus station was attacked.
The newly released footage opens with a station security guard shooting Zarhum as he frantically crawls on the floor, presumably to seek safety.
Seventeen seconds later, a man Haaretz identified as a bus driver is seen hurling a chair at Zarhum.
The next day this same bus driver told the Israeli news site NRG that he had “protected” Zarhum from the lynch mob.
With each passing minute, the footage shows more Israelis, some in uniform, joining in the attack, kicking Zarhum in the head, throwing heavy furniture at him and spitting on him as he writhes on the floor, bleeding.
One man wearing a yellow shirt is the only person who is seen pushing back against the crowd to protect Zarhum and for that he is assaulted.
All the while, onlookers chanted for his death, shouting “mehabel” (terrorist), “Kill him!” and “Break his head! Break his head! Son of a prostitute!”
As the lynching was in progress, the real gunman, who was holed up in the bathroom, began shooting again, but the crowd continued beating Zarhum.
Israel has refused to grant Zarhum official recognition as a victim of terrorism, which would allow his family to receive benefits, on the grounds that he had “entered the country illegally.”
The lynching of Zarhum fits a disturbing pattern of street executions of Palestinians over the last several months, propelled by inflammatory rhetoric from Israeli leaders who have openly encouraged vigilantism.
Israeli forces have killed more than 150 Palestinians since 1 October in what has been condemned by human rights groups as a “shoot to kill” policy.
More than 20 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in the same time period.
Israel claims that the majority of slain Palestinians were killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis.
But rights groups have accused Israeli forces of using deadly force as a first resort against alleged Palestinian attackers who posed no immediate threat. In other cases, Palestinians were not attempting to attack anyone when killed.
Forensic analysis found that Zarhum, though savagely beaten, died as a result of eight gunshot wounds fired by three different people. However, it remains unclear who besides the security guard shot him.
Despite the severity of his injuries, medics from Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency service, did not evacuate Zarhum until 18 minutes after he was shot, even though they had arrived to the scene 10 minutes earlier.
When medics finally evacuated Zarhum, they “ran into objection from the crowds at the scene, who blocked their way and called out ‘Death to Arabs,’ ‘Arabs out!’ and ‘Am Israel Chai’ (‘The people of Israel live’),” according to Ynet.
Magen David Adom told Haaretz that Israeli security officers prevented their medics from treating Zarhum because they believed him to be the attacker.
However, the indictment against the four Israeli mob participants states that Zarhum was the last of the wounded to be evacuated to the hospital, despite his injuries being the most severe.
While Israelis are rarely, if ever, held accountable for violence against Palestinians and African refugees, every so often there comes a killing so shameful and embarrassing to Israel’s image that some face-saving action is called for.
The graphically documented lynching of Zarhum appears to be one of those cases.
Even so, only four of the nine Israelis caught on video beating Zarhum have been indicted, on charges of aggravated assault, which carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
The shooters who fired the bullets responsible for killing Zarhum have not been charged.
David Moyal, a restaurant worker in the bus station, was charged with throwing a bench at Zarhum. Yaakov Shamba, an Israeli soldier, was indicted for kicking Zarhum in the torso while he lay on the floor, pinned under a bench. And Eviatar Damari, described only as “a young man from Netivot,” is being prosecuted for kicking Zarhum in the head multiple times.
Ronen Cohen and Chen Shabat, both prison officers, repeatedly tossed a metal bench at Zarhum. Cohen also allegedly kicked Zarhum in the head and assaulted a bystander who tried to stop the mob violence.
Cohen was indicted with the others, while Shabat managed to convince the state prosecutor that he threw the bench at Zarhum to protect him from the mob. He may even keep his job with the Israel Prison Service.
“The state prosecutor accepted this claim, noting that Shabat did not go on to kick Zarhum in the head as Cohen did,” reported Haaretz.
The bar doesn’t get any lower than that.