Israeli police on Monday said they would investigate the brutal beating of an injured Eritrean man by civilians who had been mistakenly shot by security forces in a Sunday night attack on the Beersheba central bus station.
The 29-year-old Eritrean national, Haftom Zarhum, died in the hospital after he was shot by police who thought he was a terrorist, and then beaten by a mob. 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.
A member of Knesset from the Meretz party called the attack a lynching and demanded the arrest of those responsible. Negev regional police chief Amnon Alkalai ordered investigators to locate the civilians who beat the man.
The police said in a statement that they viewed the incident as “very grave,” and “will not allow [citizens] to take the law into their hands.” The police also called for “everyone to act with restraint and extra caution and allow the police to perform their duty.”
One of the people who took part in the beating of Zarhum, identified only as Dudu, told Army Radio in an interview Monday morning that “I saw people coming and crowding around him, I understood from them that this was the terrorist.”
“If I had known that this wasn’t the terrorist I would have protected him like I protect myself,” Dudu said. “In a moment of fear and pressure, you do things you’re not conscious of whatsoever.”
He added: “I didn’t sleep well last night and I only thought about those things, I feel disgusting.”
An IDF soldier, Omri Levy, was killed and 11 others were injured in the attack at the crowded bus station, when an Israeli Bedouin man stabbed the soldier and then opened fire. Six victims remained hospitalized Monday morning. Police named the terrorist as 21-year-old Muhanad Alukabi of the Bedouin town of Hura, just east of Beersheba.
The Israeli press expressed outrage over the attack on the Eritrean man, with Yedioth Ahronoth reporting that he was shot “only because of the color of his skin.”
“A dark-skinned, unarmed young man, who apparently fell or was sprawled out on the floor of the station, was shot by a gun-toting man,” the paper reported. “The shooter didn’t even stop to check who it was. He didn’t look to see if he had a weapon in his hand, didn’t try to talk to him.”
The paper continued: “The wounded man… because of his injuries, and certainly also because of his poor command of the language, lay powerless on the floor and no one went to treat him.”
Southern District police chief Yoram Halevy said following a preliminary investigation of the incident that “additional shots were fired by a police Special Patrol Unit officer and a Border Police officer who identified a person — who turned out to be a local resident” and that they were investigating the fact that he was a foreign national.
“Of course there are police who are questioning — not just him, but also his family — and we’ll of course draw conclusions afterwards,” Halevy said.
Meretz MK Issawi Freij called for the arrest of the Israelis who carried out the “lynching” of the Eritrean, the Walla news website reported.
“The lynching yesterday of Eritrean citizen Mila Abtom [sic] was the result of the hatred and incitement — in which government ministers are participating — that calls on citizens to take the law into their hands,” Frejj said.
“It’s cold-blooded murder of an innocent man who was lying injured and helpless on the floor,” the Meretz lawmaker said. “The police who hurry to arrest every Arab who writes something impolite on Facebook need to immediately arrest every one of the rioters/murders from Beersheba and bring them to justice. Any other action would be a moral void for the state and would give a seal of approval for the murder of innocents.”
From the opposite side of the aisle, coalition member and Jewish Home MK Yinon Magal reacted to the shooting by saying on Facebook that, “in every war there’s friendly fire. We need to try hard to prevent this. And still, in percentages, in this war the number of instances of injuries by our forces is low. We must continue and try to strive to reach and eliminate every terrorist.”
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.