Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Anger, fear permeate memorial for Eritrean victim

photo: Rami Gudovitch
Date: 21.10.15 Source: The Times of Israel

More than 2,000 people gathered at Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park on Wednesday evening to memorialize Haftom Zarhum, an Eritrean man who was shot and beaten by a crowd after being mistaken for a terrorist during an attack at the Beersheba bus station on Sunday.

The largely Eritrean crowd wailed as they lit memorial candles for him and eulogized the 29-year-old, who was in Beersheba to renew his papers, according to friends.

“He fell, and then they continued hitting him,” said one Eritrean woman at the memorial, who declined to give her name. “Why hit him? Because he’s black? Catch him, check his pockets. He’s African, not Arab. Why would you hit him when he’s down?” the woman asked, bursting into tears.

Zarhum died in the hospital Sunday evening after he was shot by police, who thought he was a terrorist, and then beaten by an enraged mob who made the same mistake. Videos from the incident showed him fleeing the scene, only to be gunned down and then kicked repeatedly in the head by a crowd in the bus station, who also hurled a bench at his head as he lay prone on the ground and writhed in pain.

The images crystalized many of the fears that refugees feel during their daily lives in Israel. “As usual no one cares,” said Haile Mengisteab, who has been in Israel for five years after fleeing Eritrea. “I don’t trust anyone…it keeps getting more dangerous,” he said.

Mengisteab also refuted the forensic pathologist that concluded Zarhum was killed by the bullets and not by the mob afterwards.

“He didn’t get shot to death. We saw him on the video, he was waving his hand,” he said. “But even if he’s the terrorist, it doesn’t matter, he has a right to see a doctor. People stopped him from getting treatment. We need protection. We need to be protected regardless of the color of our skin.”

About 200 Israelis joined the memorial service, which was conducted in Tigrinya, the national language of Eritrea. The memorial took place in South Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park, which has been a hub for migrant communities.

“Yes, there are a few Israelis here, but 90% of them are bad to us,” said an Eritrean woman named Yaros.

It’s disgusting, I just have no words,” said Anat, an Israeli woman who attended the memorial. “The problem with these things, it’s always the same [Israelis] who come. The people who are doing the soul searching [over the lynching] are not the people that need to do the soul searching.”

“There’s this base of hatred, and everyone is paying the price,” she added.

 Maya Friedman, a 28-year-old teacher, said she was frustrated with the forensic pathologist report that Zarhum died from the bullet. “That’s not the purpose of what happened,” she said.

The new findings mean the suspects in the beating cannot be charged with murder but will instead face charges relating to assault, aggravated assault, or attacking a helpless individual, Channel 2 reported.

On Wednesday, four people were arrested over the mob attack, including two members of the Prison Service.

“It’s disgusting that it will alleviate someone’s responsibility,” added fellow teacher Alon Gal, from Tel Aviv. “It’s hard for me to believe there’s people who see [the video] and aren’t disturbed,” he said.

An IDF soldier, Omri Levy, was also killed and 11 others were injured in the stabbing and shooting attack at Beersheba’s crowded central bus station. Police named the terrorist as 21-year-old Muhanad Alukabi of the Bedouin town of Hura, just east of the city.

“This [lynch] is one of the symptoms of all of the problems in our society,” said Zohar, another Israeli attending the memorial. “This is the result. This is not a one-time thing.”

“It’s a microcosm of the whole country,” he added. “One person hates the other, whether it’s Arab and Jew, or right and left, or Israeli and migrant. There is so much hatred and we’re always against each other.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report