Right from Wrong: What the Beersheba lynching says about Israel

Israelis have been living in a kind of limbo: watching their backs while walking down the street; driving with trepidation; hesitant to ride the buses; afraid to hire young Arabs.

By
October 25, 2015 19:38
3 minute read.
guela attack

Scene of the ramming and stabbing attack in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Guela in Jeruslaem October 13, 2015. (photo credit: GIL COHEN MAGEN / AFP)

On Monday evening, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed an Israeli soldier at the Central Bus Station in Beersheba, then stole his rifle and began shooting randomly at commuters.

The soldier died of his wounds in hospital; the terrorist was killed on location by security forces.

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About a dozen other people were wounded – some seriously, some lightly – and many more were left traumatized for life.

In the chaos of the attack, a 29-year-old Eritrean who worked at the terminal was mistakenly fingered as a terrorist, and was shot by a security guard.

As if this weren’t tragic enough, after Habtom Zarhum was shot and “neutralized,” an angry mob began to beat him with anything they could get their hands on.

Though an autopsy revealed that Zarhum’s death was caused by the initial bullet wounds, not the subsequent lynching, footage of the violent frenzy went viral, and Israelis of all political and social stripes were horrified.

Everyone – from the prime minister to the defense establishment to the police to the public – condemned the brutality and wept for Zarhum.

A clear majority says that even if Zarhum had been a terrorist, there would have been no justification for the blows he received after he was already lying on the ground bleeding and no longer a threat.

In other words, it is not merely Zarhum’s innocence that has caused a stir in a public already shaky from weeks of rock-throwing, stabbing and car-ramming attacks perpetrated by Palestinians against Israelis. It is, rather, an ethical principle shared by most.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called on Israelis not to take the law into their own hands. Indeed, vigilantism is both criminal and a bad word in Israel, as it always has been. As a result, many arrests have been made to bring the Israelis who took part in the savagery to justice, including a number of Prisons Authority employees.

Two days later, on Wednesday night, a man believed to be a terrorist was shot dead by soldiers outside of the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem.

Behaving suspiciously, he was approached by security forces requesting to see his ID card.

The man then shouted, “I am ISIS [Islamic State],” and tried to grab a soldier’s weapon. It later transpired that the man was a 28-year-old Orthodox Jew named Simcha Hodedtov.

Unlike in the case of Zarhum, here the victim actually was behaving like a perpetrator, so there is a bit more understanding on the part of the public about his having been killed, perhaps unnecessarily. Clearly the guy was crazy, or suicidal – or something along those lines.

What the two incidents have in common, however, is how rare they are. This is as important to keep in mind as it is both laudable and extraordinary.

Since early September, Israelis have been living in a kind of limbo: watching their backs while walking down the street; driving with trepidation; hesitant to ride the buses; afraid to hire young Arabs with sharp tools to do renovating or gardening jobs; jumping to turn on the news with every sound of an ambulance siren or overhead helicopter. Many average people are now carrying pepper spray, tear gas, pocket knives and – those who are licensed – guns.

NOT A day goes by, sometimes not an hour, without reports of additional attacks. That these are not only taking place in the usual areas of Jerusalem and Judea-Samaria, but have occurred in Tel Aviv, Afula, Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh and elsewhere is causing the country-wide tension to be palpable.

Indeed, you could cut it with a knife.

Under such conditions, one would expect the number of casualties from mistaken identity, or from innocents getting caught in crossfire, to be very high. Instead, they are almost nil.

Breast-beating is a national pastime in Israel. As we mark the 20th anniversary of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of Jewish zealot Yigal Amir, this mass “mea culpa” will come out in full force.

I, for one, however, will continue to feel honored and proud, not ashamed and guilt-ridden, to be part of this amazingly strong and moral country, the likes of which the world has never seen.

The writer is a Tel Aviv-based author and columnist at Israel Hayom and The Algemeiner.


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