Mass murder shocks Beersheba neighborhood

Shock grips residents whose quiet area is a stranger to shoot-outs, car bombs and stabbings.

Beersheba bank tragedy390(3)) (photo credit: Rotem Regev)
Beersheba bank tragedy390(3))
(photo credit: Rotem Regev)
Remo Vaknin says he’s lucky to be alive. Grabbing a cigarette outside of Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center on Monday afternoon, Vaknin described how he was standing in the Neveh Ze’ev neighborhood Bank Hapoalim branch when a gunman started shooting, prompting him to dive for cover underneath a counter.
“I’m laying there saying Shema Yisrael, Shema Yisrael, seeing my family praying kaddish for me later tonight,” Vaknin said, showing signs of shock as his father offered him a bottle of water and implored him to drink.
“I’m laying there and there’s this Beduin guy next to me and I tell him I don’t want to die, and he lays on top of me and covers me with his body.”
Vaknin said he didn’t know who the young man was, only that he’s certain the man saved his life. He said he saw the man and another man who was with him take two bullets each, and later on Monday vowed to find them in the emergency room.
“I have to find this guy, he saved my life, I have to know who he is,” Vaknin said, adding that after the first series of shots he peeked out to see the shooter return to the bodies of two victims and shoot them yet again to “confirm the kill.”
The scene at the hospital was typical for a mass casualty event – TV crews from the South, Tel Aviv and beyond; crowds of onlookers; and intermittent wailing and shouting from the relatives of the victims.
Another young man pacing outside the emergency room, 18-year-old Natanel Elfasi, was standing a vigil of sorts not far from where his cousin, Meir Zeitoun, lay dead on an operating table.
Elfasi described his cousin – the 40- year-old deputy manager of the bank – as a tough, one-time officer in the Givati Brigade who never hesitated to help others in need. Also appearing to be in shock himself, Elfasi said he took some solace in the rumor that Zeitoun had tried in his last moments to save the life of Anat Even-Haim, shielding the mother of three with his body before she too was gunned down in the shooting.
“He was always the type to try to help somebody, to do something,” Elfasi said.
Another relative described Zeitoun as an eternal joker and an optimist, “with a cigarette in one hand and a joke in the other,” adding that his wife wanted the press to know that he “was a great husband and father, who was always helping, always smiling and laughing.”
At the site of the shooting on Sunday, shock appeared to be the emotion gripping residents whose middle-class, quiet Beersheba neighborhood is a stranger to the shootouts, car bombs and stabbings that can be common in rougher Israeli neighborhoods.
Across the street from the bank branch, kiosk owner Avram Halevy said he was standing outside his store in the afternoon when suddenly he saw people tearing up the street in a panic. He said he never heard the gunshots, but ran back inside his store and hid in the storage room until a few minutes after he heard the sound of police sirens coming from the street.
Just as in other spots across Neveh Ze’ev, a small huddle of people were crowded outside his store, talking about the mysterious “Border Police officer” who was refused a line of credit at the bank and came back shooting to kill, with some occasionally interjecting that “it was two guys from Rahat” and others correcting them.
At a furniture store next door to the bank, four men sat on a few recliners and talked about the shooting, pointing out the blood stains on the sidewalk and the havoc and screams that “sounded like a terror attack,” according to a middle- aged man named Ronen.
Marcelle Orlo said she had a front-row seat to the murders, watching detectives and SWAT officers swarm to the scene from her balcony, five floors above the bank.
“It sounded like a war out here, all types of police and shooting; we’re not used to things like this in Neveh Ze’ev.”
Orlo said that eventually she ran inside with her mother until the shooting stopped, and stepped back onto the balcony to see paramedics carry out four different bodies one by one.
“This type of thing shows you to what depth the economic situation can bring people.”