Police have begun collecting evidence and questioning witnesses to the killing of an Eritrean man mistaken for a terrorist Sunday night, and there is a good chance they will bring suspects in for questioning in the coming days, acting police commissioner Asst.-Ch. Bentzi Sau said on Tuesday.
“On Monday we began questioning witnesses and collecting evidence and examining the video footage. If we reach the conclusion that there are Israelis who took the law into their own hands we will bring them to trial,” Sau said told reporters, adding that he will not tolerate vigilante actions. “We know the public is living under a great deal of pressure right now, but there are clear lines and we will not allow people to harm minorities [Arabs] or suspects.”
On Sunday, Eritrean asylum-seeker Haptom Zarhum, 26, was shot by a security guard who mistook him for a terrorist during an attack at the Beersheba bus station that left a soldier dead and several Israelis wounded. After he was incapacitated, Zarhum was set upon by a series of civilians, who beat him, kicked him in the head, and tried to crush him with a bench. On Monday morning, he was pronounced dead at Soroka University Medical Center.
“The situation in Beersheba was very complex and difficult,” Sau said. “I know from dealing with incidents like this in the past. You have a large, closed area, the shooting is coming from one area but you think it’s coming from elsewhere.
People are in a panic and running back and forth with weapons; you have to decide who is a threat and who isn’t. It was a very complicated environment.”
Southern District Police head Asst.-Ch. Yoram Halevy said on Tuesday the special investigative unit of the Negev police has been investigating the case since Monday, with the assistance of district prosecutors. He said they have collected evidence and testimony from witnesses and that once the autopsy of Zarhum is complete – and police know what killed him – they will bring in suspects for questioning.
Sau said police have not relaxed their rules of engagement in recent weeks due to the wave of terrorism, and police are still instructed to shoot to subdue unless shooting to kill is absolutely necessary. He said the situation is the same regardless of whether or not police are facing a criminal incident or a terrorist attack.
He added that after viewing a series of incidents in recent weeks where police opened fire and wounded or killed assailants, that he doesn’t see a single case where his officers violated the rules of engagement or were guilty of any wrongdoing.
During his briefing, Sau also said that while it was too early to speak about any wider trends taking place, police have seen a dropping in the number of incidents of rock-throwing and firebomb attacks over the past 10 days. Over that same period, he said, police have not seen any attempts by rioters to block off any major thoroughfares, unlike earlier in the month.
He said the Temple Mount is quieter, which he credits to the decision to ban the “Marabitun” and “Marabitat,” who harass Jewish visitors.
The Arab sector has remained quiet, he said, which is the result of “dialogue over the course of recent years with local Arab community leaders who have been very responsible and have helped reduce the number of incidents.”
Starting Sunday, police would call up three additional Border Police companies who will be deployed to reinforce police across the country, and work alongside hundreds of soldiers who have been sent to take part in joint patrolling with police, he said.
Also Tuesday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee authorized a bill to increase penalties for rock-throwing for its third and final Knesset vote, which will likely take place Monday.
The bill states throwing a rock at a person will be considered aggravated assault, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, and the minimum sentence will be four years.
In addition, the legislation allows the court to revoke National Insurance Institute benefits to the parents of a minor while that minor is in prison for security crimes or rock-throwing, and the parents can be required to pay a fine of up to NIS 10,000.
“It’s clear that rocks kill and the phenomenon is plaguing the country,” Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) said. “This law is appropriate and necessary.”
However, MK Osama Saadi (Joint List) said “Israeli democracy is sinking” and the bill will not bring solutions.