Blood at the scene where terrorist was shot at the Beersheba central bus station on October 18, 2015.
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Israelis are walking around scared and angry, and they have every right to be. Two weeks into the current round of the longstanding war by Palestinian terrorists on our populace has seen multiple stabbing attacks, an attempted bombing, and lethal gunfire assaults – the latest of which occurred Sunday night at the Beersheba Central Bus Station.
The country’s citizens are on edge, frustrated, and suspicious.
Those very justified and real emotions, however, do not give anyone the right to assume the guilt or innocence of a suspected terrorist and mete out brutal street justice in a flagrant violation of social norms and democratic values.
That’s what took place in Beersheba Sunday night in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attack carried out by 21-year-old Israeli Beduin Muhand al-Okabi, from the Negev town of Hura.
Armed with a pistol and a knife, al-Okabi stormed the bus station, shot to death IDF Sgt. Omri Levy, snatched his rifle and shot and wounded at least 10 Israelis before being shot dead by police.
During the attack, armed security personnel apparently mistook 26-year-old Eritrean migrant Habtom Zarhom for a second gunman and opened fire, wounding him in the thigh. Whether they acted according to regulations will be determined by an investigation, but what happened next broke all norms of a civilized society.
The difficult-to-watch video footage of the unfolding events displays Zarhom lying on the ground surrounded by security personnel, as a crowd gathered.
Individuals slipped through the circle to repeatedly kick the wounded man in the head while others cursed him. The video also showed a number of bystanders attempting to protect Zarhom from his attackers.
Zarhom, who worked at a moshav in the Eshkol region and had traveled to Beersheba to renew his visa, later died at Soroka Hospital. At the time of this writing, it was unclear whether the cause of death was the gunshot wound, the beating, or both.
What is clear, though, is that the lynching that took place cannot be rationalized by the chaos, frenzy, and fear brought on by having just been in the middle of a terrorist attack. The knee-jerk reaction by those individuals reeked of vigilantism. This kind of Wild West retribution is alarming and is directly connected with the ugly “death to Arabs” mentality which surfaces whenever Jewish thugs gather following a terrorist attack. It cannot and must not be tolerated.
There is no justification for hot-headed revenge seekers taking the law into their own hands. We support the announcement by the police that it is intent on finding the assailants “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 statement added that “the police view the incident with the utmost severity and will not allow civilians to take the law into their own hands.”
Of course, with the “fog of war” defense, it is unclear whether anyone will ever be prosecuted for the actions against Zarhom. But a united front from all facets of Israeli society – police, government, and community leaders – that declares that this kind of behavior is unacceptable even in times of war is imperative.
During the past two weeks Israelis have displayed some of their most admirable characteristics – courage, resilience, compassion, and resolve. It overwhelms the blind hatred and base emotions that a small number of citizens are manifesting in reaction to the terrorist campaign against them. Despite and because of the challenges that daily life is throwing at us, it is incumbent upon us to retain the values that make our society so special and exemplary. That is why, when an aberration like the vicious attack against Habtom Zarhom takes place, it must be condemned wholeheartedly.
As we mourn the death of Sgt. Levy at the hands of a terrorist, we also mourn the death of Zarhom by our own hands. And we yearn for the day when these kinds of atrocities do not befall anyone.