Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chastised the attackers of an Eritrean asylum seeker in the aftermath of a terror attack Sunday in Beersheba, in what has been described as a “lynching” by Israelis who believed the man was a terrorist.
“Someone who witnesses a [terror] attack needs to leave the scene and allow security and rescue forces to work,” Netanyahu said at the start of a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday. “We’re a nation of laws. No one may take the law into their hands. That’s the first rule.”
Eritrean national Haftom Zarhum, 29, died in Beersheba’s Soroka Hospital, where he was treated after being shot by a security guard 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.
Officials at Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba said he died from a combination of the bullet wound and the subsequent beating by the mob.
At the faction meeting, Netanyahu also responded to the terror attack itself, in which an Israeli Bedouin man killed 19-year-old IDF soldier Sgt. Omri Levy and wounded several others, one of them seriously.
Netanyahu’s comments were focused on online incitement that he said was driving a rash of terror attacks in recent weeks.
“What we’re seeing now is a combination of [Osama] bin Laden and [Facebook founder Mark] Zuckerberg. The incitement on social networks motivates the murders, we’re seeing that clearly,” he claimed.
Security services have been collecting evidence of such incitement, he explained. “We’ve interrogated the attackers who survived the attacks, we looked at the Facebook accounts of those who died during their murder attempts, and we see clearly that there is very focused incitement that is activating [attackers] to commit these murders.
“We also know it isn’t a coincidence. The incitement comes from clear-cut sources. In the coming days we will announce steps we will be taking against the Islamic Movement [in Israel]. It is our duty to protect the citizens of the state, and we cannot accept that citizens of the state incite against its existence and urge actions that cost the lives of innocents,” he said.
Netanyahu’s criticism of the killing of Zarhum, the Eritrean man, followed harsher censure by Israeli media and the top police commander in Israel’s south.
“A line has been crossed where we went from a state of alert and responsiveness to a state where we lashed out — we can say lynched — and hurt someone who’s wounded,” said Southern District police chief Yoram Halevi. “Even if [the victim] is the attacker, there’s no right to hurt him.”
Police said in a statement that they viewed the incident as “very grave” and that they “will not allow [citizens] to take the law into their hands.”
Negev regional police chief Amnon Alkalai ordered that the civilians who beat Zarhum be located, and police promised to launch a full criminal investigation into the killing.
In a statement, police 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.”