Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Israeli Soldier, Prison Guard Acquitted in Death of Asylum Seeker They Mistook for Terroris

Date: 20.7.20 Source: Haaretz, Almog Ben Zikri

An Israeli court acquitted on Monday two men who were charged with beating to death an Eritrean asylum seeker in 2015.  

Haftom Zarhum was killed in an altercation at the Be’er Sheva bus station after being mistaken for a terrorist during a shooting attack in which a Bedouin Israeli opened fire in the station, killing a soldier and wounding 10 others.

The Be’er Sheva District Court acquitted Yaakov Shamba, a soldier in the Golani Brigade at the time of the incident, and prison warden Ronen Cohen due to reasonable doubt of their guilt.

The original indictment included four defendants, who were charged with aggravated battery, with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Two of the defendants, David Moyal and Evyatar Damari, signed a lenient plea deal which was offered to all four, in which the two admitted to the crime of abusing a helpless person. Damari was sentenced to four months in prison and Moyal served 100 days of community service. But Shamba and Cohen refused to sign the plea bargain.

The pathology report submitted by prosecutors stated that the actions of the four had caused injuries to Zarhum, some of them serious, including a broken nose. But the pathologist also stated that Zarhum died from the eight bullets three people shot at him, and not from being beaten by the four defendants. Therefore, the four were not charged with manslaughter.

In his ruling, Judge Aharon Mishnayot mentioned the large number of terrorist attacks that took place in Israel during the wave of Palestinian terrorism that began in September 2015.

“The series of terrorist attacks created an atmosphere of fear and panic among the public, and this was also mentioned in the testimony heard in court,” the judge wrote. “In any case, I am of the opinion that a discussion of the nature of the actions of the defendants in the incident cannot ignore the context of the incident of the frequent terrorist attacks that occurred in the country at the time, their relationship to the event that we are dealing with and the implications that this could have on their state of mind – the state of awareness of those involved in the incident.

Zarhum, 29 at the time of his death, was in Be’er Sheva to renew his work permit and was catching a bus back home at the time of the incident. Zarhum was one of those most seriously injured in the incident after being shot and beaten, but was evacuated to the hospital only after all the other victims were evacuated, the indictment added.